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Coriandrum sativum L.

Family : Umbelliferae

Other names: Chinese parsley or cilantro


Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an umbelliferous annual plant of the parsley family, native to the eastern Mediterranean region and southern Europe and is found in many other parts of the world. It is valued for the dry ripe fruits, called coriander seeds and also the fresh green leaves called cilantro. The herb is produced in Morocco, Romania, Mexico, Argentina, the People's Republic of China, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Poland, Syria, the United States, the USSR, and Yugoslavia. It is one of the oldest recorded spice, mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts and in Exodus. Seeds have been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs. The name originated from koris, the Greek word for a bed bug, so given because of the similarity between the smell of coriander leaves and the offending bug.


Coriander is a rigid, strong-smelling annual with pronounced taproot, and slender branching stems up to 60 cm. Reaching a height of 1 meter, the adromonoecious plant flowers in July and August. The plant has ferny, pinnately or ternately decompound leaves and produces compound umbels with small white or pinkish flowers that are attractive to bees. The seed capsules are round red-brown which are aromatic when ripe.


The reported life zone of coriander is 7 to 27 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 2.6 meters and a soil pH of 4.9 to 8.3. Coriander thrives in full sun and grows best in deep fertile loams with adequate drainage. The plant is tolerant to cold, heat and drought stresses. The seeds should be planted either early in spring or late in fall in rows 3 feet apart at the rate of 12 to 15 to the foot and covered to a depth of about half an inch. The plants need not be thinned, and no special care is necessary other than regular cultivation for weed control.

Since seeds shatter soon after maturity (about 90 days from planting), timeliness of harvest and weather conditions greatly influence yield. The plants should be cut for seed when the fruits have turned brown. Young, immature fruit have a characteristic disagreeable odor and lack the desirable spicy aroma associated with mature fruit. Harvesting in the early morning, while the dew is on the plant, reduces seed loss caused by shattering. The seed is dried and stored for later use.

Aroma and flavour

The pleasing flavour of the coriander fruit is not thoroughly developed until it is completely dry. The whole plant may be tied in bundles or spread on screens to dry. As soon as dry, the fruits should be separated by threshing and winnowing. The clean seed should be stored in bags or closed containers.

For essential oil extraction, the seed is ground immediately before distillation to increase oil yield and minimize distillation time. The essential oil content of dried fruit ranges from 0.1 to 1.5% and the oil contains d-linalool (also known as coriandrol), camphor, pinenes, camphene, sabinene, myrcene, terpinenes, limonene, and other constituents. Coriander fruit also contain a fixed or fatty oil. Coriander leaf or cilantro contains about 4% volatiles, on a wet leaf basis, primarily 2-decenal and 2-dodecenal.

Culinary use

Coriander seeds, available whole or ground or as extracts, are used primarily as a flavouring agent in the food industry or as spice in the home kitchen for breads, cheeses, curry, fish, meats, sauces, soups, pastries, and confections. It is often used in Mexican cooking and is a component of chilli powders. Coriander is essential in Indian cooking and is a major ingredient in curry powders and other Indian spice mixes such as garam masalas. Whole coriander is used in pickling spices, for meats and pickles. The seeds are also used to flavor alcoholic beverages, such as gin, and in liqueurs. They are used as a flavouring for bread, and yield an essential oil for soaps and perfumes. The fruit has been used to flavor cigarette tobacco. Fresh leaves and shoots are especially popular where the plant is produced locally for use as a flavoring agent in salads, soups and stews. The root supplies a stronger flavouring, and is often cooked as a vegetable in South East Asia.

Medicinal use

As a medicinal plant, coriander has been used as an antispasmodic, carminative, stimulant, and stomachic. Coriander has also exhibited hypoglycemic activity. At one time, coriander was used in love potions and considered to be an aphrodisiac. Chinese herbal medicine includes the use of coriander for measles, stomachache, nausea, hernia, and as a tonic. Coriander seed oil has antibacterial properties and is used for treating colic, neuralgia and rheumatism. The oil also counteracts unpleasant odours in pharmaceutical preparations and tobacco. It is used in perfumes, liqueurs and gin. The linalool in coriander oil is known to cause contact dermatitis. Seeds are sometimes used as a flavoring agent to improve taste in other medicinal preparations. The seeds are ground into a paste for application to skin and mouth ulcers.


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