Celery Seed – The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

smallage flowersCelery seed comes from a variety of celery that is different from the celery (Apium graveolens) we see in grocery stores. The seed comes from an ancestor of celery called smallage or wild celery. The smallage variety is native to the Mediterranean area and the Middle East and is grown in India, China, and France specifically for the harvesting of its seeds.  The seeds are very small: 760,000 seeds make one pound. They have an aromatic, earthy smell, and a flavor that has a touch of spiciness. The seeds are used whole in brines, pickles, and marinades and in salads like coleslaw and potato salad. They can be added to breads, soups, and dressings, thus giving a celery taste without the bulk of fresh celery stalks. The seeds are used in French, New Orleans Creole, and other cuisines around the world. They are also ground and mixed with other spices to create unique herbal blends like Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt, Products containing celery seedCajun seasonings, etc.

These tiny seeds pack a lot of punch when it comes to nutrition. A teaspoon of the seed has only 8 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. They supply 0.9 milligrams of iron per teaspoon which is 11% of the daily requirement for men and 5% for women. Celery seed supplies trace amounts of zinc, manganese, and phosphorus, too. According to the late Dr. James Duke, an American economic botanist, ethnobotanist, and author of The Green Pharmacy, the seeds contain at least 20 anti-inflammatory properties. He credited his robust life to the celery seed being among his “baker’s dozen” of essential herbs. The seeds also contain coumarins, which help in thinning the blood. This component of celery, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties, has been the subject of recent research, but its effectiveness in treating humans still needs to be investigated. Celery seed is sold as a dietary supplement in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural remedies. It is available as an extract, as fresh or dried seeds, and celery seed oil-filled capsules.

It is said that celery was first cultivated for medicinal purposes in 850 BC. Ayurvedic physicians throughout history have used the seed to treat colds, flu, water retention, arthritis, and liver and spleen conditions. Celery was considered a holy plant in the Greek classical period and a wreath of smallage leaves was worn by the winners of the Nemean Games, which began in 573 BC. The Greeks also used it to create the wine they called selinites, while the Romans used celery primarily for seasoning. The Italians domesticated celery and developed a plant with a solid stem and without the bitterness of smallage. Thus began the development and popularity of the Pascal celery that we find in grocery stores today.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray SodaDr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is a celery flavored soda that is made from celery seed. This celery inspired soda has been around since 1868, when it was developed as a tonic that was touted to be “good for calming stomachs and bowels.” It paired well with salty, fatty foods, like pastrami, and became popular in New York’s Jewish delicatessens and with Eastern European immigrants whose cuisines already included fermented botanical beverages. Dr. Brown’s is being noticed again as healthy botanical drinks become more popular. Author Stephen King once said “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Oil is extracted from celery seeds to make “celery oil,” which can be added to colognes, perfumes, and soaps. A few drops of the essential oil can be added to water in a spray bottle or a diffuser for use as an effective mosquito repellent.

Some say that celery was an herb associated with death, and that a garland of smallage leaves was placed around King Tut. Some evidence of this association with death later occurred in a Robert Herrick (1591-1674) poem titled:

To Perenna, a Mistress

“DEAR Perenna, prithee come

and with smallage dress my tomb:

And a cypress sprig thereto,

With a tear, and so Adieu.”

Celery is a biennial plant, producing flowers and seeds in the second year of its growth. The flowers are white umbels similar to parsley blooms. It must have a relatively constant temperature of around 70 degrees and a lot of water and nutrients to grow. It needs a long growing season and does not tolerate high heat or frost. This would be a very difficult combination of requirements for me to grow celery in my southern Zone 8b garden! Seeds of the smallage variety of celery can be purchased online, if you are interested in trying your luck in growing celery for the seed and leaves. The stalks of smallage tend to be bitter.

As with using any herbal medicinal products, a health professional should be consulted. Allergic reactions and interactions with medications you may already be taking can be a danger to your health. Celery seed is not recommended for pregnant women.

