Cilantro is quite the versatile plant. Not only can it kick up your salsa, but it shows promise as an inexpensive method of removing toxic heavy metals (such as lead) in contaminated water. In fact, research conducted by Ivy Community College undergraduates under the direction of Douglas Schauer, PhD. with scientists at the Universidad Politécnica de Francisco I. Madero in Hidalgo revealed —although small scale—cilantro could be more effective than traditional carbon filtration.
Mexico does not have a filtration system for heavy metals water pollution, and cilantro grows wild in the country.
How Does Cilantro Clean the Water?
According to Schauer, the outer wall of the microscopic cells that make up the plant are ideal for absorption of heavy metals. In fact, parsley has similar features and could also act as a biosorbent.
Expensive or Inexpensive Method
Growing cilantro arguably isn’t a cost effective solution. Schauer notes in certain countries like Mexico where the water contains heavy metal pollution, it grows wild. Thus, harvesting cilantro makes it a cheaper solution than activated carbon used in home water purification filters or advanced technologies such as ion-exchange resins.
“Our goal is to find biosorbents that people in developing countries could obtain for nothing,” Schauer explained. “When the filter in a water purification pitcher needs to be changed, they could go outside, gather a handful of cilantro or some other plant, and presto, there’s a new filter ready to purify the water.”
The key to an invention is scaling it for practical use. Currently, his team is in the process of creating practical devices such a tea bag-like packets, reusable water filter cartridges and other devices to remove heavy metals inexpensively.
In addition, he will be studying whether cilantro can remove arsenic from water as well. Arsenic in water has been linked to cancer, development delays, diabetes and weakened immune system.
Questions I still had:
- Could coriander seed (cilantro seed) accomplish the same heavy metal removal?
- Could cilantro remove heavy metals from the soil?
- Could cilantro remove arsenic from water?
As Schauer’s team continued their research, hopefully, the above questions will be answered.