by Naomi Gallagher
Celery seed is a spice that comes from an annual plant, Apium graveolens, a member of the parsley family, Apiaceae or Umbelliferae. The same plant gives us celery stalks and the root vegetable celeriac.
The original wild celery is a herb that is called smallage. It grows wild in Europe and Asia in damp habitats. Celery is native to Nova Scotia and introduced in about half of the United States. It’s very bitter, so that may have led to the development of the sweeter varieties that we grow today. One cultivated variety, A. graveolens var. rapaceum, is called celery root or celeriac. It is grown for the bulbous root that is eaten as a cooked vegetable. A second cultivar, A. graveolens var. dulce, is grown for the stalks.
The celery plant grows two to three feet tall. It has very sturdy leaf stems, called petioles, that are the familiar celery stalks. Before reaching a mature size celery plants are transplanted into trenches and the stems are covered with dirt. Alternatively, the stalks are tied up with newspaper surrounding them so that no light gets to the stalks. Instead of a dark green, bitter herb, the celery that is grown ‘in the dark’ has been blanched to a light green to white color with a sweet taste. When harvested for celery stalks, the roots and most of the leafy parts are cut away, leaving several stalks connected to each other at the base.
To prepare for cooking stalks are separated from the group, trimmed at the top and bottom, and then cut into appropriate lengths or chopped into small pieces. Celery stalks are often eaten raw as a snack or served with dips and spreads as appetizers. The leafy parts have a strong, bitter taste that is not usually enjoyed raw, so these parts are more often used as seasoning. The leaves and whole stalks are used to flavor stocks for soups, casseroles and stews. Celery goes well with onions and bell peppers or onions and carrots.
Celery is a bitter herb that goes well with fowl, like chicken and turkey. It’s particularly used in stuffings, sauces and soups. Stalks of celery are used as garnish on serving plates and they’re placed in tall glasses for the cocktail Bloody Mary.
Celery seeds are actually tiny fruits that are used as a seasoning. Foods that are spiced with celery seed include salads, pickles and soups. Celery seed may be ground and mixed with salt to form celery salt which goes well on rice, pasta, fish and meat dishes. Celery seed contains 2-3% essential oils of which d-limonene and selinene are the major components.
Indian Ayurveda practitioners make use of celery juice for a number of ailments. It may be effective in lowering high blood pressure, soothing indigestion, and relieving painful symptoms of gout and rheumatism. The anti-inflammatory, carminative, diuretic, stress-reducing and cholesterol-lowering properties of celery should be further researched.
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