We eat stalks of celery, raw and cooked (see Part 1), but the celery plant (Apium graveolens, parsley family, Apiaceae) is the source of three other foods: leaf celery, celery seed. and celeriac.
Leaves of Celery
Some celery, particularly in Asia, is raised for its leaves, not its stalks. Leaves of most celery plants are pretty bitter, but the Asian varieties have been bred for large tasty leaves. Find them as “leaf celery” in Asian groceries.
The celery leaf was the emblem of the ancient Greek town of Selinunte in Sicily. The town, an important Greek colony and now archaeological site, was named for its fields of wild celery, selinon in Greek.
You can read that the leaves are slightly toxic and yet many sources recommend cooking them regardless of variety. The medical warnings I could find for celery were about psoralens, glucosinolates and allergies. Psoralens can be concentrated enough that celery juice causes hypersensitivity to sunlight and may produce an unpleasant skin rash. Celery glucosinolates interfere with uptake of iodine to the thyroid; glucosinolates are almost completely destroyed by cooking, but people with thyroid problems should be careful, especially of raw celery. In addition, people allergic to birch pollen may be allergic to celery seed and others can become allergic. Overall, celery has few health issues and, being rich in vitamins and water, many benefits.
Celery also gives us a spice, celery seed. Actually “celery seeds” are fruits. Fruits are seed-containing plant tissues; the real celery seed is an embryo and found within the protective covering of a very tiny fruit. (Look closely at “celery seeds” sometime.) They are used as flavorings or spices, ground or whole. There will be no seeds the first year since the plant is biennial and flowers only the second year.
The Egyptians made a medicine for bronchitis from celery seeds and took them as a sedative. The Romans thought the seeds more powerful than the leaves, recommending them against poisonings and to reduce gas. Apicius, who wrote a famous Roman cookbook in the first century, made frequent use of celery seed, whole and crushed, in his spice blends.
Folklore recommends putting celery into an herb pillow to induce sleep. Chewing celery seeds reportedly enhances concentration. Or burn them with orris root (iris roots) to enhance psychic powers. Witches flying on their brooms chewed celery seed to prevent dizziness.
Today, across Europe celery seed is used in juices, soups, salad dressings—my mother’s German cole slaw requires them—breads, and meats. In the United States, celery seed is especially used in pickles. The versatile seeds give a tiny burst of celery-like flavor and, used whole, add a nice crunch.
Celery oil extracted from the seeds, is used for an “earthy” fragrance in perfumes, for example in Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea, Guerlain’s Mitsuoko, and Ralph Lauren’s Romance.
Down to the Roots
Finally, celery was bred, into a root vegetable, celeriac, also called turnip-rooted celery, celery root, and knob celery, probably in the 14th or 15th century in southern Europe. In celeriac, the base of the stem and the upper part of the root are greatly enlarged. Celeriac tastes like celery and is wonderful eaten raw or in soups or served alone as a cooked vegetable.
Celery salt is table salt combined with ground celery seed. Commercially, dried powdered celeriac is usually used instead of seeds. Celery salt is the salt of choice for Bloody Mary cocktails, along the rim of the drink or to enhance the flavors in the mix.
Celery is a remarkably versatile plant.
Apicius online at https://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/wine/apicius.html Accessed 10/4/19
Celery salt. Cook’s Info. https://www.cooksinfo.com/celery-salt. Accessed 10/9/19.
Celery seed. 2015. PennState Hershey Medical Center. http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000231 Accessed 10/9/19
Celery. The Perfume Society. https://perfumesociety.org/ingredients-post/celery/ Accessed 10/9/19.
Cunningham, S. 1983. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publishers, St. Paul, MN.
The Epicentre. Celery Seed. http://theepicentre.com/spice/celery-seed-2/ Accessed 10/1/19
Gunther, R.T. translator. 1932. The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Old Thompson Spice. 2010. Celery seed. https://www.oldethompson.com/spice-details.aspx?SpiceID=8 Accessed 10/1/19