For more information about celery seed, recipes, and a screen saver, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

American Botanical Council.HerbClip: Interview with Botanist Jim Duke.” April 30, 1999. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/155/review42307.html

Crowley, Chris. “Celery Forever: Where America’s Weirdest Soda Came From and How It’s Stuck Around.” Serious Eats.  August 2018. https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/dr-browns-cel-ray-celery-soda-history.html

Foodreference.com. “Celery History.” http://www.foodreference.com/html/celery-history.html

Kerr, Gord. “Celery Seed Extract Side Effects.”. https://www.livestrong.com/article/369362-celery-seed-extract-side-effects/   August 19, 2020.

Tweed, Vera. “4 Amazing Uses of Celery Seed.” Better Nutrition. September 2019.

Photo Credits: 1) Smallage flowers (Britannica Encyclopedia online); 2) Assortment of products containing celery seed (Maryann Readal); 3) Dr. Brown’s soda (Beverage Direct).


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Growing Chia – A “Pet Project” in Wisconsin

By Erin Presley

IMG_0374A few years ago, I was researching plants native to Mexico and Central America for a Mexican-themed garden at my work, Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin.  As an important early center of plant diversity and domestication, some of our favorite garden plants originally hail from Mexico, including tomatoes, corn, and chiles, as well as zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, and petunias. One less familiar plant also turned up on my list:  chia.

Among edible plants, chia may have some of the most bizarre associations. Many people remember the 1980s chia pet craze. More recently, chia seed has become popular as a “superfood” and has made its way into chips and crackers, bakery items, and beverages. IMG_0360It’s high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. However, the gelatinous texture of the soaked seeds can be disconcerting for some. I remember having a visiting Californian friend who forgot a bottle of chia kombucha in his car one Wisconsin winter night. An explosion of grape kombucha slush full of sticky seeds is not a pleasant morning surprise in the backseat of your rental car.

IMG_0449When I learned that chia is actually a species of sage, Salvia hispanica, and saw photos of its pretty blue flowers, I was intent on growing it. My seed search led me to Dr. Tim Phillips, a plant scientist at the University of Kentucky working on breeding early flowering chia suitable for cool northern climates. Tim introduced me to the importance of chia in Mayan and Aztec cultures – for the Aztecs, chia was the third most important crop after corn and beans and could even be used as a form of tribute similar to a tax payment. I knew he would be an entertaining colleague when he also related the Aztec legend that chia had originally been sneezed from the nose of the maize god, Cinteotl.

Tim generously sent some of his early flowering chia up to Wisconsin, and we have had great success with it ever since. Direct sown after frost danger has passed, the seeds sprout readily, and the plants grow to about four feet with spiky periwinkle blue flowers. IMG_0354When the plants start to turn brown, we look for mature charcoal gray or white seeds within the calyces and then hang the plants to dry for a few days if the weather is rainy or humid. After that, the dried calyces and seeds are stripped from the stalks and sifted through a series of colanders and screens to separate the seeds, and the last bits of chaff are blown out using a gentle stream of air. The seeds are stored for incorporation into food and beverages and for growing in subsequent years. Check out our tasty recipe for rhubarb agua de chia below!

DSC01837The chia plants have been such an attractive and easy to grow garden highlight, with so much interesting history, that we grow them every year. Unfortunately, the early flowering chia seed strains are under patent until 2029, and not available to home gardeners (yet). Tim did suggest trying to track down two other salvias with edible seeds, Tarahumara chia (Salvia tilifolia) and golden chia (Salvia columbariae).

 

Rhubarb Agua de Chia

The cheery pink color, refreshing tartness, and slippery chia seeds make this a perfect thirst quencher on a hot day.  

Makes 6 cups finished beverage

A few hours or the day prior to serving, make the rhubarb water.  In a large pot, combine 1 pound coarsely chopped fresh rhubarb, 1 ½ cups sugar, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then allow to cool for one hour and strain.

One hour prior to serving, stir in ½ cup fresh lime juice and 1 Tbsp chia seeds and allow to stand for one hour as the seeds swell. Serve over ice.

Photos courtesy of the author: 1) blue chia flowers with senescing plants from an earlier sowing; 2) hand-cleaned chia seed; 3) blue flower spikes; 4) author cleaning chia seed; 5) drying chia seed heads ready for harvest.


