Cilantro benefits are impressive, but it can be a pretty polarizing ingredient. While some love its refreshing flavor, others find that it leaves a soapy, unpleasant aftertaste. However, regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall on, there’s no doubting that it is packed with micronutrients, antioxidants and other medicinal compounds that can have a huge impact on overall health.
So what does cilantro do to your body? This article will take a look at the potential cilantro benefits and side effects, plus some easy ways to add this versatile, healing herb to your daily diet.
What Is Cilantro?
Cilantro is a popular herb popular around the globe that resembles flat leaf parsley at first glance, but at first sniff, it transports you to the Mediterranean, Mexico, Asia and India. It 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.
One of the reasons that it 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. Although still citrusy in nature, coriander has a warm, almost nutty flavor, making it the perfect complement for pickling, sausages, breads and earning it a spot as one of the central spices in garam masala.
1. Rids the Body of Heavy Metals
Arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead and mercury can become resident in our tissues. This can lead 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 animal model found that Coriandrum sativum significantly decreased lead-induced oxidative stress, while another study found that it actually accelerated the removal of heavy metals from the body. In this study, the herb was used to help remove stubborn heavy metal deposits that continued to plague patients, even after initial infection symptoms had faded.
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.
This herb’s strong antioxidant properties, in part due to the flavonoid quercetin, helps protect against the damage caused by free radicals in the body. A recent in vitro study found that Coriandrum sativum actually protects against oxidative stress, thanks to its high content of antioxidants.
3. Reduces Anxiety
This herb can help calm the nerves and improve sleep quality due to its natural sedative properties. A recent animal model published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that high levels of cilantro extract produced the same anti-anxiety effects as the popular prescription drug, valium (diazepam).
Some of the most common side effects of valium include confusion, hallucinations, risk-taking behavior, agitation, aggression, memory problems and muscle weakness. The extract of this herb could potentially help relieve anxiety and improve your sleep without these potentially dangerous side effects.
4. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
The leaves and stems of cilantro have been shown to help lower blood sugar levels in animal studies. One study published in the Journal of Food Sciences showed that when diabetes has been diagnosed, the plant helps support healthy liver function and balance blood sugar.
Researchers believe that the results support Coriandrum sativum as a remedy for diabetes. Chop the leaves and stems and add to salads, salsas and smoothies to lower your blood sugar levels and improve overall health.
5. Supports Heart Health
Some research shows that this herb could help promote heart health by reducing several risk factors for heart disease. In fact, the results of one animal study indicated that cilantro benefits cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body by helping lower them. Another study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that the polyphenols and natural cardioprotective nutrients found in the herb can help prevent oxidative damage that is specifically associated with heart damage.
6. Prevents Urinary Tract Infections
There are many factors that can contribute to urinary tract infections, including bacterial growth, sexual activity, genetics or diabetes. Cilantro’s antibacterial compounds could potentially help keep the urinary tract healthy and free from unhealthy bacteria in a healthy alkaline environment. In addition, coriander seeds are helpful in relieving symptoms if a UTI does occur.
Simply soak 1.5 teaspoons of dried coriander seeds overnight in two cups of water. Strain and drink, or just add to your morning smoothie. It’s believed to help relieve the discomfort and pain associated with the UTI and help to speed your healing.
7. Settles Digestive Upset
Cilantro benefits have been used throughout the world for thousands of years, including to settle nauseous tummies, prevent gas and bloating, relieve indigestion and heartburn, and ease stomach cramps. It also aids in efficient digestion by helping produce digestive enzymes that promote 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 may help protect against both food- and waterborne diseases, including food poisoning and dysentery. Research published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology studied dill, coriander and eucalyptus and found that cilantro was particularly effective in fighting Listeria monocytogenes, a specific strain of bacteria that causes listeriosis.
9. Supports Healthy Menstrual Function
Coriander seed from cilantro benefits healthy menstrual function by regulating proper endocrine gland function and the hormones that regulate menstrual cycles. In addition, coriander is believed to help reduce the bloating, cramps and pain during the cycle.
10. Prevents Neurological Inflammation
Neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, are associated with chronic inflammation. A study published in Molecular Neurobiology found that diets high in turmeric, pepper, clove, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and coriander could potentially help prevent the inflammation associated with these devastating diseases. Researchers also noted that populations with diets rich in these herbs and spices showed lower incidences of neurological degeneration.
11. May Help Protect Against Colon Cancer
Some promising research conducted on animals suggests that coriander could help 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.
12. Soothes Skin Irritation
Cilantro is used both internally and externally as a remedy for skin irritations, including hives, sunburns and poison ivy. Its natural antihistamines help calm the immune system response against allergens. Fresh cilantro and 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, try blending with water instead of coconut oil and strain. Apply it to the skin, and drink the remaining juice. This two-pronged approach is particularly helpful when seeking relief due to an allergic reaction.
