Celebrating Celery

Celery (Apium graveolens) shares its species with celeriac. Both are in the Apiaceae family, along with other mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems and umbrella-like flower clusters. Included in this family are anise, caraway, carrot, chervil, coriander (including cilantro), cumin, fennel, hemlock, Queen Anne’s lace, parsley, dill, and parsnip.

First appearing in English in 1664, the word “celery” derives from the French céleri, in turn from Italian seleri, the plural of selero, which comes from Late Latin selinon, which comes from the Greek σέλινον (selinon), meaning parsley. The earliest recorded form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek se-ri-no.

The direct ancestors of celery were cultivated in parts of Europe and the Mediterranean as early as 1000 BC, and celery was used as a medicinal plant in ancient Egypt. The Greeks believed celery to be a holy plant, and ancient Greek athletes were awarded necklaces of celery leaves to commemorate their winning at their Nemean Games. Homer even wrote about celery in the Odyssey. In ancient times, it was used to treat many ailments, including colds, flu, digestion, water retention, and more. Apiol (also known as parsley apiol, apiole or parsley camphor), found in celery and parsley, was used to treat lack of menstruation in women and was also used in the Middle Ages as a method to terminate pregnancies.

In the seventeenth century in France, celery began to be used as a vegetable. Soon after that, the Italians began using celery in many of the ways that we use it today, although the celery at the time was thought to be quite bitter and strong. The Italians blanched it to remedy the strong taste. This led to the development of a self-blanching or yellow celery (a recent hybrid) and green or Pascal celery. In North America most people prefer the green variety. In Europe and other locations self-blanching varieties are more prevalent.

In the 1850s, George Taylor brought celery seed to Kalamazoo, Michigan from Scotland. He began growing it at a nearby farm. He gave free samples to be served at a fancy ball, where it drew a lot of interest. Dutch immigrants in the area began growing celery, and Kalamazoo became the “Celery Capital” of the nation for several decades. Celery production died out after a blight hit the area in the 1930s. Now the biggest producer of celery in the nation is California.

Today over 1 billion pounds of celery are produced each year in the United States, with California, Michigan and Florida accounting for about 80% of all celery production. The average adult in the United States eats about 6 pounds of celery per year. A substantial amount of celery in the U.S. comes from Mexico, and the U.S. exports about 200 million pounds of celery to Canada each year.

Celery can:

  1. Fight chronic inflammation. Celery is an important food source of conventional antioxidant nutrients, including vitamin A (as beta carotene), vitamin C, and manganese. Many of its phytochemicals are phenolic antioxidants that also provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Phytochemicals in celery include:
    • Phenolic acids are easily absorbed through the walls of your intestinal tract, and they may be beneficial to your health because they work as antioxidants that prevent cellular damage due to free-radical oxidation reactions, and they may also promote anti-inflammatory conditions in your body. They include:
      • Caffeic acid, which is highly protective in the human body and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and may also prevent cancer and diabetes.
      • Ferulic acid, which is a potent antioxidant that may also prevent bone degeneration and cancer, protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, reduce hot flashes associated with menopause, and treat diabetes.
    • Flavones may have beneficial effects against atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, and certain cancers. They include:
      • Apigenin, which exerts anxiety-reducing effects and is a very potent anti-cancer compound.
      • Luteolin, which may have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-atherogenic activities and may even help to ameliorate the niacin-induced flush.
    • Flavonols (Flavan-3-ols) help support healthy circulation by helping your arteries stay flexible. They include:
      • Quercetin, which may be beneficial for the treatment of cancer, heart disease, allergies, and other conditions.
      • Kaempferol, which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities. It is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage of your cells, lipids, and DNA, seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
  2. Support your digestive tract. Celery contains pectin-based polysaccharides, including apiuman, which is an anti-inflammatory that can improve the integrity of your stomach lining, decrease your risk of stomach ulcers, and better control the levels of your stomach secretions. Celery is also a good source of fiber.
  3. Support your cardiovascular system. Oxidative stress and inflammation in your bloodstream can contribute to many cardiovascular diseases, especially atherosclerosis. The pectin-based polysaccharides and flavonoids in celery may decrease risk of inflammation in your cardiovascular system. Phenolic substances called phthalides in celery (especially in celery seeds) can act as smooth muscle relaxants, most likely by affecting the flow of calcium and potassium inside cells and related nervous system activity involved with muscle relaxation. Relaxation of smooth muscles surrounding your blood vessels allows them to expand in a process called vasodilation, and the result is a lowering of your blood pressure. Phthalides in celery may also act as diuretics, further helping to lower the pressure inside your blood vessels. Celery is also a good source of potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
  4. Fight cancerOxidative stress and inflammation can contribute to cancer. In addition to the other phytochemicals in celery that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, and thus fight cancer, oxalic acid in celery is believed to be successful in fighting several kinds of tumor cells.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Raw Celery

