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Why Are So Many Apiaceae Herbs and Spices Considered Potential Nutraceuticals?

Beverley has a degree in science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.

Dill spice

Dill spice

The Study of Herbs and Spices

If you’ve studied herbs and spices—dill, parsley, coriander, cumin, caraway—many of them seem to belong to the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family of plants. Many of them have also been studied for possible benefits to human health. Why does this plant group have so many potential nutraceuticals?

About of Apiaceae Plant Family

You may know the Apiaceae plant family as the carrot, parsley, or celery family. There are almost 4,000 species of these aromatic flowering plants in 434 genera. They include herbs, spices, vegetables, and ornamental shrubbery. Within the lot, poisonous varieties exist. This can make identification problematic.

Most Apiaceae plants are Mediterranean and Southwest Asian natives, but they are currently cultivated worldwide. The term ‘Apiaceae’ was coined by English botanist John Lindley in 1830. These plants can be annuals, biennials, or perennials. Their common characteristics are hollow, non-woody stems, taproots, alternate sheathing-base leaves, small simple or compound umbel flowers, indehiscent fruits and seeds, and a course of oil ducts throughout their bodies.



Apiaceae Nutraceutical Herbs and Spices

Some of the Apiaceae common herbs and spices include anise, cumin, coriander, caraway, celery, dill, fennel, and parsley. Most have culinary and pharmacological functions. The plants with curative potential have served humans for centuries. Their leaves and seeds seem to be a panacea for human health. Research has subsequently provided some evidence of this.

Nutritional Constituents of Apiaceae Herbs and Spices

The herbs and spices in the Apiaceae plant family seem to have vast quantities of the following bioactive constituents, which tend to benefit human health. They include the polyphenolic compounds flavonoids and coumarins, plus terpenoids, polyacetylenes, and monounsaturated fatty acids.


There are roughly 8,000 different types of this phytochemical and they are divided into four groups, according to a Healthline article. This article concentrates on the flavonoids and coumarins, which are abundant in Apiaceae herbs and spices.


Flavonoids make up about 60 percent of the polyphenolic compounds, reports Healthline. They seem to be effective against certain human diseases. Studies indicate they may have antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic potential.

Of the six subgroups of flavonoid compounds, the flavones seem to be the most bioactive lot in Apiaceae herbs.

Coumarin compound in 3D

Coumarin compound in 3D


Did you know that Warfarin, the coagulant drug, is a coumarin? The downside is that that particular type does not occur naturally in plants. It is manufactured. Of the 1,300 or so types of coumarin compounds that have been isolated thus far, about 700 of them are plant-derived.

Apiaceae is one of the plant families with the highest number of coumarins. It contains simple coumarins, two types of furocoumarins (most common in Apiaceae), lineal coumarins, and two types of pyranocoumarins.

Coumarin is described as a “volatile active compound.” In its purest form, it is solid, crystalline, and white. These compounds seem to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antithrombotic, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and vasodilatory properties.


According to a Science Direct article, of all the natural plant compounds, terpenoids, also known as isoprenoids, are the “most numerous and structurally diverse.” They are classed as sesquiterpenoids, diterpenoids, monoterpenes, steroids, carotenoids, tocopherols (vitamin E), and oleanic acid among others. The terpenoids in Apiaceae spices and herbs include carotenoids, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenoids, and steroids.

Some of the pharmacological activity displayed by this class of compounds include anticancer, antioxidant, pain inhibitor, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory.


Apiaceae is one of the three plant families with a high population of polyacetylenes, according to Science Direct. More attention is currently being paid to these phytochemicals for possibly having anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial properties.

The polyacetylene composition in Apiaceae includes falcarinol types like falcarindiol, also collectively known as C17-polyacetylenes.

Petroselinic acid (monounsaturated fatty acid)

Petroselinic acid (monounsaturated fatty acid)

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

Recorded evidence shows that seed spices and herbs contain a wealth of fatty acids of varying types and quantities. According to a PubMed study, cumin, fennel, coriander, and dill seeds have the “healthiest fatty acid profile.” They seem to have an abundance of monounsaturated fatty acids, especially petroselinic acid.

Herbs and spices in the Apiaceae family also contain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as the essential linoleic acid.

These active metabolites may inhibit chronic diseases, inflammation, microbial illnesses, and cardiovascular concerns.

