The dried fruits of the coriander (Coriandrum sativum) herb are a digestive aid. They stimulate the release of fat-digesting bile acids and other digestive enzymes. Thanks to acetylcholine, a chemical also found in the body, coriander seeds increase peristalsis in the digestive tract to hasten the passage of food and reduce bloating or gas. Coriander seeds also help balance the cholesterol levels in the body by making sure more cholesterol is broken down than synthesized.
Coriander is the herb you want to reach out for during a bout of indigestion. Both its leaves and stalks, called cilantro in the US, and its dried fruit, called coriander seeds, are good to temper down the after effects of a spicy meal. While the leaves are used in sauces and salads the world over, the seed is yet to make an inroad into serious cooking (other than for pickling) outside South Asia and some parts of Europe and Africa.
Coriander seeds may not have as much vitamin as the leaves, but they have fiber and minerals like selenium and calcium. Other helpful chemicals they contain include oils like petroselinic acid, linoleic acid, oleic acid, and palmitic acid, which are made of terpenes like linalool, a-pinene, camphor, and geraniol; active ingredients like caffeic and chlorogenic acid; and flavonoids like quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and apigenin.
Why It’s So Great
1. Helps Improve Digestion
Coriander seeds help in digestion, thanks to essential oils. Linalool, a major component of the essential oil in coriander seeds, plays a big role. Here’s what the bioactive components in the seeds do:
- Stimulate the release of digestive juices and enzymes like trypsin, chymotrypsin, lipase, sucrase, lactase, and maltase
- Stimulate the liver to release bile acids, which help break down fats
- Help increase peristaltic movement (a series of contractions and relaxations) in the food tract so that food takes less time to be digested – the main chemical at work is acetylcholine, which is also found in the body and has a similar function. Roasting the seeds helps release the most acetylcholine. Increased peristalsis also drives out gas. This is what makes coriander a good carminative
- Resolve stomach cramps through a calcium channel blocking mechanism – your stomach muscles contract when calcium ions flood inside the smooth muscle cells. Frequent contractions cause spasms. Blocking calcium from entering the muscle cells can prevent contractions and afford some relief
- Resolve diarrhea with antibacterial chemicals like cineole, borneol, limonene, alpha-pinene, and beta-phelandrene
2. Helps Maintain Cholesterol Balance
Any herb that helps release bile acids also helps with cholesterol control. This is because the liver uses cholesterol as a raw material to build bile acids. So to make more bile acids, it must draw up cholesterol from the blood. Here’s what coriander seeds do:
- Help increase the rate of breakdown of cholesterol compared to the rate of synthesis. This helps increase the high-density cholesterol and reduce the low-density cholesterol (LDL and VLDL), skewing the ratio in favor of the helpful HDL cholesterol.
- Help lower lipid peroxidation – lipid peroxidation happens when reactive ions called free radicals break down the protective layer of fat surrounding cells and start attacking the organelles inside the cells. Coriander seeds help by increasing the natural antioxidant stores like superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione-S-transferase, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase, and glutathione reductase.
3. Helps Maintain Hormonal Balance
You may not think of cortisol or insulin when you think hormones, but both the stress hormone and the glucose-metabolizing hormone play a critical role in your health.
- Coriander seeds could lend your body’s natural anti-stress mechanism a hand. Linalool in particular is known to helps reduce stress reaction by reducing cortisol, releasing serotonin (a feel-good hormone), and boosting the activity of a brain chemical called GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). GABA is like a pacifier for overstimulated nerves. So coriander could keep you calm even during times of stress.
- Coriander contains chemicals that either mimic insulin or increase the release of insulin in the body. These chemicals work on the beta cells (which work as insulin factories) in the pancreas. Through a series of reactions, they help more and more insulin particles within the cell fuse with the cell wall and escape into the bloodstream. The result is a steady flow of insulin into the blood to keep the glucose levels balanced.
Coriander seeds are also used in Ayurveda as emmenagogue – a herb that induces menstrual blood flow – as well as galactagogue – a herb that increases breast milk supply. These uses, however, have not been studied.
The best thing about coriander seeds is that they blend well into all sorts of cuisine. You could use the whole seeds to temper curries or you could roast and grind them into a coarse powder for soups or stir fries. The seeds release more flavor and warmth when roasted.
You could also soak the seeds in boiling water and let it cool overnight for a cup of coriander tea. There’s no concrete proof for the weight loss benefits many claim coriander tea has, but it is certainly detoxifying and digestive.
You could easily have a spoon (around 5 g) of coriander seed powder a day without any trouble. The seeds usually don’t trigger any side effects. But if you are allergic to aniseed, caraway, dill, or fennel, you might want to avoid coriander seeds.