Coriander oil is capable of killing many strains of bacteria in laboratory tests, researchers have found.

Coriander, also called cilantro, is an aromatic plant used in cooking. For centuries, oil produced from the seeds has been tied to health benefits, including pain relief, ease of cramps, nausea fighter, aid for digestion and treatment of fungal infections.

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Coriander, also called cilantro or Chinese parsley, has been used for centuries to aid digestion. (Apichart Weerawong/Associated Press)

Now scientists writing in the Journal of Medical Microbiology say the oil reduced the growth of 12 bacterial species, including E. coli, salmonella and the MRSA superbug. Most strains were killed by solutions containing 1.6 per cent coriander oil or less.

"The results indicate that coriander oil damages the membrane surrounding the bacterial cell," said Fernanda Domingues, who led the study at the University of Beira Interior in Portugal.

"This disrupts the barrier between the cell and its environment and inhibits essential processes including respiration, which ultimately leads to death of the bacterial cell," she added in a release.

The sterilized coriander oil did not work against two types of bacteria, Bacillus cereus and Enterococcus faecalis.

"These results, showing a potent antibacterial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria due to membrane permeability, are noteworthy and justify the use of this plant, not only as a food flavouring agent, but also as a food preservative in order to prevent bacterial spoilage of foods," the study's authors concluded.

"However, this research needs further enlightenment in order to evaluate the suitability of these remarkable antibacterial properties in practical applications."