Cilantro benefits come from its rich supply of phytonutrients, flavonoids and phenolic compounds. It’s also low in calories and packs a good amount of vitamin K and vitamin A into every serving.
A quarter cup (about four grams) of this herb contains approximately:
- 1 calorie
- 0.1 grams carbohydrates
- 0.1 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fiber
- 12.4 micrograms vitamin K (16 percent DV)
- 270 international units vitamin A (5 percent DV)
- 1.1 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin E (1 percent DV)
- 2.5 micrograms folate (1 percent DV)
- 20.8 milligrams potassium (1 percent DV)
Cilantro vs. Coriander
Many people are familiar with the coriander spice and often wonder: What is coriander? Are coriander and cilantro the same thing?
Cilantro and coriander both come from the same plant, also known as Coriandrum sativum, or the cilantro plant. The term “cilantro” refers to the stalks and leaves, while “coriander” refers to dried cilantro seeds. While cilantro is generally sold and consumed fresh, the seeds are used either whole or ground into a fine powder.
There are also several other differences between coriander vs. cilantro, including the way that each tastes and how the two herbs are used in cooking.
One of the biggest distinctions between coriander and cilantro is by their unique flavors. Ground coriander, in particular, has a warm, nutty, spicy and citrusy flavor and a refreshing, lemony aroma. It’s often used as a substitute for cumin, carraway seeds or fennel due to its similarities in taste.
What does cilantro taste like?
Depending on whom you ask, you could get very different answers to this question. For some, the cilantro taste is described as refreshing, citrus-like and fragrant. Meanwhile, others claim that cilantro tastes like soap and is practically inedible. So why does it taste like soap for some and not for others? Studies show that a genetic variation is responsible for the different ways that the herb is perceived, causing a very polarizing reaction to its unique flavor.
Because of the taste differences between these two spices, cilantro is not considered a suitable coriander substitute in dishes. Instead, parsley, tarragon and dill can be swapped in for a flavorful substitute for cilantro instead.
Cilantro and coriander are used very differently in cooking, and their respective flavors tend to complement certain dishes better than others.
Fresh cilantro, for example, tends to work well in soups, salsas, sauces and chutneys due to its refreshing flavor and citrusy undertones. Meanwhile, coriander powder has a warmer, nuttier taste that adds depth to curries, meat rubs and stews, among others. While coriander can be used at any time during cooking, cilantro should be added to dishes at the very end, which helps preserve its flavor profile and nutrient content.
How to Select, Store and Use
Cilantro is widely available at most grocery stores and can be found in the produce section alongside other fresh herbs like thyme and basil. Look for bright, even leaves with no wilting to ensure you get the best quality possible.
Additionally, be sure to differentiate between cilantro vs. parsley, which are often very similar in appearance. Although cilantro is often used as a substitute for parsley, it does have a unique flavor all its own and may not be a suitable swap in every dish. The main differences between parsley vs. cilantro can be spotted in the leaves of the plant. While parsley has pointed, flat leaves, cilantro’s leaves are more rounded with jagged edges.
When it comes to how to store cilantro, be sure to 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 it should remain beautiful for up to 10 days. Drying it is not recommended, as the fresh, citrusy flavor is diminished with dried cilantro.
This herb can be used to add a burst of flavor to just about any dish. It works well paired with lime in cilantro rice dishes or cilantro lime shrimp. It can also be used to make dressings, sauces, curries and more. You can even use it as a garnish for a pop of color, taste and nutrients by making cilantro tacos, salsa or guacamole.
While coriander can be added throughout the cooking process, cilantro actually loses its signature strength and cilantro 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 and smoothies, it can be added at any point.
From cilantro chicken to cilantro chutney, there are endless ways to use this incredible ingredient in your cooking. Here are a few unique cilantro recipes to help get you started:
- Cilantro Pesto
- Easy Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Cauliflower Cilantro Lime Rice Recipe
- Garlic Cilantro Sauce
- Creamy Avocado Cilantro Lime Dressing
Risks and Side Effects
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.
Rare instances of severe allergic reactions have been linked to occupational exposure. In these uncommon cases, research suggests that anaphylaxis and respiratory symptoms are due to repeated exposure, most often in processing facilities. Individuals with bronchitis or asthma should be careful when using dried, ground coriander as it may cause irritation in the bronchial arteries.
- An herb that is favored for its versatility, refreshing flavor and citrusy aroma, cilantro benefits are vast.
- While the term itself refers to the leaves and stalks of the cilantro plant, coriander is a spice derived from the dried seeds. Although they come from the same plant, the two have very different flavors and are used in different dishes as well.
- Researchers have turned up a long list of potential cilantro health benefits. Potential health benefits of cilantro include improved heart health, decreased anxiety, lower blood sugar levels, protection against oxidative stress and more.
- It is also low in calories but high in antioxidants along with vitamin K and vitamin A.
- Best of all, it is easy to enjoy and can be found in a variety of recipes, such as soups, salsas and sauces — as well as dishes like cilantro dressing and cilantro lime vinaigrette.