Coriander, aka kothamali, cilantro, dhaniya, cotomili, Chinese parsley, Egyptian parsley... the diversity of its name reveals the diversity of its provenance as well as its lineage, that of the parsley family. Native of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, coriander reached Asian shores several millennia ago.
Extensively used in South and South East Asian cuisines, this herb is not everybody’s favourite. People either love or hate its distinctive aroma, a fact that its etymology reflects; the name comes from the combination of the Greek words kori , meaning bug and andron.
However, in India, our relationship with coriander is different. Despite the mushrooming of several fancy vegetable marts, many of us still like to buy our green groceries from the reriwallah who more often than not, will stuff a bundle of coriander into the bag for free. We, in turn, garnish our sabzi of the day by sprinkling some chopped coriander leaves over them to add a burst of flavour to our meal.
These seemingly trivial acts are actually an expression of our mindful, age-old traditional food wisdom, for coriander, one of the oldest known spices, has several benefits up its sleeves, oops, leaves and also its seeds.
Its nutritional profile shows up a treasure trove of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, flavonoids, carotenoids, essential oil compounds and dietary fibre. Coriander is an excellent source of vitamin K, which, as we know, regulates the coagulating factor of blood; it is therefore recommended that those on an anti-coagulant therapy use the herb and spice with precaution. It is also a good source of vitamin A, which is produced from the beta-carotene the leaves contain as well as vitamin C and phosphorous, all ingredients which promote good vision. So why not opt for a delicious kothamali chutney or thokku? These will, moreover, help your digestion and regulate your good and bad cholesterol as well as your blood pressure.
The LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterols are controlled thanks to linoleic, oleic and ascorbic acids present in coriander. The rich aroma of its leaves comes from the essential oil named cilantro, the now more trendy Spanish name for coriander, which has a phenomenal phytonutrient profile. It helps the digestive organs (spleen, pancreas, stomach) perform much better by stimulating proper secretion of enzymes and digestive juices. They also have an anti-diarrheal effect. Other components of the oil have excellent antibacterial, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, which would account for its healing effect on eczema and psoriasis; they are particularly beneficial in the case of mouth ulcers. Cineole, in conjugation with linoleic acid, helps reduce the swelling caused by rheumatism and arthritis.
An article published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry ten years ago states that coriander has a positive effect in fighting salmonella. The compound dodecenal, which is present in both the leaves and the seeds, is deemed to be twice as effective as the antibiotic normally used against salmonella.
Coriander seeds scavenge heavy metals present in the body; it releases mercury, cadmium, lead and aluminium from the bones and central nervous system and is possibly the only agent that can eliminate mercury stocked in the intracellular space and core of the cell. Back to the role of coriander in the digestion process: it has been found that daily consumption of coriander has a beneficiary effect on the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome; it also relieves migraines caused by improper digestion and inhibits flatulence as well as bloating of the stomach. It effectively metabolises carbohydrates, relaxes muscles and promotes good sleep. Research has even brought out its diabetic-friendly property. It is also known as a diuretic and helps clear UTI. On the culinary front, though cilantro is used the world over, it is more popular in some Latin-American countries, the Middle East, Africa, South and South East Asia. In fact, South East Asian cuisines prefer to use the whole herb up to the roots for increased flavour. Given all the healing and soothing properties coriander displays, would you not agree that our habit of making liberal use of its leaves, seeds and roots are inscribed within an intergenerational food savvy? Across India, our multiple regional cuisines have so many ways to use coriander, leaves and seeds, and everyone must be having favourites. We invite you then, for health’s sake, to a Green Revolution of a new kind, where you will only use organic, home-grown dhaniya/kothamali. Are you game then to just assert your food sovereignty, food security and food safety?