Cilantro is a popular herb popular around the globe that resembles flat leaf parsley at first glance, but at first sniff, transports you to the Mediterranean, Mexico, Asia, and India. Cilantro gives a fresh boost of flavor, without the addition of sea salt or other seasonings.
This versatile herb is used in everything from guacamole and salsa, to curries, noodle dishes, and chimichurri sauces of Argentina. Not only does this flavorful, bright herb have unlimited culinary applications, but surprisingly to many people cilantro benefits the body and has many known healing properties.
Cilantro Benefits in Leaves & Seeds
One of the reasons that cilantro is so unique is due to its versatility. While green and leafy, it brings a fresh, nearly citrusy flavor to foods. Once it flowers, it produces the seeds, and the flavor of the leaves intensify, plus the coriander seeds that it yields contain their own health benefits. While still citrusy in nature, coriander has a warm, almost nutty flavor, making it the perfect complement for pickling, sausages, breads, and it is one of the central spices in Garam Masala.
Cilantro Nutrition Facts
Cilantro is rich in phytonutrients, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds.
Vitamin A: 270 IU
Vitamin K: 12.4 mcg
Folate: 2.5 mcg
Potassium: 20.8 mg
Cilantro is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and the caloric value is nearly nonexistent. It is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Just a ¼ cup of fresh cilantro provides 270 IU of Vitamin A, and 16% of the daily value recommended of vitamin K.
The vitamin K and calcium content of cilantro help to build strong bones, teeth, and hair. Cilantro is considered the “anti-diabetic” plant in some parts of Europe, and research shows that it helps to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, supports healthy cardiovascular function, and much more.
Coriander Nutrition Facts
Calcium: 35.4 mg
Magnesium: 16.5 mg
Phosphorus: 20.5 mg
Potassium: 63.3 mg
While cilantro benefits stem from its vitamin content, coriander’s nutritive qualities come from minerals, and yet it is still considered a good source of vitamin C, along with phosphorus, potassium, zinc, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Coriander has been used for thousands of years to treat digestive upset, gas, fungal and bacterial infections, and to prevent food poisoning. Some studies show that it can help to lower blood sugar, and even kill parasites in the digestive tract.(1)
Top 12 Cilantro Benefits
1. Rids the Body of Heavy Metals
Arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead, and mercury can become resident in our tissues leading to heart disease, hormonal imbalances, neurological conditions, infertility, and so much more. Cilantro, also known scientifically as “Coriandrum sativum”, has been shown to bind these toxic metals together, loosening them from tissue, and facilitating their elimination from the body.
One study found that Coriandrum sativum significantly protects against lead induced oxidative stress, while another study found that cilantro actually accelerates the removal of heavy metals from the body.(2, 3)
Dr. Omura, director of Medical Research at the Heart Disease Foundation, found in this study that antibiotic use is linked to the buildup of heavy metals in the body. He believes that antibiotics actually can protect the heavy metals causing certain infections to relapse, even after an entire course of antibiotics.
In this study, cilantro was used to help remove stubborn heavy metal deposits that continued to plague patients, even after initial infection symptoms had faded.
Results of the study showed that by supplementing antibiotic drugs with cilantro, cilantro is able to rid the body of the heavy metal toxins, and keep the infections from arising again. Cilantro’s superior detoxing ability is why I include it in my heavy metal detox regimen.
2. Protects Against Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is linked to a wide array of degenerative diseases including some types of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, macular degeneration, and much more.
Cilantro’s strong antioxidant properties, in part due to the flavonoid quercetin,(4) helps to protect against the damage caused by free radicals in the body. A recent study found that cilantro actually protects against oxidative stress, through its high antioxidant effects.(5)
3. Lowers Anxiety and Improves Sleep
Cilantro benefits your sleep cycle naturally and calms nerves, and can improve sleep quality through its natural sedative effects. A recent study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that high levels of cilantro extract produce the same levels of anti anxiety effects as the popular prescription drug, Valium (diazepam). (6)
Valium’s side effects include confusion, hallucinations, risk-taking behavior, agitation, aggression, memory problems, muscle weakness, and many more. Cilantro can relieve anxiety, and improve your sleep, without these potentially dangerous side effects.
4. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Cilantro’s leaves and stems helps to lower blood sugar levels in animal studies. The most significant study published in the Journal of Food Sciences, showed that when diabetes has been diagnosed, cilantro helps support healthy liver function, and helps to balance blood sugar.
