In the first century C.E., Pliny the Elder listed no less than twenty-one remedies using coriander, from soothing ‘fluxes of the belly’ to easing the sting of the Amphisbaena, a two-headed, chicken-footed mythical serpent. Mythical creatures aside, coriander does have some other practical uses.
WHERE IS CORIANDER FROM?
Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, was probably indigenous to southern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but its exact origins are unclear. Currently it is grown around the world, throughout India, Europe, Russia, China and North Africa.
Coriander is considered both a spice and a herb. The leaves and stems are the herb, and the dried fruits, known as seeds, are a spice. The leaves smell sweet and pungent, and the seeds have a kind of citrusy flavour.
North and Latin Americans call the leaves of the plant cilantro and the seeds coriander. Various recipes refer interchangeably to coriander, cilantro and Chinese parsley.
HISTORY OF CORIANDER
Our old friend Pliny the Elder named the plant coriandrum after the Latin word for bug, coris, because the scent of the unripe berries reminded him of the smell of bedbugs. Coriander has been used by many cultures for thousands of years. It’s mentioned in ancient Minoan tablets from 1300-1400 B.C.E., Greek papyrus going back to 1500 B.C.E., and Sanskrit texts dating back to 5000 B.C.E. Coriander was even found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, as it was believed by the Egyptians to be a good food for the afterlife. The oldest sample found, dating back to around 8000 B.C.E., was discovered in an archeological dig in Nahal Hemar cave in Israel.
Coriander contains all sorts of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, calcium and magnesium. Greek physician Hippocrates, back in 400 B.C.E. recommended it for medicinal use, and around the same time the Chinese consumed it to achieve immortality. In Europe in the Middle Ages it was used in love potions, and who’s to say it doesn’t work?
In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, coriander has many uses, including relieving headaches, digestive problems, and coughs.
And coriander seed extract has shown potential anti-microbial and anti-fungal effects too.
The leaves, seeds and roots are all edible, and are used in cooking in many varied dishes around the world. Coriander seeds are used a lot in Greek and Cypriot cooking; are an ingredient in Russian breads; and used in Belgian-style beers and Turkish coffees. Both whole and ground forms of the seeds are ingredients in many traditional Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian recipes.
The leaves are used to flavour salsas, chutneys, Morrocon tagines, samosa fillings, to name a few, and the roots are popular in Thai cooking. I use coriander in many of my own dishes, including this Aloo Gobi, a Punjabi potato and cauliflower curry, which uses both ground and fresh coriander. Give it a try and let me know what you think!