How to Use Cilantro Properly in Mexican Dishes

A chef chopping cilantro.
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Cilantro is an herb commonly found in Mexican dishes and salsas, and is sometimes referred to as Mexican parsley. It is actually related to the spice known as coriander, which is the ground seed of the leafy cilantro plant. The botanical name for cilantro is Coriandrum sativum.

Fresh cilantro has a pungent odor--it's one of those herbs that people either love, or intensely dislike.

Is Cilantro Bad For You?

Like most things that we ingest, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Eating too much cilantro all at once can upset your stomach and cause temporary and sometimes permanent damage to other organs. Too much cilantro can reduce blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Keep in mind that the amounts of cilantro that would be harmful are much greater than what you'd find in a spicy salsa (although that can cause intestinal issues, as well).

Generally, when ingested in appropriate amounts, cilantro is said to be a rather healthy herb. The leaves are high in antioxidants which may reduce "bad" cholesterol levels, they contain essential oils, and are a source of minerals like iron and potassium and vitamins like Vitamin A and folic acid.

How to Handle Cilantro

Because so many in the Southwest love Mexican food, cilantro can normally be found fresh in local grocery stores. When buying cilantro, make sure the leaves are very green and fresh, and that they have a strong aroma.

When you get the cilantro leaves home wash the leaves thoroughly and discard any wilted leaves. Cilantro is best when it is used as soon as possible, while the aroma and flavor are the strongest. If you aren't using all of it, put the remaining leaves in a jar with water like a bunch of flowers. Cover the leaves with a plastic bag and put the jar in the refrigerator.

You Can Grow Your Own Cilantro

Cilantro is relatively easy to grow in the desert, since it thrives in warm climates and loves morning sun. In Phoenix, you can grow cilantro in the garden or in pots, from seed or from seedlings in the fall and winter. Every local nursery or home improvement store that sells seeds and herb plants will have them. Don't have a garden? You can grow cilantro indoors! It's easy to store, even frozen.