CELERY (Apium graveolens – Umbelliferae)

Also known as ‘smallage’ and ‘ache’, Apium graveolens is a wild celery native to European salt marshes; A.g. dulce is the cultivated variety, first recorded in France in 1623, but was probably developed by the Italians rather earlier. The wild plant has a ridged stalk, the familiar toothed leaves and an extremely pungent flavour and smell; its domestication aimed to soften the pungency and thicken the stalk and ribs. Garden celery, as we know it, only really became popular in Europe and the US in the nineteenth century. It is a hardy biennial vegetable, grown for its crisp, long, crescent-shaped stalks. There are green and white varieties, some blanched by earthing-up during cultivation. Wild celery was familiar to and esteemed by the Greeks and Romans. Pliny ate it as a vegetable rather than using it just as a seasoning, and the Romans, ever wary of drunkenness and hangovers, would wreath the leaves around their heads to avoid both! The Greeks called it selinon, moon plant, and at this time the vegetable was said to have an action on the nervous system, and to be a strong tonic. Hippocrates and Dioscorides thought of it as a strong diuretic, echoed later by St Hildegarde. All the properties attributed to celery by the Ancients were confirmed nearer our own time by Dr Leclerc, who recorded its effects on some of his patients.


Description: All parts of the plant yield oil, but the most esteemed is that from the seeds which produce 2 – 3 per cent essential oil. This is pale yellow and very fluid, with a strong celery aroma. The principal constituents: Lactone sedanolide, palminic acid and terpenic hydrocarbons (limonene, selinene).


In illness
Celery has a number of diverse uses, both as a vegetable, raw or cooked, and as an oil. The vegetable should be eaten often, the best kind being those heads that are loose and perhaps with some soil still clinging to them – better than those already washed and wrapped in polythene. It is particularly good for diabetics who suffer from hypoglycaemia as it can be eaten freely.

Celery is a remarkable remedy for chilblains. Boil a large head of celery, root and leaves as well, in 2 litres (31h pints) water for about 15 minutes, then strain into a large receptacle. Place hands or feet into the hot water and leave for 15 minutes. Repeat three times a day, reheating the celery water each time. A celery water could also be drunk as a cure for a liver deficiency. Cook the celery in the same way. A head of celery can be juiced to make a liquid that is valuable for a number of complaints. Celery is a diuretic, so before and during a period if you retain fluid, or during menopause, the juice can help. For the same reason, it is also useful in a diet for weight loss. Drink several times a day, perhaps with a little lemon juice added. I have found this excellent, especially after heavy festivities such as Christmas and New Year. Sufferers from cystitis can also benefit from celery juice. The vegetable can be liquidized raw and eaten, or juiced and drunk: I think the latter is better. As a gargle for voice loss caused by nervousness or a chill, put 1 drop of the essential celery oil in a mug of boiled warm water, plus a little sea salt. Gargle for a few moments, and repeat three or four times per day. When suffering from nervous fatigue, take a warm bath with 8 drops of essential celery oil in it. Rest for 10 minutes afterwards. I always do this when I come back tired from the office, and feel very much better the next day. (See also throat, sore.)

Celery aphrodisiac
This is an old family recipe, and was always given to the bride or bridegroom – one glass per day – for one week before the wedding! Not only does it have aphrodisiac properties, but it is a wonderful diuretic as well. It is said in the family that it is a recipe for long life, and as my two great-grandmothers lived well into their eighties it may indeed be because of their celery elixir!

  • 1 large head celery (about 600 g/1 1/4 lb)
  • 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) good French white wine
  • 100 g (4 oz) fructose

Clean and cut the celery into small pieces and put into a food processor with the wine and fructose (better than sugar, you can find it in health shops). Blend well, then filter into a bottle, cork firmly and leave in the dark for 48 hours. Filter again thoroughly, re-bottle, and drink one glass per day.

In cookery
Celery has little nutritional value, but its flavour and crisp texture enhance many dishes. Raw, the stalks are eaten dipped into salt (only really by the British), eaten with cheese, chopped to use in salads, or as crudites or containers for canapes. Celery can also be braised with a good sauce as a vegetable accompaniment, or used as a ‘foundation vegetable’ like onion and carrot in casseroles and stews. The leaves, which are mildly pungent, can be dried, and they are useful in bouquets garnis. The seeds are quite bitter, but can also be used to flavour; they are particularly good pounded with sea salt for a home-made celery salt.

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