Celery has become a common household staple along with carrots, onions and potatoes. Its crunchy texture and distinctive flavor makes it a popular addition to salads and many cooked dishes. Although it is available throughout the year, you will enjoy the best taste and quality of celery during the summer months when it is in season and locally grown varieties can be easily found in the markets.
Celery grows to a height of 12 to 16 inches and is composed of leaf-topped stalks arranged in a conical shape that are joined at a common base. It is a biennial vegetable plant that belongs to the Umbelliferae family whose other members include carrots, fennel, parsley and dill. While most people associate celery with its prized stalks, the leaves, roots and seeds can also be used as a food and seasoning as well as a natural medicinal remedy.
Celery contains vitamin C and several other active compounds that promote health, including phalides, which may help lower cholesterol, and coumarins, that may be useful in cancer prevention.
Rich in Vitamin C
Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C, a vitamin that helps to support the immune system. Vitamin C-rich foods like celery may help reduce cold symptoms or severity of cold symptoms; over 20 scientific studies have concluded that vitamin C is a cold-fighter. Vitamin C also prevents the free radical damage that triggers the inflammatory cascade, and is therefore also associated with reduced severity of inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. As free radicals can oxidize cholesterol and lead to plaques that may rupture causing heart attacks or stroke, vitamin C is beneficial to promoting cardiovascular health. Owing to the multitude of vitamin C’s health benefits, it is not surprising that research has shown that consumption of vegetables and fruits high in this nutrient is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Potential Blood Pressure Benefits
Celery’s potential for reducing high blood pressure has long been recognized by Chinese medicine practitioners, and Western science researchers may have recently identified one reason why.
Celery contains active compounds called pthalides, which can help relax the muscles around arteries and allow those vessels to dilate. With more space inside the arteries, the blood can flow at a lower pressure. Pthalides also reduce stress hormones, one of whose effects is to cause blood vessels to constrict. When researchers injected 3-n-butyl phthalide derived from celery into laboratory animals, the animals’ blood pressure dropped 12 to 14 percent. Of course, injection of a celery extract into laboratory animals is very far from food consumption by humans, and the researchers participating in this as yet unpublished study cautioned against overindulging in celery until clinical trials could be conducted with food and humans. But the potential helpfulness of this already nourishing food in lowering blood pressure seems likely, and it doesn’t hurt that celery ranks as a very good source of potassium and a good source of calcium and magnesium, because increased intake of these minerals has also been associated with reduced blood pressure.
Celery has a reputation among some persons as being a high-sodium vegetable, and blood pressure reduction is usually associated with low-sodium foods. So how do the benefits of phthalides compare with the risks of sodium in celery? There are approximately 100 milligrams of sodium in a full cup of chopped celery—that’s about 2 stalk’s worth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Daily Value for sodium intake is 2,400 milligrams, the equivalent of about 24 cups, or 48 stalks of celery. Since two stalks of celery only provide about 4% of the sodium DV, most individuals would be able to include 2 or even more stalks of celery in a day’s diet while keeping their total sodium intake below the DV by sticking with other low-sodium foods. The exact amount of celery needed to achieve the blood pressure lowering effects found in animals cannot be determined until clinical trials are conducted on humans using the food itself.
In studies of animals specially bred to have high cholesterol, celery’s cholesterol-lowering activity has been demonstrated. In eight weeks, aqueous solutions of celery (like celery juice) fed to specially bred high cholesterol animals significantly lowered their total cholesterol by increasing bile acid secretion.
The seeds of celery’s wild ancestors, which originated around the Mediterranean, were widely used as a diuretic. Today, we understand how celery, which is rich in both potassium and sodium, the minerals most important for regulating fluid balance, stimulates urine production, thus helping to rid the body of excess fluid.
Promote Optimal Health
Celery contains compounds called coumarins that help prevent free radicals from damaging cells, thus decreasing the mutations that increase the potential for cells to become cancerous. Coumarins also enhance the activity of certain white blood cells, immune defenders that target and eliminate potentially harmful cells, including cancer cells. In addition, compounds in celery called acetylenics have been shown to stop the growth of tumor cells.
Celery is a biennial vegetable (meaning it has a normal life cycle of two years) that belongs to the Umbelliferae family, whose other members include carrots, fennel, parsley and dill. While most people associate celery with its prized stalks, its leaves, roots and seeds are also used as a food and seasoning as well as a natural medicinal remedy.
Celery grows to a height of 12 to 16 inches and is composed of leaf-topped stalks arranged in a conical shape and joined at a common base. The stalks have a crunchy texture and a delicate, but mildly salty, taste. The stalks in the center are called the heart and are the most tender. In the United States, we are used to celery appearing in different shades of green, but in Europe they also enjoy a variety that is white in color. Like white asparagus, this type of celery is grown shaded from direct sunlight, so the production of its chlorophyll content, and hence its green color, are inhibited.
