The Herb That Loves Your Liver

By Andrea Nakayama,
April 9, 2014 Updated: April 7, 2014

Oh no, you might say, not cilantro! Yes, cilantro.

When springtime arrives, I like to spotlight the herb that has its fans and detractors. People either love it or hate it. It’s met with either adoration or repulsion. Which camp are you in?

On the hate side, can you believe there’s a Facebook fanpage called “I Hate Cilantro”? There’s actually more than one Facebook page devoted to cilantro loathing—and if you’re among this crowd and tempted to head over there right now, please stop. Read on and give cilantro a chance.

Personally, I don’t remember eating the fresh herb until my young adult years. As a cilantro lover, that’s an atrocity. I love the crisp texture, the hint of lemon. I enjoy cilantro in salsa, curry, spring rolls, and as a base for pesto. Lately I’ve been using it to make a garlicky chimichurri. Yum!

And don’t forget fish tacos! Cilantro really makes a fish taco. But my favorite place for cilantro is my morning green smoothie.

Before you scrunch up your nose, consider that the beauty of cilantro lies not only in its refreshing flavor (for those of us in the love category), but also in its powerful health benefits. Among them are its abilities to help remove heavy metals from the body.

Cilantro has been considered the “poor man’s chelation treatment.” And chelation—the removal of heavy metals from the bloodstream—is what we all need right now, as we transition into spring and begin to support the body’s most powerful pathways of detoxification.

The liver is your almighty organ of detox.

It’s working overtime to help you sort the pure from the impure. Yet the liver is one of your body’s major multitaskers. Just like you, trying to keep pace with modern-day living, your liver is charged with doing the same—all of what it’s meant to do and then some.

Let’s take a peek at the daily grind for your liver:

• Producing and secreting bile to aid in the digestion of fats
• Managing your carbohydrate metabolism, converting excess glucose for storage and later use, and secreting it as needed
• Breaking down and discarding excess circulating hormones
• Filtering the blood, scanning for toxins, destroying and disposing of them

And this is why I love to cleanse my liver! It’s like sending one of my most dynamic organs to a spa, to kick back, take a break, and get some tender, loving care.

You’ve gotta love an herb that supports your liver function.

Note: Most people who don’t like cilantro are reacting to the herb’s smell, not its taste. If you don’t like cilantro but want to experience its blessings, hold your nose while you throw it in your blender and give it a whirl.

Refreshing Cilantro

Cilantro is the fresh, leafy herb from the coriander plant. While I tend to call the seed coriander and the frilly plant cilantro, you’ll find that the plant is sometimes referred to as coriander as well.

Like parsley, cilantro belongs to the carrot family. It looks similar to parsley too, but cilantro leaves tend to be flatter, softer, and lighter in color.

Health Benefits of Cilantro

Cilantro helps to regulate energy with its astringent and cooling flavor.

It is a diuretic, making it useful in the treatment of urinary tract infections, helping to wash away any unwanted bacteria. In fact, cilantro contains a compound called Dodecenol, which has been shown to have a powerful antibiotic capacity.

Both cilantro and coriander are great digestive aids. The oils they contain help to relieve gas (which may account for their accompaniment in bean-laden Mexican dishes!), soothe stomach pain, reduce bloating, and promote the peristalsis that keeps our food moving through the GI tract.

Cilantro is an efficacious detoxifier, effectively mobilizing heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum out of the bloodstream. (Aim for 2 tablespoons per day.)

The mechanism of action is pretty cool here. The chemical compounds in cilantro actually bind to the heavy metals, loosen them from the tissues, blood, and organs, and transport the harmful substances out of the body through elimination.

You can quell pain and symptoms of inflammation by the continued use of cilantro, which is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s the cineole and linoleic acid contained within cilantro that house these anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic properties.

And cilantro is one of your natural cholesterol-regulating agents—helping to increase HDL and decrease LDL by stimulating the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids in the liver. This will simultaneously aid and improve in the digestion of fat.

Uses for Cilantro

I just tried a delicious recipe for cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto from “The Herbfarm Cookbook.” You can substitute cilantro for the basil, and toasted pumpkin seeds for the nuts in your favorite pesto recipe.

Any Thai soup or curry is scrumptious topped with cilantro. You can also try the infusion done with this recipe. Think coconut, carrot, veggies, turmeric. …

Chicken or fish can be rubbed or stuffed with cilantro before cooking, by itself or in a marinade.

Don’t forget all your Mexican dishes where cilantro can be added—salsa, guacamole, burritos, tacos, gazpacho, beans, and even egg dishes.

Add cilantro sprigs to glasses of water with lemon juice.

Include cilantro in a homemade coleslaw.

And don’t miss the opportunity to throw some cilantro in your next smoothie. Here’s a nice mixture: peeled grapefruit, peeled cucumber, cilantro, lime, vanilla, cinnamon, and a little liquid stevia or raw honey.

With a career born of a personal family health crisis, functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama takes the idea of food as personalized medicine beyond a clinical practice. Her online programs at and guide her clients in taking ownership over their health.

Recipe Box:

Cilantro-Infused Sancocho-Inspired Soup

I’m not really sure I’m allowed to call this soup sancocho, which is a traditional Colombian stew, but it was the roots of a sancocho that inspired this dish. I mean that both literally, since sancocho tends to include root vegetables in the brew, as well as figuratively, given that I was doing a bit of sancocho inquiry while creating this recipe.

9 cups broth
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large bunch cilantro, tied together with kitchen string and some reserved for garnish
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
Large pinch saffron threads
Good-quality sea salt (about 3 teaspoons)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
6 small purple potatoes, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 small rutabaga, sliced
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, sliced
Cooked clams, fish, chicken, whole garbanzos (optional)

In a large pot, combine the broth, onion, garlic, tied cilantro, and cumin. Crush the saffron between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the pot. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt to the broth. Scoop 1 cup of broth into a blender and add the 2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans. Cover and blend until integrated.

Remove the tied cilantro from the broth and set aside. (You can discard it or put it aside to use creatively in a smoothie or another blended soup.) Pour the contents of the blender back into the pot with the remaining broth.

Bring the broth to a simmer. Add the sliced potatoes, carrots, and rutabaga. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and add up to 2 teaspoons more sea salt to bring out the subtle flavors.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with sliced avocado, destemmed fresh cilantro, and your added cooked protein, if desired. Oh, and don’t forget the aji sauce if you’d like!