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Confusing Coriander

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Confusing Coriander

Coriander is another of those herbs we may have in the spice cabinet, thinking of it only in culinary terms.  It seems to take a backseat to cilantro these days... but, that isn't really true.  Actually, Coriander and Cilantro are the same herb, Coriandrum sativum.   It is also called Chinese Parsley.  All this can be quite confusing.  But, basically, the fresh herb may be called Cilantro, Chinese Parsley or Coriander depending on what cookbook you are using, but the seed is generally just called Coriander.  So, if you use some fresh Cilantro leaves for your pico de gallo, or toss some Coriander seeds in a pickle brine, you are using the same herb.  You are also using a medicinal herb with an interesting history!

Coriander was an herb of the ancient world.  The earliest evidence of its use comes from the "Pre- Pottery Neolithic" culture, evidence having been found in an Israeli cave dating to between 8,800 and 6,500 BC.  Coriander was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen,and mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus for both culinary and medicinal use, dating to around 1550 BC.  In the Bible, manna was described as being like Coriander seed, pointing to its common usage in the time of Moses.

Coriander was used in Ancient Greek Herbalism, Dioscorides stating in de Materia Medica:

Corion or coriannum is well known. It is able to cool. As a result (applied with bread or polenta) it heals erysipela [streptococcal skin infection] and creeping ulcers. With honey and raisins it cures epinyctis [pustules which appear only at night], inflammation from stones [urinary, kidney], and carbuncles [infected boils] [malignant skin tumours]. With bruised beans it dissolves scrofulous tumours [goitres] and the inflammation of bones. A little of the seed (taken as a drink with passum [raisin wine]) expels worms and promotes the creation of seed [sperm]. If too much is taken it disturbs the understanding dangerously, as a result men ought to avoid the excessive and frequent use of it. The juice rubbed on with cerussa [white lead ore] or litharge [monoxide of lead], vinegar and rosaceum [1-53] mends burning inflammation on the outside of the skin. The Egyptians call it ochion, and the Africans, goid.

The reference that Coriander may "disturb the understanding" will likely surprise many, but it seems that large amounts of coriander causes intoxication.  According to Plants for A Future:

Coriander is a commonly used domestic remedy, valued especially for its effect on the digestive system, treating flatulence, diarrhoea and colic. It settles spasms in the gut and counters the effects of nervous tension. The seed is aromatic, carminative, expectorant, narcotic, stimulant and stomachic. It is most often used with active purgatives in order to disguise their flavour and combat their tendency to cause gripe. The raw seed is chewed to stimulate the flow of gastric juices and to cure foul breath and will sweeten the breath after garlic has been eaten. Some caution is advised, however, because if used too freely the seeds become narcotic. Externally the seeds have been used as a lotion or have been bruised and used as a poultice to treat rheumatic pains. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is "Appetite stimulant".

Coriander was a popular herbal remedy among the old English herbalists.  Gerard states:

A. Coriander seed prepared and covered with sugar, as comfits, taken after meat closeth up the mouth of the stomach, stayeth vomiting, and helpeth digestion.

B. The same parched or roasted, or dried in an oven, and drunk with wine, killeth and bringeth forth worms, stoppeth the lask, and bloody flux, and all other extraordinary issues of blood.

The manner how to prepare Coriander, both for meat and medicine.

C. Take the seed well and sufficiently dried, whereupon pour some wine and vinegar, and so leave them to infuse or steep four and twenty hours, then take them forth and dry them, and keep them for your use.

D. The green leaves of Coriander boiled with the crumbs of bread or barley meal, consumeth all hot swellings and inflammations: and with bean meal dissolveth the King's Evil, wens, and hard lumps.

E. The juice of the leaves mixed and laboured in a leaden mortar with ceruse, litharge of silver, and oil of roses, cureth St. Anthony's fire, and taketh away all inflammations whatsoever.

F. The juice of the green Coriander leaves, taken in the quantity of four drams, killeth and poisoneth the body.

G. The seeds of Coriander prepared with sugar, prevail much against the gout, taken in some small quantity before dinner upon a fasting stomach, and after dinner the like without drinking immediately after the same, or in three or four hours. Also if the same be taken after supper it prevaileth the more, and hath more superiority over the disease.

H. Also, if it be taken with meat fasting, it causeth good digestion, and shutteth up the stomach, keepeth away fumes from rising up out of the same: it taketh away the sounding in the ears, drieth up the rheum, and cureth the squinancy.

Mrs. Grieves gives Coriander's history and use, and indicates that the culinary use of the fresh herb was not appreciated by the British palate:

The inhabitants of Peru are so fond of the taste and smell of this herb that it enters into almost all their dishes, and the taste is often objectionable to any but a native. Both in Peru and in Egypt, the leaves are put into soup. The seeds are quite round like tiny balls. They lose their disagreeable scent on drying and become fragrant- the longer they are kept, the more fragrant they become.

