Coriander, cilantro, Chinese parsley
(Coriandrum sativum – Family Umbelliferae)
Although coriander is related to parsley and can be used in the same way, its leaves are much stronger than those of parsley and do not have the same flavour. Its name does not inspire usage, however. Derived from the Greek word “koris” meaning ‘bed bug’, coriander is said to have the aroma reminiscent of bug-infested bedclothes! Thankfully, this smell disappears from the seeds as they ripen and is replaced with a pleasant, spicy aroma. The leaves, on the other hand, retain it; and “Westeners” have difficulty overcoming their initial aversion to this smell. Since cilantro tastes very different from the powdered seeds, few in the West are even aware that coriander and cilantro come from the same plant.
The coriander plant grows to a height of about two to three feet. The clusters of pinkish flowers eventually produce groups of tiny fruits or seeds, which are used either whole or in powdered form as the seasoning coriander. Powdered coriander is an important ingredient in East Indian curries, and also in certain chutneys eaten with chapattis (pita bread) or papadoms (a type of thin pea-flour pancake). It is often mixed with cumin and used in various ethnic dishes of the Mediterranean. Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) are used as a garnish in Chinese and Mexican cuisine.
Coriander is native to southern Europe and the Orient, and has been used by several cultures since ancient times. It has been found in Egyptian tombs from the 21st dynasty, as well as 1,000 years later. The plant was well-known in Britain prior to the Norman conquest, and cultivated in American gardens before 1670. Coriander was used as an ancient medicine and in cooking. The seeds are carminative and aromatic and used in everything from beverages to curries to condiments. Pliny stated that the best coriander came to Italy from Egypt and Cato, in the 3rd century BCE. Other writers also mention coriander and its use as a seasoning. Medicinally, the seeds are the most important part of the plant, and an infusion made from them taken after meals, can strengthen digestion and relieve flatulence. It is also said to be beneficial for treating arthritis and rheumatism.