HISTORICAL HINTS: celery was used in the middle age to chase melancholia and it was believed to reveal in advance the new born gender: “if you put a celery plant with its roots on the head of a pregnant woman and the first name she says is a male name, then the new born will be a boy”. The word “Apium” comes from the Celtic upon-water, marsh plant
THE PLANT - celery is a biennial plant, generally grown on a yearly basis and belonging to the Umbrelliferae family. It spontaneously grows in herbaceous places and marshlands and it can be 30 to 90 cm tall according to the variety. It has pinnatisect leaves with a typical smell and flavour deriving from sedanin and white-greenish flowers.
Celery can be divided in three groups:
The sweet variety is the most widespread: it has a very thin and erected root apparatus and it is cultivated especially for its stalk. Leaves are slightly innervated on their entire length and are very fleshy.
The most common varieties in Italy are:
- green stalk: green of Chioggia, giant of Romagna, Green Pascal, Green of Perpignano;
- golden stalk: Golden of Asti, Giant golden, Verga d’oro;
- white stalk: Pearl, Utah 52-75, Florida 683, winter Nicolaus, Lepage.
Rapaceum variety is more commonly known as celeriac, or Verona celery, which has a big tuber round root exceptionally developed in the collar area, with white pulp and a taste similar to stalk celery and can be eaten raw (in salads, in dips) or cooked (in soups, veggie soups or stew).
Wild variety with a bitter and strong taste; leaves are used as decoration;
PROPERTIES - Celery has different therapeutic properties especially in the fruits part which are the most active part because of the richness in essential oils: aromatizing, digestive, carminative, diuretic and emmenagogue properties. The root is included in the components of the Five roots syrup used as a depurative in the treatment of gout, in rheumatic forms and in urinary system problems. Also its fruits have a diuretic effect: this activity is attributed to the essential oil which stimulates the kidney epithelium. Beside its emmenagogue activity, an oxytocic action backed by apine has been found. Its action exercised on circulation at a pelvic level and on the related organs can justify its, questionable, aphrodisiac reputation. The fruit also have sedative, antispasmodic properties due to some essential oil components. Coumaric elements also have sedative and bactericide properties. Some alkaloids having a calming and depressive action on the central nervous system have been found, but not identified, after a wide experimentation on animals. In addition, its alimentary use is very well known: 100 g of sweet celery contain fibres (1g), calcium (31 mg), phosphorus (45 mg), iron (0,50 mg), sodium (130 mg), potassium (350 mg), vitamin B1 (0,06 mg), vitamin B2 (0,19 mg), vitamin PP (0,20 mg), vitamin A (207 mcg), vitamin C (32 mg) and 21 calories.
CULINARY USE - Celery is used raw, boiled to season broth or soups or sautéed together with carrots and onion to prepare Bolognese sauce. The heart of celery can be eaten fresh in salads or in veggie dip, while external stalks can be used to prepare soups and sauces. It has a very long shelf-life in the fridge but it remains crunchy only for 4-5 days. Even the Greeks grew it for the properties of its seeds.