Materia Medica - Celery Botanical name: Apium graveolens var. dulce

Common name: Celery

Family: Umbelliferae

Parts used: Stalks, leaves and seeds

Native Region: Native to southern Europe, Italian gardeners developed it from the wild, tough and nearly inedible, acrid, nasty tasting wild celery. Its habitat is wet and salty soils, swamps, and marshes. [1]

Botanical Description: A biennial herb, growing 1-2 feet tall. The green stem “stalks” are ribbed and tough. Fleshy green conical shaped leafstalks grow from a common base. The stalks bear dark green, highly segmented leaves with toothed leaflets. In cultivation, celery is blanched to produce the edible white stem.) Small whitish flowers (June-July) are borne in flat clusters arranged in dense compound umbels, followed by smooth, gray, ovoid fruit (seeds). While prized for its leaf stalk, the leaves, roots and seeds can also be used as food and seasoning as well as herbal medicine.[1] [3]

Growing: Transplants are hard to find, so plan to start plants from seeds. Celery is a long-season vegetable grown in the spring or fall depending on your location. It is often grown as a winter crop in the south, a summer crop in the far north and a fall crop in most other areas. It does have specific growing needs. Gardeners are encouraged to grow it because commercial celery is one of the most pesticide-laden crops. Three critical needs:
1. A long growing season (130 – 140 days of mostly cool weather.) Celery will not tolerate high heat.
2. A constant, unfailing water supply. The soil must stay wet at all times. Dry spells make it tough and stingy, and /or with hollow stalks.
3. Rich, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in. It will need to be fertilized during the growth period. Roots are shallow, so nutrients need to be in the top of soil.

Start seeds indoors for the best success rate 10-12 weeks before you plan to set them in the soil. For good germination, soak the seeds in warm water overnight, press them into potting soil and cover with plastic to hold the moisture. Germination should occur in about a week. When two inches tall, transplant into individual pots. Work organic compost into the soil prior to planting. Transplant seedlings 8-10 inches apart. Mulch plants after they are 6 inches high. Water directly after planting. Provide plenty of water throughout the the growing season. Fertilize in the second and third growth months. Remove weeds carefully to avoid upsetting the shallow roots. Tie celery stalks together to keep them from sprawling. [2]

Harvesting: Harvest the stalks whenever you want, from the outside in, beginning when stalks are about 8 inches tall. Celery can be kept in the garden for about a month as long as the soil is built up to maintain ideal temperature. Note that the darker the stalks become the more nutrient dense they will become, but be aware that dark green stalks will be tougher. Stores well in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for many weeks. Celery stalks can be frozen for later use in cooking. Cut the stalks into half-inch pieces and store in freezer-grade bags. When using fresh, wash and chop just before using. Steam lightly rather than boil to preserve phytonutrients. [2]

Culinary Uses: How many times have you seen a stalk or two of celery called for in a recipe and you wondered, “can I get along without it?” Don’t let the remainder go to waste! Here are several ways to use celery. [4]
1. Juiced – Celery adds bright, vibrant flavor to any thing you juice. Try it in combination with cucumber, kale, and apples. Add it to your morning smoothie for a wake-me-up.
2. Pickled – spice up a salad tray or your favorite Margaritas with this recipe:

Spicy Celery Quick Pickle Sticks

Ingredients
1 cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 TBS salt
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 TBS mustard seeds
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 TBS cracked black peppercorns
8 large celery stalks, peeled and cut into pieces

Directions
 
Bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and add garlic, mustard seed, peppercorns and chili flakes.

  Place the celery pieces in a large bowl (preferably glass or ceramic) and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Stir to combine spices. Make sure all the pieces are submerged in the brine. Allow to cool completely (at least 2 hours) before serving.

3.  Relish – Chop up celery and combine it with cooked cranberries and almond for a fun twist on relish. Mix it with blue cheese, herbs, and olive oil to serve with grilled or roasted chicken.

Cranberry and Celery Relish

Ingredients
1  (12-oz) bag of fresh or thawed frozen cranberries

¾ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup water
1 cup chopped celery
¼ cup slivered alone, toasted and cooled
Garnish: finely chopped celery leaves

Directions
  Simmer cranberries, sugar, water, and ¼ tsp salt in a heavy saucepan, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of cranberries have burst, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely.

  Just before serving, stir in almond and celery.

4. Roasted – Next time you are roasting a chicken or turkey, put celery under the bird so it can absorb all the yummy juices or roast them separately.

Oven Roasted Celery Fries

Ingredients
6 or 7 celery stalks

½ tsp Celtic Sea Salt to taste
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp oregano
½ thyme
¼ cup Avocado oil
Optional: Primal Mayonnaise for dipping

Directions
 
Preheat oven to 415º F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

  Wash and dry celery stalks. Cut into fry lengths (~2”)
  Toss celery with avocado, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme until all pieces are coated
  Lay stalks on baking sheet in a single layer to cook evenly
  Bake about 40 minutes or until edges start to get brown and they’re soft to the touch. Flip about halfway through cooking.
  Eat on their own or with dipping mayonnaise

5. Mirepoix/Holy Trinity – For French cuisine, mirepoix, a mix of celery, onion and carrots are added at the time of preparation. Cajun cuisine uses a mix of celery, green peppers, and onion (holy trinity) as a starter. Did you know that you can pre-cook either of these mixes (and add some Bella mushrooms) and then freeze them in small muffin tins? You will have a head start on your next meal calling for these mixes.

