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We are all familiar with the aroma of the cilantro (dhania), also called coriander. Sanskrit texts have mentioned the herb and it has been familiar as an important culinary and medicinal plant since early times. In the Bible, coriander is compared with manna. The Chinese associated it with immortality.
The cilantro plant is an annual herb with fine foliage. The leaves are finely divided into very narrow, lacy segments while the lower leaves are round and lobed. Flowers are small pink, pale blue, or white, borne in compound umbels. Small, round, ribbed seeds, which follow the flowers, have a sweet, spicy aroma with a peppery overtone and a mildly burning taste with just a hint of orange peel. The aroma and taste of the mature dried seeds are quite different to that of the leaves.
All over the world cilantro is used to garnish the yummy plates of various dishes. South Indian foods, especially the chutneys and rasam (soup), are insipid without coriander. The traditional kashayam (decoction) given by our grannies for cough cold and digestive disturbance invariably had cilantro as a main ingredient. Coriander seeds are known to have antibacterial properties and have been used in traditional medicine to relieve anxiety and insomnia. Dhania powder also helps to clear the body of lead, mercury, and aluminum. Dhania powder is also used as a flavoring agent in a number of pharmaceutical preparations, especially the digestive medicines.
India is a major coriander powder producing country, where Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, and Madhya Pradesh are main production areas. Globally Canada, Morocco, Pakistan, Bulgaria, and Romania are the major coriander producing countries.
Recent research studies on animals have confirmed healing effects like control of blood sugar, cholesterol and free radical production. When coriander was supplemented to the diet of diabetic mice, it helped stimulate their secretion of insulin and lowered their blood sugar. When given to rats, coriander reduced the amount of damaged fats in their cell membranes. And when given to rats fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, coriander lowered levels of total and LDL that is the “bad” cholesterol, while actually increasing levels of HDL the “good” cholesterol.
Research also suggests that the volatile oils found in the leaves of cilantro may have antimicrobial properties. An antibacterial compound that may prove to be a safe, natural means of fighting salmonella, a frequent and sometimes deadly cause of food borne illness, suggests a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.
Coolant: Juice of coriander mixed with mishri (sugar candy) is a super coolant for people in tropical countries in hot days.
Throat pain: Few seeds of coriander and few seeds of pepper chewed frequently will alleviate throat pain.
Eye infection: For relief from the agony of conjunctivitis, the cooled decoction of coriander powder can be use as an eye wash.
Digestive: Soak one teaspoon of dhania seeds and one teaspoon of desiccated and powdered amla seeds overnight, add honey and consume at early morning or empty stomach in the event of headache and stomachache. This will also increase appetite.
Body odor: To limit body odor, add 3 grams of dhania powder and 5 grams of amla powder to a glass of water and drink two to three times a day.
Acidity: For two parts of dhania powder add one part of mishri and store in an air-tight container in a dry place. A spoon of this powder taken two times daily will relieve you of constipation and acidity.
Menstrual problems: Crush cilantro leaves and extract juice. Mix 10 to 15 ml of juice with a little kapur (camphor). Take two to three times a day to stop excess bleeding during the menstrual cycle.
Joint pain: Mix powders of methi seeds (fenugreek) and ajwan with coriander seed powder in equal quantity. This will ease the pain in osteoarthritis.
Cough: 50 grams of ground coriander seed mixed with 100 grams of honey is an excellent cough suppressant.
High-blood pressure: Soak one tablespoon of coarsely ground coriander seeds in a cup of filtered water overnight. Filter out the seeds the next morning. To this add a spoonful of mishri powder and drink it early in the morning.
Morning sickness: To a glass of rice-washed water, add a spoon full coriander seed powder mixed with equal candy sugar powder. This has to be taken early in the morning.
Urinary infection: Soak coarse coriander powder in boiled and cooled water overnight. Filter before drinking in the morning.
Halitosis (bad breath): Chew a few coriander seeds whenever necessary to drive away bad breath.
Suchetha Sarathy is chief Ayurveda physician at a hospital in Mysore, India. She can be contacted at ayursuchi(at)gmail.com.