CORIANDER (Coriandrum sativum – Umbelliferae)
The name coriander comes from the Greek koris, meaning bug, because there is supposedly a connection between the smell of the young leaves and that of bed bugs. Indigenous to Southern Europe, India, North Africa, South America and the USSR, coriander is an umbelliferous plant; its leaves are a bright green, deeply indented at the base of the plant like Continental parsley, and feathery at the top. The plant bears umbels of mauve flowers which later set to seed. Both coriander seeds and leaves are used.
Coriander, both spice and herb, can be traced back over many cen¬turies, and it could be one of the oldest flavourings in the world. It was cultivated in Ancient Egypt where its seeds were bruised to mix into bread, and an essential oil obtained from the seeds was used in religious ceremony. It was one of the bitter herbs designated in the Bible to be eaten at Passover, and in India it was used for magic incantations to the gods, and was – and is – added to many dishes. Coriander was also said to be an aphrodisiac.
The Greeks and Romans believed coriander had stimulant, digestive and carminative properties. Dioscorides claimed it was a calmant and Galen lauded it as a tonic. Some considered it a poison, a suspicion echoed in the warnings to apothecaries by Renaissance doctors that they should sell it with enormous caution. Others swore by its therapeutic properties. A major usage at one time was in obstetrics: a few seeds placed at the top of a woman’s thigh while in labour would facilitate birth and ease pain; and by taking seeds regularly, a woman could cease menstruating and quickly become pregnant.
CORIANDER ESSENTIAL OIL
Description: The essential oil distilled from the coriander seeds is slightly yellow and has a musky, aromatic and pleasant smell. Approximately 100 kg (about 222 lb) are needed to obtain 2 – 3 kg (4 – 6 lb) of essential oil.
The principal constituents: An alcohol (coriandrol, 60 – 65 per cent), geraniol and pinene, with traces of borneol, cymene, dipentene, phellandrene and terpinene. The provenance of coriander oil must be 100 per cent, as it is easily simulated with orange and turpentine essential oils.
Dangers: The oil should not be used internally by any but the most experienced practitioner: if the wrong dosage is taken the effect could be fatal.
In more modern aromatherapeutic practice, Dr Leclerc believed cori¬ander combated fatigue, and Mme Maury prescribed it externally for rheumatic conditions and fevers.
Externally, coriander is useful in alleviating facial neuralgia, tooth¬ache, nervous facial cramps, and the facial pain associated with shingles. It is also effective when used after ‘flu, and for solar plexus cramps; a few drops in almond oil can be massaged in daily, in a clockwise direction. This also helps to regulate the breathing.
(See also headaches.)
Coriander is used to good effect in many of the world’s cuisines: the Chinese claim it as their own, calling it Chinese parsley; in Mexico, where it flourishes, it is frequently used; Moroccan souks are heady with its scent; and it is also popular in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and southern Spain. The seeds are a major ingredient in curry powder ¬they are also used to halt the putrefaction of meat – and the leaves are an essential in many types of curry. Coriander also lends a superb flavour, used sparingly, to mushroom dishes, meatballs, lamb stews, and lamb or pork kebabs.
When baking bread, ground seeds mixed into the dough give an interesting flavour and help the digestion of the starch.
CORIANDER SOUP Serves 4
This is a good therapeutic soup when one is under stress, as it has carminative, warming and diuretic properties. It is recommended for helping to alleviate the symptoms of PMT and the menopause, and to prevent retention of fluid and cellulite.
- 1.8 litres (3 pints) water
- a little sea salt
- 1 tsp virgin olive oil
- 225 g (8 oz) coriander leaves
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- a little lemon juice
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 ml (2 tsp) coriander seeds, freshly ground
- a little goat’s milk or soured cream (optional)
Bring the water to the boil with the salt and olive oil. Add the coriander, keeping aside 2 sprigs of leaves, along with the potato, onion, lemon juice and bay leaf. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender, then liquidize.
Add the ground coriander seeds at the last moment, along with a little goat’s milk or soured cream if desired. Finely chop the remaining coriander leaves and sprinkle them on the top of the soup just before serving.
A CAUTIONARY TALE
A large container in a herb distillery was knocked over and 50 litres coriander oil (from 5,000 kg of crushed coriander seed) were spilled on to the cement floor. Eight workers came to clean up the mess, but it was too late: the essential oil had found its way everywhere, having penetrated every crack and hole in the large room. The workers continued trying to save as much as they could, but the atmosphere became unbearable. During the next half hour they all started laughing and giggling and telling jokes, and seemed to be quite unconcerned about the disaster, and quite unaware of the effect the fumes were having on them. After a while they became aggressive, and loud voices could be heard in different parts of the distillery. When the chief chemist came to investigate, he found two workers fighting in the intoxicating atmosphere. Two others had extreme nausea, and all of them had to be sent home for a few days to get over the extreme fatigue which followed. (Schmoller & Bompard, Grasse, 1973.)