Researchers believe that the results support Coriandrum sativum (cilantro) being used in cuisine, would in fact be a remedy for diabetes.(7) Chop cilantro’s leaves coarsely, and the stems finely, and add to salads, salsas, and smoothies to lower your blood sugar levels and improve overall health.
5. Protects Against Cardiovascular Disease
According to the American Heart Association, a diet rich in potassium is an important part of controlling blood pressure because it lessens the effects of sodium on the body.(8)
High blood pressure increases your risk for heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and thickening of the heart muscle. In addition to helping lower blood pressure, cilantro benefits actually helps to dissolve cholesterol build up in the arteries, protecting against atherosclerosis and heart disease.
In the same study reference above about diabetes, researchers indicated that cilantro lowers total cholesterol and triglycerides in the body.(7) Another study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that cilantro’s rich polyphenolic content and natural cardio-protective nutrients are responsible with preventing the oxidative damage that is specifically associated with cardiac damage and is able to prevent myocardial infarctions.(8)
Lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, and protecting against damage associated with cardiac impairment – easy to see why we should all enjoy more cilantro.
6. Prevents Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections may be caused by E. coli, staphylococcus bacteria, sexual activity, genetics, or diabetes. Cilantro’s antibacterial compounds help to keep the urinary tract healthy, and free from unhealthy bacteria in a healthy alkaline environment. In addition to cilantro, coriander seeds are helpful in relieving symptoms, if a UTI does occur.
Simply soak 1 ½ teaspoons of dried coriander seeds overnight in 2 cups of water. Strain and drink, or just add to your morning smoothie. It will help relieve the discomfort and pain associated with the UTI, and help to speed your healing.
7. Settles Digestive Upset
Cilantro has been used throughout the world for thousands of years to settle nauseous tummies, prevent gas and bloating, relieve indigestion and heartburn, and ease stomach cramps. It aids in efficient digestion, by helping to produce digestive enzymes that aid in the breakdown of foods. In many cuisines, fresh cilantro accompanies hot and spicy dishes because of its cooling effects.
Hot curry dishes, green chili, and spicy Thai noodle dishes all are better tolerated by many people with the simple addition of just a touch of fresh chopped cilantro. This cooling effect can help prevent heartburn after spicy meals. If gas or bloating is a problem, try adding chopped cilantro as a garnish for legume dishes, and to salads.
8. Protects Against Food Poisoning
Cilantro benefits not only detox the body but also protect it from infection and toxins. Its natural antibacterial properties helps to protect against both food and water borne diseases including food poisoning, dysentery, salmonella, cholera, and particularly listeria. Research published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology studied dill, coriander, eucalyptus, and found that cilantro was particularly effective in fighting listeria.(9)
9. Supports Healthy Menstrual Function
Coriander seeds from cilantro actually helps to support healthy menstrual function by helping regulate proper endocrine gland function, and the hormones that regulate menstrual cycles. In addition, coriander can help reduce the bloating, cramps, and pain during the cycle.
10. Prevents Neurological Inflammation
Neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, and certain brain tumors are associated with chronic inflammation. A study published in Molecular Neurobiology found that diets high in turmeric, pepper, clove, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and coriander, helped to prevent the inflammation associated with these devastating diseases.
Researchers noted that lifestyle factors of individuals with diets rich in these nutrients showed lower incidences of neurological degeneration.(10)
11. Protects Against Colon Cancer
Researchers believe that coriander can protect against colon cancer by reducing cholesterol levels, and increasing the excretion of sterol compounds and bile. This process decreases toxic levels in the colon, lowering the risk for cancer.(11)
12. Soothes Skin Irritations
Cilantro is used both internally and externally as a remedy for skin irritations including hives, sunburns, and poison ivy. It’s natural anti-histamines helps to calm the immune system response against allergens. Fresh cilantro blended with coconut oil can be blended together and applied topically to soothe sunburns, dry skin, poison ivy, and hives caused by an allergic reaction.
To get all the cilantro benefits, instead of blending with coconut oil, blend with water, and strain. Apply the cilantro to the skin, and drink the remaining juice. This two-pronged approach is particularly helpful when seeking relief due to an allergic reaction.
Cilantro’s Botanical Links
As mentioned above, cilantro is also known as Coriandrum sativum in medical research. In culinary applications it is known as Chinese parsley in Asia, cilantro in the Americas, and coriander in many other parts of the world.
Botanically cilantro is part of the Apiaceae genus, which also contains other nutrient dense foods including parsley, celery, carrots, anise, chervil, and parsnip. This family of aromatic herbs and vegetables are toxic to various types of fungi and bacteria and have anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body.(12)
History of Cilantro
Both cilantro and coriander have been used throughout the world to add flavor to dishes, and for healing. Cilantro has been found in the Nahal Hemar Cave in Israel believed to have been inhabited over 8,000 years ago.
