By  Phyllis Sidorsky

Name: Coriander sativum
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Coriandrum
Species: C. sativum

It is best to state our herb of the year's scientific identification before delving into its interesting attributes and fascinating history..

Coriander, also known as Cilantro and Chinese Parsley, is an annual plant with all parts edible. It grows 18 to 24 inches high with whitish to pink flowers in clusters. Its upper leaves are feathery while its lower leaves are fern-like. The leaves of the plant are known as cilantro while the seeds bear the name coriander. It is easy to grow in moist, well-drained soil. Some authorities recommend a shady area while others suggest full sun.

The name coriander has an unfortunate derivation coming from the Greek word "koris" or some sources say "korinnon," both of which mean bedbug. Crushed unripe leaves and seeds are said to have the unpleasant smell of crushed bedbugs. The plant, indigenous to Greece and all around the Mediterranean region, was quickly spread by traders and colonists to wide spread countries around the world.

Coriander's history is long and note-worthy. Coriander seeds have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and the Old Testament of the Bible contains two references to the herb.

• "And the houses of Israel named it manna, it was like coriander seed, white and its taste was like wafers made with honey." Exodus 16:31.

• "And the manna was as coriander seed, and the color thereof as the color of bdellium."
Numbers 11:7.

Later in Rome, coriander was used to preserve meats and it was the Roman army who took it to Britain. In the classic tales, "A Thousand and One Nights," coriander was used as an aphrodisiac. Charlemagne ordered coriander included with the 70 other herbs raised on his royal farm. It remains a favorite ingredient in today's French cuisine. Chartreuse, the French liquor, also contains coriander.

When colonists arrived on our continent, coriander was also included with their herbs and spices. As far back as 1796, when the first cookbook was published in this country, a recipe for a "cookey" was made with coriander could be found. Cooking with coriander has since spread around the world - Latin America, North Africa, India and Asia – all have their favorite recipes.

Coriander's medicinal uses are debatable. It has not been adequately evaluated: however, throughout the ages it has been prescribed primarily for digestive problems. It was given for bloating, cramps, and as a digestive tonic. The seed was used in poultices and ground for a medicinal tea to relieve nausea and migraines. Recently it has been shown in animal studies that cilantro can be used to combat deposition of heavy metals such as lead or mercury in human tissues.

It is in food preparation that coriander/cilantro has found worldwide acceptance. The seeds are included in marmalades. Ground, it adds a distinctive flavor to soups, sauces, confections, and breads, especially those in Scandinavian countries. Coriander is one of the chief ingredients in curry powder. Ground, dried seeds provide a piquant orange flavor to custards. This zesty aromatic herb in its many forms finds its way into a large variety of cuisines around the world, well deserving to be hailed as the herb of the year!


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