It’s a vibrant green, culinary herb with a flavor all its own and a long history dating back thousands of years. The herb cilantro was grown by the ancient Egyptians and even placed inside the tomb of their boy king, Tutankhamen.
In modern times, cilantro is among the most popular culinary herbs providing a distinct flavor to sauces, dips, and dressings, as well as serving as a garnish for many meat and vegetable dishes.
But cilantro’s not just for culinary use.
In several traditional forms of medicine, cilantro is recommended for many health conditions, including epileptic seizures. Scientists wondered if cilantro could really help fight seizures. They took a closer look and were surprised by just how well it works.
The earliest known medicinal use of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum L), also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, was for the treatment of headaches among people in Persia, during the 6th century BC.
Cilantro is also used in traditional Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine for gastrointestinal disorders. In traditional Chinese medicine, the use is similar. Doctors prescribe cilantro seeds to treat indigestion, anorexia, stomach-ache, influenza and bad breath.
Cilantro: An Ancient “Cure All”
Modern science reveals that these traditional doctors are on to something. Research shows that cilantro has numerous medicinal properties.
For example, different parts of the plant are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-hypertensive, cholesterol lowering, cardio-protective, neuro-protective, diuretic, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, as well as show the ability to fight depression, anxiety and poor digestion.
What’s more, cilantro has strong antioxidant properties – more so than vitamin C- and that might explain some of its disease-fighting power.
Recent studies in animals found cilantro extracts protected the skin against ultraviolet radiation and cilantro leaves improved the memories of mice engineered to suffer memory loss.
After reading about its historical use in seizures, researchers from the University of California Irvine were interested in identifying underlying mechanisms that could enable cilantro to effectively delay certain seizures common in epilepsy.
So, they carried out an examination of cilantro leaf metabolites, or intermediate products of cellular metabolism. What they discovered, surprised them.
Activates Potassium Channels in the Brain
Researchers found one particular metabolite called (E)-2-dodecenal, described as a long-chain fatty aldehyde, activates a number of potassium channels in the brain which are responsible for regulating electrical activity.
(E)-2-dodecenal belongs to a potassium channel subfamily called KCNQ. Previous studies showed KCNQ dysfunction can lead to severe, treatment-resistant epileptic seizures. Researchers found cilantro acts as a highly potent KCNQ activator to reduce seizures.
Principal investigator, professor Geoff Abbot, explains more saying, “We discovered that cilantro, which has been used as a traditional anticonvulsant medicine, activates a class of potassium channels in the brain to reduce seizure activity.
“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.”
Prof. Abbot also encourages us to include cilantro in our diets, listing many of the benefits referred to earlier.
“And the best part,” he adds, “is it tastes good!”