Coriander was originally introduced from the East, being one of the herbs brought to Britain by the Romans. As an aromatic stimulant and spice, it has been cultivated and used from very ancient times. It was employed by Hippocrates and other Greek physicians.

The name Coriandrum, used by Pliny, is derived from koros, (a bug), in reference to the foetid smell of the leaves. Pliny tells us that 'the best (Coriander) came from Egypt,' and from thence no doubt the Israelites gained their knowledge of its properties.

The Africans are said to have called this herb by a similar name (goid), which Gesenius derives from a verb (gadad), signifying 'to cut,' in allusion to the furrowed appearance of the fruit. It is still much used in the East as a condiment, and forms an ingredient in curry powder.

In the northern countries of Europe, the seeds are sometimes mixed with bread, but the chief consumption of Coriander seed in this country is in flavouring certain alcoholic liquors, for which purpose it is largely grown in Essex. Distillers of gin make use of it, and veterinary surgeons employ it as a drug for cattle and horses. The fruit is the only part of the plant that seems to have any medical or dietetical reputation.

Confectioners form from the seeds little, round pink and white comfits for children. It is included in the British Pharmacopceia, but it is chiefly used to disguise unpleasant medicine. A power of conferring immortality is thought by the Chinese to be a property of the seeds.

Turner says (1551): '"Coriandre layd to wyth breade or barly mele is good for Saynt Antonyes fyre" (the erysipelas: so called because it was supposed to have been cured by the intercession of St. Anthony). Coriander cakes are seldom made now.'

Medicinal Action and Uses---Stimulant, aromatic and carminative. The powdered fruit, fluid extract and oil are chiefly used medicinally as flavouring to disguise the taste of active purgatives and correct their griping tendencies. It is an ingredient of the following compound preparations of the Pharmacopceia: confection, syrup and tincture of senna, and tincture and syrup of Rhubarb, and enters also into compounds with angelica gentian, jalap, quassia and lavender. As a corrigent to senna, it is considered superior to other aromatics.

If used too freely the seeds become narcotic. Coriander water was formerly much esteemed as a carminative for windy colic.

Coriander is certainly an interesting culinary herb and a very useful medicinal, as well as being a very surprising intoxicant.  The heart of the confusion about this herb lies in just how different the the seed is from the fresh leaf and stems.  Amy Stewart explains this mystery in her book, The Drunken Botanist:

Coriander is a favorite ingredient among distillers.  It is found in almost all gins and in many herbal liqueurs, absinthe, aquavit, pastis and vermouth.  But anyone who has ever eaten the leaf of the coriander plant - called cilantro in the Americas - might wonder why they so rarely encounter this distinctive flavor in any of these drinks.

The reason is, that the fruit - round, brown seeds - undergo a chemical change as they dry, shedding that bright, cilantro flavor completely.  The essential oil found in the fresh leaves and on the surface of the unripe fruit is instantly recognizable and not to everyone's liking, owing to genetic differences in how people perceive flavor.  Some people call it fetid; others say it smells of bugs.  In fact, the Greek name for bedbug, koris, is the root of its early Greek name koriandron.

But deep inside the fruit is another oil that is easily extracted once the fruit is dry and the characteristic cilantro flavor has evaporated.  That oil, which id dominated by linalool, thymol, and geranyl acetate, a compound found in geraniums, is the perfect bled for booze.  It combines the woodsy not of thyme, the rich perfume of geranium, and the bright, floral, citrus flavor of linalool.

That solves the mystery of not only why the fresh plant tastes so different from the seeds and why people either so adamantly love or hate the fresh plant.  When I was a kid, I thought it tasted like soap, but perhaps due to my bit of Creole heritage, I Now LOVE it!  I'm going to go make some pico de gallo and guacamole with Cilantro, corn some beef with Caraway seeds in the pickle mix and enjoy one of my favorite homemade alcoholic infusions, gin in which Coriander and Caraway seeds have been steeped.  Y'all, enjoy your coriander with a merry heart and in good health!

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: Southern Appalachian Herbs (spreaker.com)

He offers free, weekly herb classes: Herbal Medicine 101 (rumble.com)

Visit his Ebay store for ethically wild harvested and permaculture/polyculture grown herbs: Items for sale by jcarroll5938 | eBay

Judson is the co-author of an important new book based on the 1937 edition of Herbs and Weeds by Fr. Johannes Künzle. This new translation, entitled The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle, with commentary by modern herbalists explores and expands on the work of one of the most important herbalists of the 20th century.  Click here to read more about The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: Southern Appalachian Herbs: Announcing a New Book, The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle

To buy The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle, click here: https://py.pl/V0HDe


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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