Tutankhamen’s tomb was found with coriander seeds sprinkled throughout. Cilantro was grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and it is one of the first herbs to be cultivated in North America. For thousands of years, cultures across the world have taken advantage of cilantro’s health benefits, and great fresh taste.
For over 5,000 years, Ayurveda medicine has used both coriander and cilantro to support liver function, fight bacterial infections, encourage digestive enzymes, detox the liver and kidneys, incite memory, soothe skin rashes, and to stimulate the secretion of insulin.
Cilantro Side Effects, Interactions, & Precautions
Both coriander and cilantro are considered safe. However, individuals that are allergic to fennel, dill, aniseed, caraway or other similar herbs may experience mild allergic reactions.(13)
Rare instances of severe allergic reactions have been linked to occupational exposure. In these rare cases, research suggests that anaphylaxis and respiratory symptoms are due to repeated exposure, most often in processing facilities.(14,15) Individuals with bronchitis or asthma should be careful when using dried, ground coriander as it may cause irritation in the bronchial arteries.
Cilantro Uses & Storage
While coriander can be added throughout the cooking process, cilantro actually loses its signature strength, and health benefits when introduced to heat. It is best to add fresh chopped cilantro leaves just prior to serving in hot dishes. For raw preparations such as salsas, guacamole, smoothies, and others, cilantro can be added at any point.
How to Store Cilantro
To store fresh cilantro, give it a quick rinse in fresh water, to remove any dirt or grit. Store upright in a jar with an inch or two of water, cover with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Be sure to remove any wilted or slimy leaves before covering in plastic, and the fresh cilantro should remain beautiful for up to 10 days. Drying of cilantro is not recommended, as the fresh citrusy flavor is diminished.
To preserve fresh cilantro longer, prepare a cilantro oil. The first step is to quickly blanch a bunch of fresh cilantro by just dipping in boiling water, and then patting dry. Add the cilantro (including the stems!) to a blender, and topping with olive oil or ghee.
Blend until smooth. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze overnight. In the morning, remove from the trays, and store in zip type bags in the freezer for whenever you need a boost of flavor from fresh cilantro.
When you have an upset stomach, or just want the advantages from the proven health benefits of cilantro, pour 1 ½ cups of boiling water over ¼ cup of fresh cilantro leaves, cover with a saucer, and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth, add a touch of raw honey and enjoy.
Grow Your Own
If you want cilantro year round, it is easy to grow in the home. Purchase organic seeds online, and grow in containers that are at least 8-10 inches deep. Cilantro likes bright sun and thrives in east or southeast windows.
When cilantro reaches 6 inches tall, it is time to harvest! While some cilantro is harvested much later, this can add to the bitterness and soapy taste that some people may experience. As cilantro quickly cycles through life, it is recommended to sow seeds every 2-3 weeks to make sure you always have a hearty supply.
Recipes for Cilantro
Start your morning off right with this immune boosting and detoxifying smoothie. Cucumbers, ginger, pineapple, and tomatoes help to fight inflammation, and help the body rid itself of toxins.
These delicious and quick salmon burgers get an extra boost of nutrients from cilantro. As mentioned above, while not recommended to cook cilantro, this quick preparation doesn’t affect the taste or nutrients.
Who doesn’t love guacamole? Avocados are one of the healthiest foods on the planet! They are packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, fiber, and phytonutrients. This recipe is a great way to get the potassium you need to support a healthy heart.
The coconut cilantro sauce in this recipe provides a rich, seemingly decadent topping to fresh grouper. The coconut oil, cilantro, ginger, and garlic add to the health benefits of this delicious dish.
This fresh coleslaw recipe comes together quickly, and is brightened with the addition of cilantro. Cabbage, one of the cancer fighting cruciferous vegetables, is packed with fiber, and other nutrients that aid in digestion, aided by the fresh cilantro. Enjoy alongside grilled wild salmon, roasted chicken, or a bison burger.
- 1 head Savoy cabbage
- 4 scallions
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 cup vegenaise
- 1 ½ tablespoons honey
- 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Sea salt & black pepper
- Shave the cabbage into thin ribbons. Cut the scallions lengthwise into long strands, similar to the cabbage.
- Combine the cabbage, scallions, and cilantro in a bowl and toss.
- Mix the vegenaise, honey and lime juice well. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Toss with cabbage mixture, and enjoy.
What is your favorite way to enjoy cilantro benefits?