The French word “celeri,” is derived from its Greek version and in turn it gives rise to the English language word “celery”. Celery is a biennial plant belonging to the same family as parsley, caraway, carrots and fennel. It typically grows in bundles of stalks that range from twelve to sixteen inches in height. While the whole plant is edible, stalks are the most commonly consumed portion of the vegetable. The root portion of one variety of celery is known as celeriac and is more flavourful than the stalks. Originally the plant was cultivated for medicinal purposes but now it has become a part of the daily intake for dieters and health food advocates.
Essentially there are two main varieties grown. The celeriac, scientific name Apium graveolens var. Rapaceum is also known as turnip-root, root celery, and knob celery, and is valued for its nutty taste. The second variety, Apium graveolens var. Secalinum resembles an overgrown parsley plant in looks and is valued for its long ribbed stalks. Other than raw consumption, celery is also employed in blended drink by health conscious individuals.
Celery stalks really come into the limelight when the idea to use them as garnish for Bloody Mary drinks was born in 1960. An unnamed famous celebrity supposedly ordered his Bloody Mary at the Ambassador East Hotel and got it without the swizzle stick, so he grabbed a celery stalk from the nearest relish tray and proceeded to stir his drink, thus making history. The vegetable is so famous that it is even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey as “selionon.”
History of Celery
The Greeks considered celery to be a holy plant during their classical period. Winners of the Nemean Games were adorned with its leaves in the much the same way the winners of the Olympic Games wore bay leaves. The Nemean Games were held every other year beginning in 573 in the city by the same name in south of Greece.
It is believed that celery originated in the Mediterranean basin. However ancient documents mention celery, actually a plant similar to it being cultivated for medicinal use well before 850 B.C.E. Its medicinal characteristics were most probably due to the precarious oils found in all parts of the plant but more so in the seeds. The veggie was used to treat conditions like poor digestion, flu, colds, water retention, spleen ailments and different kinds or arthritis and liver issues. Despite having origins in the Mediterranean region, the plant’s wild relations were found growing in British Isles, Sweden, Egypt, Algeria, China, India, New Zealand, and southern parts of South America.
According to Roman tradition, celery was linked to bringing bad fortune under some circumstance, but it was still valued more for cooking than religious purposes. They actually used a wild form of celery for seasoning known as ‘smallage.’ In the seventeenth century the Italians started to domesticate the plant. After years of selective breeding they developed the sweeter tasting celery stalk we are familiar with today.
Health Benefits of Celery
Celery has a large number of natural macro and micronutrients making it an ideal health food. It is a very good detoxifying food. It acts as a diuretic, regulating the body’s fluids. The potassium in celery adds to this benefit as some diuretics deplete potassium. Celery juice behaves as a natural tonic for dissolving and removing gall stones from the body, while regular consumption prevents their future formation. The natural fibre content releases nutrients that help to avert constipation and keep the digestive system in good health. A large number of detox diet plans recommend the addition of celery juice to the daily menu. It is also a natural appetite squelcher, making celery a good low fat food for people trying to lose weight.
Celery contains numerous compounds that prevent the spread of cancer. Acetylenics are known to stop the growth of tumour cells, while other compounds known as phenolic acids impede the action of the compounds called prostaglandins, which promote the growth of tumour cells. Coumarins are another type of phytonutrients found in celery that may help stop free-radicals damaging healthy cells and inhibit cancers of the stomach and colon. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that further boosts the immune system.
Chinese medicine has recognized celery’s ability to lower blood pressure. The phthalides in celery relax muscles surrounding the arteries, thus widening the blood vessels and allowing for unhindered flow of blood. The compound also lowers stress hormones, one of which causes the blood vessels to tighten. It is further believed that the compound butyl phthalide in celery plays a role in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. The ability of celery to increase the secretion of bile further helps to remove cholesterol from the body.
The polyacetylene contained in celery provides relief from all inflammation including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bronchitis, osteoarthritis, and asthma. The phytonutrient luteolin obstructs the path of inflammation in the brain and also stops the excessive production of TNF-alpha, a compound directly responsible for inflammation. The elevated amounts of magnesium in the vegetable produce a calming effect thus allowing for restful sleep for insomniacs.
Celery might also aid in reducing sugar cravings. The vegetable is rated low in glycemic index, meaning that its carbohydrates break down gradually, allowing for slow release of sugar into the blood. This makes celery good for diabetics.
Nutritional Value Celery
A one cup serving of celery contains almost not fat or cholesterol and delivers approximately eighteen calories. It is a rich source of dietary fibre with one cup delivering 1.6 grams. According to some estimates, women need between 21 to 25 grams while men need 30 to 38 grams of fibre daily. It is also a good source of vitamin K. The recommended daily requirement of this nutrient is 90 micrograms and just one cup of chopped celery provides almost 30 micrograms. Vitamin K aids in promoting the health of the skeletal system in elderly individuals and plays an important role in blood clotting. It is also a good source of vitamin A with a single cup supplying 453 international units. Women need 2,333 and men need 3,000 international units daily. Vitamin A is important for normal reproduction as well as good eyesight, cellular communication, healthy heart, lung and kidney function.
A one cup serving also provides seven percent of the daily required amount of potassium, five percent of vitamin C and B6, four percent calcium and two percent magnesium. Additionally it supplies trace amounts of folate, molybdenum, manganese, vitamin B1 and B2, phosphorous, iron and protein.
Uses of Celery
The best way to enjoy celery is raw. However that does not mean it can’t be used in numerous cooked dishes and in a variety of ways. Some interesting ways to enjoy celery include:
- Use chopped celery in salads or slice as sticks to use with dips, line the centre with nut butter and place sultanas at evenly spaced intervals to create “ants on a log” the kids will love.
- Stuff the centre of the stalks with low fat cheese and sprinkle with paprika to serve as appetizer.
- Prepare celery salsa by heating oil and adding a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic, onion, tomato and celery. Pour tomato sauce into the mixture and allow it to boil until the celery and onion are tender. Add enough flour to thicken the sauce and season to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.
- Slice the celery at an angle about the length of your fingers and add it to stir fries. Celery retains its crunch even after quick cooking.
- Make creamy celery soup to warm you on cold days.
- Add celery to stews or casseroles to get more out of the vegetable.
- Use celery leaves as garnish or anywhere you might use parsley.
Celery juice is a good way to get all the benefits celery has to offer. Many people prefer to combine celery with other sweet juices to cut down on the saltiness that comes with the veggie. Celery, cucumber, carrots, and apples make good a combination.
Refreshing Veggie Combo
- 2 small carrots
- 2 small stalks of celery
- ½ beetroot (beet)
- ¼ teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon chopped ginger
Juice all ingredients for a drink that contains potent properties for maintaining cardiovascular health and fighting cancer. For a sweeter drink a little honey can be added.
Studies indicate that celery seeds might be valuable in treating dysmenorrhea, hypertension and act as mosquito repellent. Celery contains a lot of sodium, however this is not the same as table salt. Typical table salt is made up of insoluble inorganic components which can lead to the formation of varicose veins, hardening of the arteries and a number of other problems. The sodium found in celery is organic and soluble. It is vital for the body, allowing it to process other nutrients absorbed by the body. All of the body’s cells are covered in salt solution. Not maintaining the appropriate salt balance leads to dehydration. This is why celery is thought to be a good rehydrating drink.
According to a study carried out in Mainland China celery was found to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A significant difference in blood pressure was observed after taking a total of eight ounces in equal amounts of honey and celery juice three times a day.