Coriandrum sativum



Coriandrum sativum

L. 1753

pronounced: kor-ee-AND-rum sat-EYE-vum

(Apiaceae — the celery family)


common name: coriander

Coriandrum is the ancient Latin name for the plant, and that came from the Greek name for it, κοριαννον (koriannon). The origins of the Greek word go back to the mists of time, to the early Mycenaean script (the precursor of classical Greek, and one of the very first scripts about which we have any precise information), known to philologists by the unexciting name of Linear B. This was used, mostly in Crete, from about 1,500–1,200 BC. The characters stood for syllables rather than the vowels and consonants of modern Western languages. The language still retained some logograms, many of them pictorial in appearance. Their word for coriander was ko-ri-ja-da-na. This indicates that coriander has been in use as a culinary herb for something like 3,500 years or more! Although coriander grows wild over a wide area of the Near East and southern Europe, it does not grow wild in Egypt; so the fact that half a litre of its seed was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (1341–1323 BC) suggests that it was probably cultivated in Egypt by his time. It was also known to the Children of Israel on their exodus from Egypt: and the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:31 KJV).

Our English word ‘coriander’ has a similar derivation to Coriandrum, but came via the French word coriandre; sativum is from the Latin sativus, cultivated.

This culinary herb is a native of southern Europe, and from north Africa to south-western Asia. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to about 50 cm tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, slender and feathery higher up on the flowering stems. The white or very pale pink flowers are borne in small umbels, asymmetrical, with the petals that point away from the centre of the umbel longer (5 – 6 mm) that those pointing towards the centre (1 – 3 mm long). The fruit is a globular schizocarp 3 – 5 mm in diameter.

The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many South Asian foods (particularly chutneys), in Chinese foods, and also in Mexican dishes, especially in salsa and guacamole. Chopped coriander leaves are used as a garnish on cooked dishes such as dal and curries. As heat diminishes their flavour quickly, coriander leaves are often added to the dish immediately before serving. Fresh coriander leaves, known as kinza in Russian, are often used in salads in Russia and other countries that were formerly part of the USSR. Coriander seed is used as a spice in Indian curries, which often employ the ground fruits in generous amounts together with cummin. It acts as a thickener. Roasted coriander seeds are eaten as a snack. The seed is also the main ingredient of two South Indian dishes, sambhar and rasam. The seeds are also boiled in water and drunk as a medicine for colds. The roots of the plant have a deeper, more intense flavour than the leaves. They are commonly used in Thai dishes.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photograph taken in Picnic Bay 2010, 2012
Page last updated 27th November 2018