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The coriander connection: Brain health in early modern English recipes and Ayurvedic practices today

a glass cup of tea with a basin of fennel seeds
a glass cup of tea with a basin of fennel seeds

This blog post, exploring the themes of memory loss and preservation, is the third in the three-part series “Mixology and Memorie,” presented as part of Searching for Shakespeare. Join the Folger in celebrating the 400th anniversary of the printing of the First Folio, in partnership with DC Public Library, throughout the month of April.

Coriander is an amazing herb that has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times in the Mediterranean region, Africa and the Middle East, central Asia, India, and China. Its familiarity to the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans also brought the benefits of coriander to the attention of recipe book authors in early modern England, such as Mrs. Baker of Folger MS V.a.619.

In India, where coriander is a staple in every kitchen, it is known as dhanya or dhanyaka, which means “the rich one”. Its name is deserving as coriander has a myriad of medicinal benefits and culinary uses. Using food as medicine is an important idea of Ayurveda, India’s ancient medical system dating back 4000 years, where coriander still is a major constituent of several herbal formulas.

two illustrations of coriander plants showing flowers, stems, and roots

Illustrations of coriander in Theatrum botanicum: The theater of plants. This English herbal by John Parkinson was published in 1640. Folger STC 19302 copy 1 (folio)

For culinary purposes, both the seeds and leaf are used. The taste of the seeds could be described as warm, nutty, and spicy. You may even sense an orange-like quality, a flavor that recently inspired two citrus-based cocktails for the Folger’s “Mixology and Memorie” series. The leaves are frequently used in a variety of dishes in India such as curries, rice, and lentils, and they are described as fresh, green, and tangy. Coriander is excellent in collecting the aromas of different spices and is used in spice mixes throughout India and all over the world. Behind the design of these traditional curry and spice blends lies the intention to balance and heal the body.

According to Ayurveda, the primary herbal actions of coriander are the following: stimulates appetite, destroys toxins, and alleviates intestinal spasms, burning in the body, sluggish appetite, thirst, and rashes. It also lifts the spirits, kills parasites, and acts as a diuretic.

But there is one more significant benefit of coriander in Ayurvedic practice that is lesser known, and that is its ability to protect brain health and fight memory loss. This benefit is highlighted in Mrs. Baker’s recipe for “A Confect of Coriander,” found in the Folger collection, in which she prescribes to “helpe the memorie…by comforting of the braine.”

Research has found that coriander leaves improve memory, reduce cell damage, and aid in reducing stress and anxiety1. Many brain ailments, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis, are associated with inflammation. Coriander’s anti-inflammatory properties may safeguard against these diseases. One study found that coriander extract protected against nerve-cell damage following drug-induced seizures in rats, likely due to its antioxidant properties 2.  Another study noted that coriander leaves improved memory, suggesting that the plant may have applications for Alzheimer’s disease 3.

Since the health of the brain gradually diminishes due to inflammation, the anti-inflammatory properties of coriander leaves act as a safeguard4. While Mrs. Baker does not describe what she meant by “comforting the brain,” in early modern medicine inflammation was believed to be caused by an excess of humors, specifically inflowing or excess blood and bile. Looking beyond Mrs. Baker’s recipe, we see that many early modern herbals and recipes that discuss strengthening memory, or comforting the brain, associate these concepts with expelling or drying up excess humors in the brain. Thus, it is possible that Mrs. Baker’s recipe, like Ayurvedic uses of coriander, was meant to treat inflammation of the brain to restore brain function.

Please Note: Coriander is considered to be a very safe herb, but there is some advice on avoiding the coriander essential oil during pregnancy due to its mildly stimulating effect.  As with any herbal supplements, it’s best to seek the advice of your physician before starting, especially if you’re taking any medications.

Herbal combinations of coriander:

– With turmeric, ginseng, and green tea for weak memory

– With fennel, cumin, and cardamom for digestive upsets

– With fennel for urinary problems

– With licorice and long pepper for cough

– With fresh ginger for fever

Coriander, cumin, and fennel tea


  • 1 tsp. coriander seed
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed⁠
  • 1 tsp. fennel seed⁠
  • 16 oz pure water⁠
  • Lemon or lime⁠ (optional)


Bring seeds to a boil in a small pot. Turn down heat to low, simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Strain into a mug with juice of half a lemon.

Feel free to add other herbs as noted in the article, such as ginger, cardamon, nutmeg, turmeric, etc. Sweeten with honey if desired.

a glass cup of tea with a basin of fennel seeds
Coriander with fennel and cumin as a therapeutic tea.
  1. Reversal of memory deficits by Coriandrum sativum leaves in mice
    Vasudevan Mani 1, Milind Parle, Kalavathy Ramasamy, Abu Bakar Abdul Majeed
    2011 Jan 15;91(1):186-92. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.4171. Epub 2010 Sep 17.
    PMID: 20848667 DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.4171
  2. Neuroprotective effects of Coriandrum sativum and its constituent, linalool: A review.
    Hosseini M, Boskabady MH, Khazdair MR.
    Avicenna J Phytomed. 2021 Sep-Oct;11(5):436-450. doi: 10.22038/AJP.2021.55681.2786.
    PMID: 34745916 Free PMC article. Review.
  3. Coriandrum sativum attenuates microglia mediated neuroinflammation and MPTP-induced behavioral and oxidative changes in Parkinson’s disease mouse model.
    Koppula S, Alluri R, Kopalli SR.
    EXCLI J. 2021 Apr 28;20:835-850. doi: 10.17179/excli2021-3668. eCollection 2021.
    PMID: 34177406 Free PMC article.
  4. Evaluation of coriander spice as a functional food by using in vitro bioassays
    Chuan-Rui Zhang 1, Amila A Dissanayake 1, Kudret Kevseroğlu 2, Muraleedharan G Nair 3
    2015 Jan 15;167:24-9. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.06.120. Epub 2014 Jul 5.
    PMID: 25148954 DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.06.120