Coriander Oil: Potential Weapon Against Harmful Bacteria?

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A new study suggests that oil from the seeds of coriander — the green herb that’s more commonly known as cilantro — may be able to wipe out a broad range of harmful bacteria, including drug-resistant bugs and those that commonly cause food poisoning.

The findings won’t come as much of a surprise to many people who already use coriander oil as a folk remedy to ease nausea, relieve pain, help digestion, treat fungal infection and alleviate cramps. The oil has been used for centuries for such purposes.

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In the new study, Dr. Fernanda Domingues of the University of Beira Interior, in Portugal, and her team tested the effect of coriander oil against 12 bacterial strains in the lab, including E. coli, Salmonella enterica, Bacillus cereus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Solutions containing 1.6% coriander or less killed or slowed the growth of all the bacteria tested.

How? “[C]oriander oil damages the membrane surrounding the bacterial cell. This disrupts the barrier between the cell and its environment and inhibits essential processes including respiration, which ultimately leads to death of the bacterial cell,” said Domingues in a statement.

The researchers think that the development of new food additives containing coriander oil could help reduce the risk of food-borne disease — which kills 5,000 Americans and causes 76 million illnesses each year — and prevent bacterial spoilage of food. They also suggest that the essential oil can be used in drugs in the form of lotions, mouth rinses and pills to help combat drug-resistant bacterial infections.

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Of course, we’re still a long way from any clinical applications. Researchers still need to show that coriander oil can thwart bacteria in settings other than the lab, and better understand how it works.

The research was published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.