What’s crunchy and fibrous, prepared chopped, minced, or diced, can be eaten cooked or raw, and is green all over? If you guessed “Apium graveolens” or you thought of “celinum,” you’d be absolutely correct and well-versed in the botanical and Latin names for celery. The celery plant is a wonderful vegetable, imparting its special flavor in many recipes of soups, stews, and pot roasts. It’s also often eaten raw with toppings such as peanut butter, cream cheese, or anything you can think of.
Here is something you may not know about celery: the part you consume is not really a stalk or stem. The rib that we eat is actually part of the plant’s leaves. The actual stem is the small, disk-shaped woody part in the center of the plant. Celery is the leaf stalk (called a petiole), or the bottom part of the leaf (even if it doesn’t resemble a leaf). So consider celery as a leafy green food in your diet.
Celery did not get its start as a food. It was originally used for medicinal properties prior to 850 B.C., using the seed and its oils to help ease symptoms of all kinds of ills. Celery has its earliest mention in Homer’s “Iliad,” where the horses of the Myrmidons graze on wild celery that grows in the marshes of Troy. In ancient Greece, celery leaves were used as garlands for the dead and to make wreaths or crowns that were given to winners of battles.
Originally from the Mediterranean basin about 3,000 years ago, the Italians domesticated celery as a vegetable in the 17th century. After years of domestication, growers were able to reduce the bitterness and hollow stalks associated with celery at that time. It made its way over to the New World with the colonists.
Celery’s benefits are extensive. It is an excellent source of antioxidants and beneficial enzymes, and contains vitamins and minerals such as vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin B6. It has anti-inflammatory properties that help to improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and may prevent heart disease.
You can count on celery to provide dietary fiber to boost digestion and weight loss. Celery has a high percentage of water and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Special compounds help celery act as a diuretic and reduce bloating. Celery seed also has positive properties. The seeds (found in whole form or as an extract) help fight bacterial infections.
Celery is not done with its health assets: it can help reduce or prevent the formation of ulcers and it protects the liver against build-up of dangerous lipids. Celery’s antioxidants help calm joint pain from arthritis, gout, irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infections, and even skin disorders. Another important benefit of celery is its cancer-protective benefit. The polyacetlynes contained in celery help reduce toxicity and fight against tumor formation.
While celery is a low-calorie, fat-free food, it is not true that it is a “negative calorie” food. If you eat a medium-sized celery rib of about six calories, your body will burn one calorie eating and digesting it. Try the following recipe, which is easy to prepare and delicious to consume, especially in March when it is National Celery Month.
CREAM OF CELERY SOUP
Makes about 4 cupsful
1 tablespoon of butter
Add and sauté for 2 minutes:
1 cup or more chopped celery with leaves
1/3 cup sliced onion (optional)
Add and simmer for 3 minutes:
2 cups stock (such as chicken or vegetable broth)
Strain the soup. Add and bring to the boiling point:
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch in 1/2 cup whole milk
Stir these ingredients gradually into the hot soup. Bring it to the boiling point. Stir and cook it for 1 minute.
Serve it with:
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)