Cilantro and coriander seed are names identifying the two stages of development of the plant genus Coriandum sativum. Cilantro refers to the initial leafy stage of the life cycle. Once the plant goes through its flowering stage and seeds begin to develop, it becomes known as coriander seed.1
So, coriander is unique in that it's both an herb (the leaves) and a spice (the seeds). In this article, the term Coriandum sativum refers to both parts of the plant equally. When a specific part of the plant is discussed, the terms cilantro and coriander or coriander seed will be used.
Cilantro leaf — a potent anticonvulsant
Cilantro is known to be rich in dietary folate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C),2 and may help detoxify heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lead.3 Recent research4,5has also found cilantro leaf contains a potent potassium channel-activating anticonvulsant, suggesting it may benefit those suffering epileptic seizures. As explained in this paper, published in the July 2019 issue of The FASEB Journal:6
“Neuronal voltage-gated potassium channel subfamily Q (KCNQ) dysfunction can cause severe epileptic encephalopathies that are resistant to modern anticonvulsants.
Here we report that cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) … is a highly potent KCNQ channel activator. Screening of cilantro leaf metabolites revealed that one, the long-chain fatty aldehyde (E)-2-dodecenal, activates multiple KCNQs, including the predominant neuronal isoform … and the predominant cardiac isoform …
(E)-2-dodecenal also recapitulated the anticonvulsant action of cilantro, delaying pentylene tetrazole-induced seizures … The results provide a molecular basis for the therapeutic actions of cilantro and indicate that this ubiquitous culinary herb is surprisingly influential upon clinically important KCNQ channels.”
In other words, cilantro activates specific potassium channels responsible for regulating electrical activity in your brain, thereby reducing seizure activity. Lead investigator Geoff Abbott, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics at the UCI School of Medicine, told Newswise:7
“Specifically, we found one component of cilantro, called dodecenal, binds to a specific part of the potassium channels to open them, reducing cellular excitability.
This specific discovery is important as it may lead to more effective use of cilantro as an anticonvulsant, or to modifications of dodecenal to develop safer and more effective anticonvulsant drugs.
In addition to the anticonvulsant properties, cilantro also has reported anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial, cardioprotective, gastric health and analgesic effects. And, the best part is it tastes good!”
Health benefits of coriander seed
Coriander seed and coriander seed essential oil have also been linked to a wide range of health benefits. For example, as noted by the American Botanical Council, the seeds have been used to treat dysentery, bronchitis, anxiety and insomnia.8
A topical ointment made from coriander seed may also provide relief for arthritis and rheumatism pain, an effect attributed to its anti-inflammatory effects.9 The primary active ingredient in coriander seed is linalool, responsible for coriander's pleasant smell. Linalool, and thus coriander seed, have been shown to:10
Prevent oxidative damage in the liver, heart, kidneys and brain
Improve diabetes management by improving insulin response and protecting against pancreatic islet damage; lowering glucose levels and postprandial glycemia
Improve memory and learning
Protect against neurological disease by reducing memory deficits and oxidative stress in the brain
Reduce pain by inhibiting pain response
Inhibit microbial growth, including fungal infections affecting the skin and infections caused by Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, S. haemolyticus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Listeria monocytogenes.11 According to a review in Alternative and Complementary Therapies:12
“One study looked at the effect of coriander seed oil on Acinetobacter baumannii, a gram-negative bacteria [sic] developing increasing antibiotic resistance.
In a microdilution broth susceptibility assay, coriander oil synergistically potentiated the action of the drugs chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, and tetracycline against A. baumannii. The synergistic effect of coriander on chloramphenicol, to which the bacteria were resistant, was pronounced …”
Topically, coriander seed essential oil has demonstrated effectiveness for the treatment of impetigo (a contagious skin infection caused by staph or strep bacteria), chronic wound care and acute outbreaks of herpes simplex.13
In India, coriander seed is used in the treatment of rheumatic fever and reproductive problems such as spermatorrhea (spontaneous, involuntary ejaculation) and leucorrhea (vaginal infection).14 Studies have also found the seeds to have aphrodisiac properties.15