Its healing properties have convinced Fiann Ó Nualláin it’s time to start sowing this crop again
I wouldn't necessarily be a big celery eater; in fact, I haven’t grown it for many years and when I did it was more a case of swapping something out that year – for a change. For the most part I really only grow what I can eat, there just isn’t enough room or indeed time for the superfluous. Even more so with the acceleration of climate change, waste is too big a sin.
That said, I do keep room for some experimental crops, sometimes that’s a herb I haven’t grown before, or a perennial that’s edible, sometimes it’s a new variety of an old favourite and sometimes it’s a rethink.
This year I am rethinking celery, not for batons for my hummus or for fleshing out slimming soups, but for the seed. The seed of Apium graveolens is both edible as a spice and medicinal with some impressive uses.
The seed has been recovered from archaeological digs at sites of Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek habitation and influence, reminding that the plant was appreciated in both those cultures from pre 800 BC.
The thing is that celery as a vegetable was not widely cultivated until the middle ages so its original harvests for all those centuries before, were all about the healing spice.
Traditionally availed of as a natural diuretic and considered a system purging spice to cleanse the body of toxins and accumulations; It is especially utilized to prompt the elimination of uric acid and treat gout and rheumatism. With a long-standing use as an emmenagogue to hasten menses, it also has a reputation as an ancient abortifacient – so clearly on the potent action side.
I am interested in its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic potential. Its content of volatile oils includes limonene and selenine — both with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and its phthalide compounds are known to be antispasmodic and exert a calming influence on the central nervous system. It has a role in alleviating nervous tension and addressing twitchy muscle and nerve complaints.
The seeds of Apium graveolens also contain apigenin and its other flavonoids including apiin and isoquercitin which are also anti-inflammatory and support circulatory health by dilating blood vessels – and a reputation as a cleanser, those flavonoids also have a science behind them in mitigating the effects of carcinogens and toxins in the system.
It is considered safe in culinary parameters and so is one of those that having in the diet is a great benefit and easy way to avail of. Medicinally, I’m still researching but it seems most availed of in the range of two teaspoons of crushed seeds daily for treatment duration. It is
contraindicated with kidney complaints and pregnancy. The plant and seed is known to contain furanocoumarins which can interact with some prescription medicines and increase photosensitivity in some.
The tradition is to sow mid-March-April, as low temperatures post-germination can cause the plant to bolt (go to seed early) but as I am looking for a harvest of seed I thought I would try a batch now and sow a second crop as orthodox later. This week’s batch I will start in windowsill seed trays, the next one I will follow the tradition and direct sow, which has the advantage of reducing transplant shock. Germination can be erratic or at the least, slow. They prefer a thin sowing on the surface, with a dusting powder thin covering the finest compost or vermiculite. A fleece is handy to keep warmth in and with direct – birds off.
The risk I am taking is that the early will bolt but not bolt to abundant seed, so the back-up batch will be a bonus or lifesaver. Because I’m growing it for the seed I’m not having to worry about earthing up or self-blanching varieties but I will conform to practices as adhered too in previous years as a way of giving the plants every chance and support. Plenty of humus to growing site, and with irrigation — vigilance on its thirsty requirements.
Celery is normally harvested from August; I will be letting it flower and seed so it may be the end of September, into November before I have a seed harvest. I might try a trial row of slightly neglected to see it that helps it flower and seed earlier.
I am looking forward to this. It is good every now and then to but a bit of jeopardy and excitement back into the garden. We can get so into the groove of what works and what we know, that the year can go by on automatic pilot. Good to have an adventure and one with rewards beyond just experimentation for the sake. It will pep up my winter cooking but if it also cures my war wounds I’ll let you know.
Celery seed is utilised as a spice to flavour dishes, it imparts a celery note with a touch of heat. Traditionally crushed with the back of a spoon or knife before cooking. Cooking will diminish the bitter note and enhance the grassy sweetness. So, addition time to recipe/dish can be amended to suit the desired flavour.
Celery seed is a popular feature of Italian and French and Eastern European cuisine, they are also to be found in the pickling solutions and chutneys of many regions. Ground with salt they form celery salt which is the backbone of many a bloody Mary and many a good tomato soup.