Inspiration: Fresh Herbs – Coriander

  • By Jean Peters-Do

Every year we have volunteer cilantro popping up around the gardens, some years lots, some not so many. This was a poor year for the volunteers, just enough for the bees and butterflies and a few for me to test proof of concept that the green seeds would tincture well. It’s the perfect note for the top note in one of my perfumes – not as spicy as the dried seed, but a little bitter and quite sweet. Just as I imagined it would be!

Luckily, I started some old seeds indoors and put those starts in 10 gallon pots with some bunching onions and peppers, and those thrived. 

Today was the day to harvest those sweet and juicy green seeds for my tincturing project. After pulling the seeds and gently washing them in our sweet rainwater, I crushed them in organic grain alcohol in a flask. When I’m happy with the tincture, I’ll filter it. I can’t wait to try it out in my perfume formula.

As with all trials, there are a couple of potential pitfalls. The first is the color – it’s a bright green, compared to the light gold of the commercial essential oil. My perfume is a golden amber and I really don’t want to alter it if possible. Second is the water content of the seeds. Water in perfume might make a perfume cloud. So far so good, it’s not too cloudy and it clears well when the solution settles.

Perfumes that feature coriander

The list of perfumes that feature coriander top notes is very long. The two that I own and enjoy are Coco Chanel and Bvlgari’s au The Vert. Coriander blends very well with citrus, indolic flowers, herbs, spices and woods – in other words, it’s truly versatile. Quite a few of the bigger names are blends with patchouli or vetiver. 

Described as herbal, spicy and slightly peppery, woody, and sweet, it has a high concentration of linalool. Linalool is a soft floral scent and it gives floral compositions a sheer quality. Sometimes when I smell the isolate it gives me the impression of clean soap. Linalool is a primary constituent of Rosewood, which is endangered, although natural perfumers use Ho Wood as a rosewood substitute. But while Ho Wood has all the sweet purity of linalool, like Rosewood it is much softer, is unmistakably woody, and does not have the brightness and fresh lightness of coriander seed. Thus, coriander is an important top note for adding linalool with sparkle.

Look for future posts, when I will reveal which Amaravati Perfumes are made with these fresh green coriander seeds.

Other uses of coriander

Coriander, and the fresh young leaves called cilantro, is a member of the Apiaceae family. This is a big group that includes celery, cumin, carrots, and parsley. It’s used for herbal remedies in many cultures. Quite a bit of research has been done to isolate the active constituents and test them for medicinal action. It is touted as beneficial for metabolic conditions like diabetes and heart disease; cancer; antimicrobial effects (it has action against salmonella for example); mood disorders and neurologic degeneration; it has antioxidant properties and other benefits. It has plenty of minerals and even the flavonoid quercetin, which gained popularity in helping the immune system for fighting COVID infection.

With all this going for the herb, what’s not to like?

Some people hate CILANTRO

The fresh green leaved of the plant Coriandrum sativum are generally known as cilantro. The plant originates from southern Europe and Asia and has been used for thousands of years. It’s even found in Egyptian tombs. I first became familiar with it when my mother-in-law came to live with us in the early ‘90s. It is essential in Vietnamese cooking. Could you imagine a spring roll without it? Here in Texas, we can buy it in generous quantities year round because it’s a key ingredient in many Tex-Mex recipes, like pico de gallo. We enjoy a diverse palate, both cooking at home and dining out at the terrific eateries here in Austin. Cilantro and coriander are staples in Indian, Mediterranean, Thai, and many other cuisines. I can’t find a menu that doesn’t have it.

And yet, there are some people who become ill at the thought of eating cilantro! Anywhere from 4 – 14% of the world’s population do not taste pungent herbal flavors at all, they taste soap. There is a strong possibility that you know someone who is revolted by smelling it. Why is that?

OR26A is the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap to some people: bitter and painfully disgusting — metallic and horrible. That’s exactly what tahini tastes like to me, beyond awful, like a strange bitter battery acid. Thankfully, it’s a different gene that makes tahini and broccoli taste bad to some people; otherwise, I’d be missing out on many great dishes and perfumes. Simply harvesting and processing the coriander seeds this morning was entirely pleasurable, a fragrance experience all unto itself. I suppose if I had that gene, I’d avoid it at all costs.

What kind of experience do you have when you smell and taste cilantro and coriander? Are they comfort foods? What about perfume that has coriander as a prominent perfume note? Do you garden and grow coriander, too?

Whether coriander is always at hand in your world or if you are just learning about it, I hope that you have rich experience memories of the warm spice of the dried seeds and the pungent freshness of the chopped leaves, in all their variations.

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