Compounds and Potential Benefits of Specific Apiaceae Herbs and Spices

Research is proving that Apiaceae herbs and spices have a wealth of constituents that may be beneficial to human health. As we detail those benefits and studies, let’s keep in mind that there’s no medical evidence to support Apiaceae herbs and spices curing, treating, or preventing disease in humans. Always consult your healthcare provider before consuming any food source or product for health and wellbeing purposes.

Fennel plant

Fennel plant

Antioxidant Benefits

When cells undergo oxidative stress, the byproduct is a class of harmful organic molecules called free radicals. They damage the cells, and medical experts believe they are also responsible for many of our chronic diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.

Research suggests that the phenolic compounds in Apiaceae herbs such as fennel and caraway and coriander may scavenge free radicals and prevent us from developing chronic diseases. Terpenoids and polyacetylenes may also provide antioxidant benefits.

Corriander leaves

Corriander leaves

Anticancer Benefits

Oxidative stress may be a cancer inducer. Research studies indicate that bioactive compounds with potential antioxidant activity may also have anticancer properties. An example of this is a study on coriander botanically called Coriandrum sativum.

Caraway seeds

Caraway seeds

Anti-Inflammatory Support

Persistent or chronic inflammation can do our bodies even more harm. A study using rats as subjects showed that the anti-inflammatory properties in terpenoids such as carvone and limonene in dill may be beneficial in preventing such long-term inflammation.

Another study on caraway seeds showed the spice’s potential in preventing colitis, inflammation of the colon or large intestine. The rich veins of polyphenols and polyacetylenes may also have anti-inflammatory qualities.

E Coli bacteria

E Coli bacteria

Antimicrobial Benefits

Some microscopic living organisms, especially bacteria, viruses, and fungi are the cause of many human diseases. One research study looked at the antimicrobial effects of fennel, dill, and caraway and found that they, especially the dill, excelled in antimicrobial activity. Another study on anise fruits showed a similar function toward Candida fungi. These plants are abundant in polyphenols, terpenoids, polyacetylenes, and monounsaturated fatty acids all of which provide antimicrobial support.



Anti-Hyperglycemic Support

Since hyperglycemia and hypertension are proponents of type 2 diabetes, studies were conducted on Apiaceae herbs to measure their ultimate nutraceutical ability against type 2 diabetes. The flavonoid rutin in dill showed promising results.

Studies on herbs and spices, including coriander and cumin, indicated that the strong presence of polyphenols, terpenoids, and polyacetylenes aid in hyperglycemic and thus type 2 diabetes protection.

Parsley leaves

Parsley leaves

Hepatoprotective Effects

A study on parsley leaves showed the positive effects of certain flavonoids, terpenoids, and sterols in hepatoprotective function. In simpler terms, these compounds, and thus Apiaceae herbs and spices, may prevent liver damage.

Compounds in Common Apiaceae Herbs and Spices and Their Potential Health Benefits



Polyphenols, terpenoids, polyacetylenes, monounsaturated fatty acids



Polyphenols, terpenoids, polyacetylenes

Antioxidant & anti-inflammatory (anticancer, anti-diabetes, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-atherosclerosis), antimicrobial


Polyphenols, terpenoids (monoterpenes), mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids

Antioxidant & anti-inflammatory (anticancer, anti-diabetes, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-atherosclerosis), antimicrobial


Polyphenols, terpenoids, polyacetylenes, monounsaturated fatty acids (petroselinic acid)

Antioxidant & anti-inflammatory (anticancer, anti-diabetes, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-atherosclerosis), antimicrobial


Polyphenols, terpenoids, polyacetylenes, monounsaturated fatty acids (petroselinic acid)



Polyphenols (rutin), terpenoids, polyacetylenes, monounsaturated fatty acids

Anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic (antihyperglycemic), antimicrobial


Polyphenols, terpenoids, polyacetylenes, monounsaturated fatty acids

Antioxidant (anticancer, anti-Alzheimer's disease, anti-atherosclerosis), antimicrobial


Polyphenols (flavonoids), terpenoids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (sterols)


Bottom Line

Apiaceae herbs and spices are under current observation for their ability to support and promote human health. That’s because they contain barrel loads of bioactive compounds with the potential for healing and preventing diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, liver damage, and microbial infections. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of their polyphenols, especially flavonoids and coumarins, terpenoids, polyacetylenes, and monounsaturated fatty acids seem to be the key reason why so many plants in this group may work as nutraceuticals.

As with all products, plant-based and otherwise, side effects and drug interactions can occur with use. Again, consult your healthcare provider before consuming any food source or product as a nutraceutical.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Beverley Byer