Celery is one of the traditional Mediterranean herbs recognized for its strong aromatic flavor, which it imparts to a variety of cuisines. It is a small biennial herbaceous plant originated in Europe. It can be grown quickly as a potherb in the home gardens for its flavorful leaves, shoots, roots, and seeds.
Botanically, celery belongs to the family of Apiaceae, of the genus; Apium, and known scientifically as Apium graveolens.
It is a small plant; reaching about half a meter in height and requires fertile, moisture rich soil to flourish.
Celery herb bears umbelliform flowers at the top of the stalk in the second year. An edible cluster of long, dark-green, somewhat hollow stems grows upright from the crown of the plant. Its leaves have the similar appearance to that of flat-leaf parsley. Several cultivars exist:
1. wild celery, the parent of the cultivated stalk-celery (A. graveolens dulce),
2. Leaf-celery (A. graveolens secalinum), and,
3. celeriac or knob celery (A. graveolens rapaceum).
Chinese celery or oriental variety features thin, hollow, succulent stalks. Its leaves and stalks carry more intense flavor than the continental variety.
Celery seeds, used as a spice, are similar in appearance to cumin seeds. They feature dark-brown color, oblong shape with thin vertical ridges; and flavor that is strongly aromatic.
Health Benefits of Celery
Celery is one of the very low-calorie herbaceous plants. Its leaves carry only 16 calories per 100 g weight and contain lots of non-soluble fiber (roughage) which when combined with other weight loss regimens may help reduce body weight, and blood cholesterol levels.
Its leaves are a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants such as zeaxanthin, lutein, and β -carotene, which have been antioxidant, cancer protective and immune-boosting functions. For the same reason, celery has been acknowledged as a functional food.
Its leaves are a good source of vitamin-A. 100 g fresh celery comprises of 449 IU or 15% of daily required levels of this vitamin. Vitamin-A and beta-carotene are natural flavonoid antioxidants. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin, and for night vision. Consumption of natural foods rich in flavonoids helps the body to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
The herb is also rich in many vital vitamins, including folic acid (provides 9% of RDA), riboflavin, niacin and vitamin-C, which are essential for optimum metabolism.
Fresh celery is an excellent source of vitamin-K, provides about 25% of DRI. Vitamin-K helps increase bone mass by promoting osteoblastic activity in the bones. It also has an established role in Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
The herb is a very good source of minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, manganese, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Its leaves and seeds contain many essential volatile oils that include terpenes, mostly limonene (75 to 80%), and the sesquiterpenes like ß-selinene (10%) and humulene; however, its unique fragrance is due to chemical compounds known as phthalides (butylphthalide and its dihydro derivate sedanenolide) in them.
The essential oil obtained from extraction of celery plant has been employed as a soothing remedy for nervousness, osteoarthritis, and gouty arthritis conditions. Besides, its seeds and root have diuretic (removes excess water from the body through urine), galactagogue (help breast milk secretion), stimulant, and tonic properties.
Celery plant holds just 16 calories per 100 g of leaves and together with numerous health benefiting phytonutrients such as flavonoids, folate, vitamin-A, vitamin-K, minerals and other vitamins, has all the characters to consider it as one of the most valuable low-calorie or negative calories weight loss functional foods.
Selection and storage
Celery, also known as smallage, can be available in the markets during all the seasons. Its tender leaves and stems more sought after items than roots and seeds in cooking. To prepare the dry herb (dry leaves), its top 6 to 8 inches of growth harvested just before blooming.
In the store, buy fresh leaves and stem featuring bright green color and crispy in appearance. Avoid any slump, shriveled stems, dry, yellow, and spoiled leaves since they are out of flavor.
At home, its stems can stay fresh for up to a week inside the refrigerator. Wrap in paper towel and place inside a zipped bag. Use the leaves while they are fresh to enjoy their strong aromatic flavor.
Celeriac (Apium graveolens, Rapaceum Group) is the turnip-like root plant closely related to and has similar growth habit and general appearance of celery. Its tuber features thick gray-brown outer coat but white, aromatic flesh inside. The root celeriac, used as a vegetable, is quite popular in the United Kingdom.
Celery seeds usually employed either as whole seeds or powdered (ground), and mixed with salt to prepare “celery salt.”
Preparation and serving methods
Wash its leaves and stem in cold water to remove any surface dirt, fungicide, and pesticides. Since the herb is high in fiber contents, remove its tough stem ends and chop stem and leaves closely to cook thoroughly. Its leaf tops, root, as well as stalks, are being used in cooking in the European, and Asian cuisine.
To prepare the root celeriac, trim off its top and base ends. Peel the outer tough skin using a paring knife. Cut into cubes or slice it and rinse soon in lemon or orange juice to prevent discoloration (oxidization).
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh leaf, root, and stalks used in salads, and stews.
The herb is used as a garnish in a variety of recipes. It blends well with other complementing vegetables like potato, carrot, beans, and poultry.
Fresh leaf as well root has been used in the preparation of soups and sauces.
Wild celery has been used in medicines to reduce blood pressure, to relieve indigestion and as an anti-inflammatory agent. It also used as a diuretic to remove excess water from the body.
The essential oils in the celery seeds, leaves, and root have been employed as carminative, emmenagogue, galactagogue (help breast milk secretion), nervous system ailments such as headaches and nervous irritability.
The herb has also been claimed to be useful in the treatment of rheumatism and gouty conditions.
The herb, especially wild celery can cause severe anaphylactic reactions in some sensitive individuals. Pregnant women should not eat it. People on diuretic medications and anticoagulant medications should use this herb sparingly.
Its stalks also have very high quantities of soluble as well as insoluble fiber contents. Eating recipes with too much of fiber content may cause stomach pain, indigestion, bloating, and often complicates existing constipation condition.