Two thousand years ago, coriander plants grew wild in Egypt and Israel, and were especially abundant in the valley of the Jordan. The botanical name of the plant that produces the coriander seed is the Coriandrum sativum. It is a member of the parsley family of plants.

Coriander is only twice mentioned in the Bible, and on each occasion it is in connection with 'manna' which was associated with the Israelites during their wanderings in the Sinai desert.

Exodus 16:31 (NRSV)

“The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”

Numbers 11:7(NRSV)

“Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its colour was like the colour of gum resin.”

In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites fleeing Egypt are left to wander the desert, half-starving. “What is the point of leaving Egypt, they ask themselves, only to perish from hunger in the wilderness? Could dying in freedom really be preferable to living in chains?”. In the story, God says to Moses “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.” The next day, “upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.”

Manna is said to have sustained the Israelites for 40 years, and has long captured the imagination of scholars. Manna has been portrayed as being "a fine, flake-like thing" and “like the frost on the ground” Exodus adds that manna had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun and was like a coriander seed in size but white in colour. Other verses in the Bible have added to the mystery …. “on hot days, manna melted in the sun. If not gathered quickly enough, it rotted and bred worms”. Scholars have suggested that it may have been substances released by coriander seed (actually the fruit of the plant) such as gums, oils or resins that oozed out from the pores of diseased or injured plant tissue. The Israelites “ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it.”

The seeds have a distinctly aromatic flavour, and today in the Middle East, coriander seeds are used to flavour bread. It is commercially cultivated in the UK for its seeds, which are used by confectioners, drug manufacturers and distillers. In gardens, it is grown for its leaves, which are used in soups and salads.

In addition to its culinary use, the coriander seed possesses medicinal properties and has been used over for many years to treat disorders of the digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems.