Cilantro: This herb can purify water too

Because cilantro isn't an essential crop, using it as a purifier won't take away from people's food needs in Mexico.

Story highlights

  • Research team studying cheaper ways to filter water near Mexico City
  • Heavy metals such as lead and nickel can cause neurological health problems
  • Scientists found cilantro is the most prevalent and powerful bioabsorbant material
The next time you find yourself facing some questionable drinking water, look for some cilantro.
At least that's what a team of U.S. and Mexican researchers made up of undergraduate students suggest.
The research team, lead by Douglas Schauer of Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette, Indiana, along with colleagues from the Universidad Politécnica de Francisco I. Madero in Hidalgo, Mexico, have been studying the region of Tule Valley near Mexico City to identify cheaper ways to filter water.
Mexico City has long dumped its waste water in the valley, and the contaminated water is then used by regional farmers to irrigate crops. Once in the edible foods, heavy metals such as lead and nickel can make their way to consumers, where they can contribute to neurological and other health problems.
"The organic toxins we can take care of pretty easily with a number of different methods, but the only way to really get rid of those heavy metals is to treat them with filtering agents like activated charcoal (like what's found in a Brita filter), but those types of materials are kind of expensive," says Schauer. "They are a little expensive for us to use, but they are very expensive to the people living in that region."
After testing various samples of plants from cacti to flowers, the researchers determined that cilantro is the most prevalent and powerful so-called bioabsorbant material in the area. Bioabsorption is the scientific term for using organic materials often found in plants, that when dried, could replace the charcoal currently used in filters.
The team suspects that the outer wall structure of the tiny cells that make up the plant are ideal for capturing metals. Other plants, like dandelions and parsley may also provide similar bioabsorbant capabilities.
Schauer says ground-up cilantro can be inserted into a