6. Stir-Fried – Often used in Asian stir-fry dishes, celery cooks quickly and retains its crunch. Thinly slice celery and cook with chicken, tofu or beef.

7. Salads – Celery adds a nice crunch and flavor to salads. One of our favorites is is the apple celery salad made famous by the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.

Waldorf Salad

Ingredients
3 apples (Gala, Granny Smith, or Red Delicious)

1 TBS granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
dash of salt

1 cup thinly sliced celery
½ cup cold whipping cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
mixed greens or lettuce leaves
optional: raisins, cran-raisins and walnuts)

Directions
  Wash and core apples, cut into ½” cubes. Sprinkle apples with sugar, lemon juice, and salt.

  Add celery and nuts and toss to blend.
  In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, whip the cream to stiff peaks
  Using a spatula, gently fold the mayonnaise into whipped cream
  Fold into apple mixture
  Serve salad on mixed greens

8. Soup – Celery’s flavor can stand alone in a puréed soup.

Cream of Celery Soup

Ingredients
3 TBS butter, divided into 2 TBS and 1 TBS

1 cup chopped onion
1 ½ cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
5 cups of chopped celery and 1 ½ cups of diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
½ tsp to 1 ½ tsp salt, to taste
¼ to ⅓ cup of cream
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly chopped chives or parsley to garnish

Directions
 
Sauté onions, leeks and 5 cups of celery in 2 TBS butter for 10 minutes until softened. Add minced garlic and cook for a minute more.

  Add stock, bay leaves, salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  Braise remaining celery to soften in small sauté pan with 1 TBS butter on medium heat. Ladle ½ cup of simmering stock into the sauté pan. Simmer for 5 or 6 minutes to soften.
  Remove soup pot from heat, let cool slightly. Remove and discard bay leaves. Working in batches, purée soup in blender, filling the blender no more than one third full at a time. Secure lid so hot soup doesn’t escape. Return puréed soup to the pot.
  Stir in cream and braised celery. Taste for salt and add more if needed.
  Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and chopped chives or parsley to serve.

9.  Braised – Celery takes on the flavor of the braising liquid. Braised in tomato sauce or chicken stock, braised celery can be a great main dish served over couscous or polenta.

Braised Celery
Ingredients
8 stalks of celery, scrubbed and ends trimmed (chop and reserve leaves)

1 TBS butter
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup stock

Directions
  Cut celery into 1” slices on the diagonal

  Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add celery, along with salt and pepper and cook until it starts to become tender.
  Add broth, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook for 5 minutes longer, allowing the broth to reduce and caramelize a bit.
  Taste for seasoning and serve immediately, garnish with reserved chopped leaves.

10. Stuffed – Celery can be filled with anything from nut butters, pimento cheese, chicken, egg, ham or crab salad for a great snack or dinner party starter.

Medicinal Uses: Wild celery has been used for centuries to “sweeten and purify the blood and help the scurvy,” according to 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper. All parts of the plant are beneficial to nutrition thanks to  a high vitamins and mineral content.

  • Helps lower high cholesterol – 3-n-butylphthalide
  • Lowers inflammation – antioxidants fight free radical damage.
  • Prevents or treats high blood pressure – celery seed extract acts as a smooth muscle relaxant and improves flow of calcium and potassium into and out of cells.
  • Helps prevent ulcers – celery extract replenishes depleted levels of gastric mucus in stomach as well as controlling the level of gastric acid released.
  • Protects liver health – reduces the amount of fat buildup.
  • Benefits for weight loss – some people have said celery has a negative calorie value. It takes more energy to chew it than is gained, but it is nutrient-dense. 
  • Boosts digestion and reduces bloating – celery seeds contain NBP that has diuretic effects and helps the body detoxify. It improves circulation within the intestines and helps relieve bloating from water retention.
  • Contains antimicrobial properties that fight infection – and boosts immunity with high vitamin C content.
  • Helps prevent urinary tract infections – because it reduces uric acid and stimulates urine production.
  • May help protect from cancer – polyacetylenes show bioactivities including anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet-agregatory, cytotoxic, and  anti tumor activity (inducing apoptosis.) [5]

References

1.  Magic and Medicine of Plants, 1986. The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. p136

 2. https://www.almanac.com/plant/celery

3.  http://www.medicalhealthguide.com/articles/celery.htm

4. https://www.thekitchn.com/10-ways-to-use-up-leftover-celery-tips-from-the-kitchn-211994

5. https://draxe.com/benefits-of-celery/ and photo credit

Billie Nicholson, Editor
June 2019

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