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin A

449 IU

9%

folate

36 µg

9%

potassium

260 mg

7%

fiber

1.6 g

6%

vitamin C

3.1 mg

5%

manganese

0.1 mg

5%

calcium

40 mg

4%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

4%

sodium

80 mg

3%

magnesium

11 mg

3%

riboflavin

0.1 mg

3%

phosphorus

24 mg

2%

niacin

0.3 mg

2%

pantothenic acid

0.2 mg

2%

copper

0.035 mg

2%

carbohydrates

3.4 g

1%

protein

0.7 g

1%

iron

0.2 mg

1%

zinc

0.1 mg

1%

thiamine

0.021 mg

1%

Calories

16

0.8%

fat

0.2 g

0.3%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

Celery is available year-round in stores. It’s smart to buy organic, as conventionally-grown celery ranks high in contaminants. For a full list, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen.

Choose celery that is crisp, tight, and compact with leaves that are pale to bright green in color and free from yellow or brown patches. Avoid any shriveled stems, stems that splay out, as well as dry, yellow, and spoiled leaves. Sometimes celery can have a condition called “blackheart” that is caused by insects. To check for damage, gently separate the stalks and look for brown or black discoloration. In addition, evaluate the celery to ensure that it does not have a round seed stem in the place of the smaller tender stalks in the center of the celery. Celery with seed stems can be bitter.

Refrigerate celery for no more than 5-7 days for maximum nutrients.  Use the leaves within a day or two, as they contain the most vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, but they do not store very well. Chop celery just before you add it to a dish (rather than chopping it ahead of time and leaving it stored in the refrigerator). Don’t freeze celery unless you will be using it cooked, as freezing makes celery wilt.

Celery should not be kept at room temperature for more than several hours. That’s because warm temperatures will encourage its high water content to evaporate, causing the celery to have have a tendency to wilt too quickly. If you have celery that has wilted, sprinkle it with a little water and place it in the refrigerator for several hours to help it regain some of its crispness.

To clean celery, cut off the base and leaves, then wash the leaves and stalks under cold running water to remove surface dirt and pesticides. Cut the stalks into pieces of desired length. If the outside of the celery stalk has fibrous strings, remove them by making a thin cut into one end of the stalk and peeling away the fibers.

Here are some ideas for using celery:

  • Use fresh celery leaf, root, and stalks in salads, soups, sauces, casseroles, stir-fries, and stews
  • Use celery as a garnish, especially in dishes with potatoes, carrots, or legumes

  • Add chopped celery to your favorite vegan tuna salad or vegan chicken salad recipe
  • Sautée chopped peppers, celery, and onions, then combine with red kidney beans to make a simple Louisiana Creole dish
  • Enjoy eating peanut butter on celery stalks, or for a more grown-up treat, fill celery stalks with a mixture of 1 cup mashed avocado and 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish; sprinkle with paprika, and chill
  • Use celery leaves in salads
  • Braise chopped celery, radicchio, and onions and serve topped with walnuts and tofu feta
  • Add celery to your juicer when you’re making vegetable juice

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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