The celery that we know today was derived from wild celery. While thought to have its origins in the Mediterranean regions of northern Africa and southern Europe, it was also native to areas extending east to the Himalayas. Wild celery differed a bit from its modern day counterpart in that it featured less stalks and more leaves.
Celery has a long and prestigious history of use, first as a medicine and then later as a food. The initial mention of the medicinal properties of celery leaves dates back to the 9th century B.C., when celery made an appearance in the Odyssey, the famous epic by the Greek poet, Homer. The Ancient Greeks used the leaves as laurels to decorate their renowned athletes, while the ancient Romans used it as a seasoning, a tradition that has carried through the centuries.
It was not until the Middle Ages that celery’s use expanded beyond medicine and seasoning into consideration as a food. And while today, for most people thoughts of celery conjure up images of dips and crudité platters, eating this delicious crunchy vegetable raw did not really become popular until the 18th century in Europe. Celery was introduced in the United States early in the 19th century.
How to Select and Store
Choose celery that looks crisp and snaps easily when pulled apart. It should be relatively tight and compact and not have stalks that splay out. The leaves should be pale to bright green in color and free from yellow or brown patches. Sometimes celery can have a condition called “blackheart,” which is caused by insects. To check for damage, separate the stalks and look for brown or black discoloration. In addition, evaluate the celery to ensure that it does not have a seedstem—the presence of a round stem in the place of the smaller tender stalks that should reside in the center of the celery. Celery with seedstems are often more bitter in flavor.
To store celery, place it in a sealed container or wrap it in a plastic bag or damp cloth and store it in the refrigerator. If you are storing cut or peeled celery, ensure that it is dry and free from water residue, as this can drain some of its nutrients. Freezing will make celery wilt and should be avoided unless you will be using it in a future cooked recipe.
How to Enjoy
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Tips for preparing celery:
To clean celery, cut off the base and leaves, then wash the leaves and stalks under running water. Cut the stalks into pieces of desired length. If the outside of the celery stalk has fibrous strings, remove them by making a thin cut into one end of the stalk and peeling away the fibers. Be sure to use the leaves—they contain the most vitamin C, calcium and potassium—but use them within a day or two as they do not store very well.
Celery should not be kept at room temperature for too long since, because of its high water content, it has a tendency to wilt quickly. If you have celery that has wilted, sprinkle it with a little water and place it in the refrigerator for several hours where it will regain its crispness.
A few quick serving ideas:
Add chopped celery to your favorite tuna fish or chicken salad recipe.
Enjoy the delicious tradition of eating peanut butter on celery stalks.
Use celery leaves in salads.
Braise chopped celery, radicchio and onions and serve topped with walnuts and your favorite soft cheese.
Next time you are making fresh squeezed carrot juice give it a unique taste dimension by adding some celery to it.
Add celery leaves and sliced celery stalks to soups, stews, casseroles, and healthy stir fries.
Celery and Pesticide Residues
Virtually all municipal drinking water in the United States contains pesticide residues, and with the exception of organic foods, so do the majority of foods in the U.S. food supply. Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented. The liver’s ability to process other toxins, the cells’ ability to produce energy, and the nerves’ ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2006 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” celery is among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. Therefore, individuals wanting to avoid pesticide-associated health risks may want to avoid consumption of celery unless it is grown organically.
Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, folate, molybdenum, manganese and vitamin B6. Celery is also a good source of calcium, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, magnesium, vitamin A, phosphorous and iron.
Celery also contains approximately 35 milligrams of sodium per stalk, so salt-sensitive individuals can enjoy celery, but should keep track of this amount when monitoring daily sodium intake.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Celery.
In-Depth Nutritional Profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Celery is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. PMID:15210.
Finkelstein E, Afek U, Gross E, et al. An outbreak of phytophotodermatitis due to celery. Int J Dermatol 1994 Feb;33(2):116-8 1994.
Khaw KT, Bingham S, Welch A, et al. Relation between plasma ascorbic acid and mortality in men and women in EPIC-Norfolk prospective study: a prospective population study. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Lancet. 2001 Mar 3;357(9257):657-63 2001.
Kurl S, Tuomainen TP, Laukkanen JA et al. Plasma vitamin C modifies the association between hypertension and risk of stroke. Stroke 2002 Jun;33(6):1568-73 2002.
Tsi D, Tan BK. The mechanism underlying the hypocholesterolaemic activity of aqueous celery extract, its butanol and aqueous fractions in genetically hypercholesterolaemic RICO rats. Life Sci 2000 Jan 14;66(8):755-67 2000.
Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. PMID:15220
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