Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

also known as "Coriander"
Coriander is orginally known to be from Greece, but it is now grown almost world wide, and is used often in Oriental and Southwest cuisines. (1) In Oriental cuisine it is known as Chinese Parsley and to the Americas it is known as Cilantro. The Coriander plant yields both an herb and a spice: the stem and leaves are called Cilantro (herb), and the seeds are usually crushed into the spice called Coriander. Coriander is an erect annual, with aromatic lobed leaves, which become more finely divided further up the stem. White to mauve flowers appear on the stem in umbels in summer, followed by ribbed, pale brown fruits. (2)

Cilantro leaves (herb)

Botanical Information

Coriander plant and seeds

Classification of Cilantro

Kingdom - Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom - Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision - Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division - Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class - Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass - Rosidae
Order - Apiales
Family - Apiaceae – Carrot family
Genus - Coriandrum L. – coriander
Species - Coriandrum sativum L. – coriander

Coriander is a leafy annual plant part of the parsley family, and grows slender, bright green, branching stems. Its flowers are produced in umbels (small clusters of several flowers) and are usually small in size and pink, light blue, or white in color. The upper leaves on the plant are wispy and finely divided while the lower leaves are broader. The fruits (seeds) are achenes, and are used for spices after ripening and drying out.

Apiaceae Family
The Coriander plant in natural form with an umbel of small white/light purple flowers, characteristic of the Apiaceae family.

The apiaceae family contains members with aromatic leaves and hollow stems. Their flowers are radially symmetrical, displaying 5 petals, 5 sepals, and 5 anthers. Also known as Umbelliferae, the carrot family of plants has clusters of several small flowers (umbels) in an umbrella shape. Commonly known relatives include dill, celery, parsley, and fennel. Wild carrots (Queen Anne's Lace) are also a member of this family and are known to have been used in the past as a type of birth control due to its estrogenic properties. Some members of the family have poisonous characteristics, such as in Hemlock, the poison used to kill Socrates.

Geographic Distribution

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Coriander is probably native to the Middle East and southern Europe, but has also been known in Asia and the Orient for Millenia. It is found wild in Egypt and the Sudan. It is referenced in the Bible (Exodus and Numbers). The production of seeds spans countries like Russia, India, South America, Holland, and, its biggest producer, Morocco. It was introduced to Britain by Romans, who used the plant similiarly to how it is used today: for food and for medicine. It was a familiar plant known to ancient doctors such as Hippocratic and Pliny.(3)

Human Usage and Domestication

Coriander on the whole has been domesticated and cultivated for many purposes. Humans have attributed many medicinal powers to the plant and its components. Acting as a treatment for everything from sparking a weak appetite to cleaning a wound, its features are extensive.

Coriander seeds - ground up to make the spice known as coriander


The seeds (dried fruits) of the plant are most often used for spices. It is widely used in Oriental, Middle Eastern, Indian, as well as Southwest American cuisines as forms of curry, flavoring for sausage, flavor extractors for stews, as well as many other culinary recipes. Primarily produced in Morocco and Romania today, the seeds are used to flavor certain types of alcohols, chewing gum, and cigarettes. The leaves do not last very long after cultivation, and are therefore used almost immediately while they are still fresh. They are either sprinkled over dishes, stirred into sauces and soups, or worked into salads, among other uses.
Cilantro ready to be minced into a recipe


The essential oils of the Coriander plant have many healing capabilities. It can be used as an aromatic stimulant, a carminative (remedial in flatulence), as well as both an appetizer and a digestant. Overall, its effects on the digestive system are widely healing, easing the effects of indigestion and diarrhea. It is generally beneficial to the nervous system. (3) Though consumption of the leaves or the spice is beneficial to overall human health, too much of it can act as a narcotic, altering brain activity. It is often used in lotions and ointments to treat hemorrhoids, rheumatism, menstrual disorders and painful joints. Coriander is used in laxatives to diminish griping and has antimicrobial characteristics used in the cleaning and healing of wounds and burns. In addition to healing cuts and wounds, its antioxidants and bacteria cleansing properties suggest anti-inflammatory remedies and protection from infection. This quality also aids in the preservation of animal meat, killing bacteria and certain fungi. Recently, studies have shown that heavy metals in the body (mercury, lead, cadmium) can be detoxified through the ingestion of cilantro. Its chemical makeup allows for the ability to bind to the heavy metals in the human body and drive them out.