In a recent UK survey of people’s fears, more than 17% confessed to being scared of coriander, and while this may seem surprising to some, its early years were, in fact, conspicuously marked by unbridled passion, greed and awe.
It was first cultivated by the rogue priest Bartolomo Corianderri, whose followers scandalised 16th century Florence by adding it to panzenella, daubing it on religious frescoes and consuming large quantities to fuel riotous orgies of sex and violence. Within a few years, it had become known as l’erba dell’inferno (the herb from hell) and in 1587, Pope Sixtus V excommunicated 27 cardinals for secretly growing coriander in their mitres.
In the 20th century, coriander was largely rehabilitated into herbal orthodoxy and much greater emphasis was placed on its positive attributes, such as treating skin disorders, preventing anaemia and being an extremely suitable name for heritage paint finishes.
Despite the misgivings of a large minority of the UK population, it is now planned to incorporate coriander into the design of the new £50 note, with a bouquet of the herb on one side and a portrait of the famous chef, Hugh Firmly-Weepingsore, on the other.