Cilantro, or coriander as we call it here in Europe, is a herb or a spice depending on what part of the plant we’re talking about.
Sometimes referred to as Mexican or Chinese parsley, the Cilantro is native to south west Asia and west to north Africa. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to 50 cm [that’s 20 inches in case you don’t get the metric system] tall. The leaves vary in shape, and are normally broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. The flowers sit in small clusters (which I just have learned are called umbels) and they are white or very pale pink, asymmetrical and with petals that point away from the centre of the umbel being longer than those pointing to the middle of the umbel. (Good to know! lol) The fruit is a globular dry schizocarp (another new word for me!) and 3-5 mm diameter.
We use cilantro leaves as a herb in salads, seasonings, stews and cold sauces. The fruit is dried and used in sweets, curries, breads, cakes and liqueurs; the flowers can be used as edible garnish and even the roots can be eaten stir fried or julienned or chucked in stews.
Cilantro is also believed to have some medicinal properties:
- It is considered an aid to the digestive system. It is an appetite stimulant and aids in the secretion of gastric juices.
- A poultice of Coriander seed can be applied externally to relieve painful joints and rheumatism.
- The essential oils of the Cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide.
- The seeds are considered to have cholesterol-lowering properties.
- It has pain-relieving properties and is useful for headaches, muscle pain, stiffness and arthritis.
- It is useful as a tea, because of its helpful effects on the digestive tract, and is good for increasing appetite, and relieving nausea, diarrhea, flatulence and indigestion.
- It is reputed to enhance circulation and relieve fluid retention.