Erin is a horticulturist at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a free public garden on the shores of Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, where she loves to experiment and share fun, innovative, and productive ways to grow and use edible plants! She can be reached at:

epresley@cityofmadison.com

Instagram:  @presleyspreferredplants

Rudraksha Tree – A Medicinal Tree of India and Nepal

By Maryann Readal

Seeing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of strings of what looked to be brown seeds hanging in stores around holy places in India made me extremely curious about this seed.

rudraksh beads

Rudraksha beads for sale

On a recent visit to India and Nepal, it was a very common sight to see hundreds of people walking around Buddhist temples in a clockwise direction, while moving their fingers along a long strand of seeds. The seeds turned out to be from a tree called the rudraksha tree, Elaeocarpus ganitrus Roxb. I later found out that each string contains 108 seeds, and one fingers each seed while reciting a specific mantra, which is a word or phrase repeated over and over again. My curiosity was sharpened even further when an Indian astrologer gave me one of these seeds to use in order to ensure that my good fortune would continue.

Now I had to learn more about these seeds, and this is what my curiosity uncovered: The rudraksha tree grows at the base of the Himalayas, as well as in other tropical and subtropical areas like Hawaii, Guam, and the Maldives.

rudraksha seed

Rudraksha seed

The seeds from the trees growing in Nepal are the most prized, and  I was very excited to discover a tree growing where we were staying in Nepal whose seeds were still attached. The rudraksha tree is evergreen, reaching 200 feet in height, with racemes of fragrant white flowers that bloom in the rainy season. The fruits are about one centimeter in diameter and have a slightly smaller seed inside, which is the rudraksha seed. Because the fruit is blue, the tree is often referred to as the blueberry tree.

rudraksha tree

Rudraksha tree in fruit

E. ganitrus has been important in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The leaves have antibacterial properties and are used to treat wounds. The leaves, bark, fruit, and seeds have been used to cure stress, anxiety, depression, palpitation, nerve pain, epilepsy, migraines, lack of concentration, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, and liver disease. Ongoing studies in India are exploring the pharmacological properties of E. ganitrus for its use in developing new drugs that treat a variety of diseases. For more information on this tree’s medicinal value, please see  Elaeocarpus Ganitrus (Rudraksha): A Reservoir Plant with their Pharmacological Effects in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research.

The seeds from the rudraksha fruit have also been used for thousands of years for ritualistic, spiritual, and astrological purposes.

By Subhmanish

Shiva wearing rudraksha beads

The seeds are important to Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists for healing, meditation, controlling stress, and facilitating positive changes in the body, mind, and spirit. In ancient Indian folk tradition, they were thought to ward off evil spirits and omens.

There are several stories about the origins of the rudraksha tree. My favorite is one that tells of Shiva– the principal god of Hinduism–upon returning from a long period of meditation, opened his eyes and saw the suffering of humanity. His tears of compassion fell to earth and became rudraksha trees. The name rudraksha comes from the Sanskrit “rudra,” another name for Shiva and “aksha” meaning tears.

rudraksha offering

Beads as temple offering

So…it is not surprising to find people in India and Nepal circling their shrines fingering these strands of 108 beads, all the while warding off bad spirits due to the medicinal properties of the seeds and gaining peace through stress control by reciting the mantra and meditative walking.

A short, but interesting story about the seeds of a medicinal tree in India.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Every Community Needs a Seed Library

by Bevin Cohen

seed catalog

Community seed sharing programs bring people together. So many times, as I’ve stood in front of a crowd at a seed library opening or other similar event, I’ve looked out among the faces and been amazed at the sheer diversity of people in the room: people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender. Seeds are truly a part of everyone’s story; without seeds we simply cannot survive. And with each passing year it seems that more and more people are realizing this and returning to the Earth, to the seeds that feed us all.

When people talk of saving seeds, inevitably they mention the importance of preserving genetic diversity. While genetic and historic preservation, adaptability, and self-reliance are all important aspects of the seed saving movement, it’s community building that is the foundation on which the entire movement stands.

As the movement toward increased food security and localized diet continues to grow, local control of our seed supply is a topic of significant relevance. One of the fastest growing facets of this movement is the seed library, a place where community members have access to a selection of seeds that they can “check-out” just like you would books from your public library. In fact, a number of these programs are actually housed within a local library. I always like to joke that if you want to see a librarian get excited just give them a new reason to use those old card catalogs! There is certainly something beautiful about those old drawers filled with packets of seeds eagerly awaiting a gardener to take them home and give them a grow!

To continue with the library book analogy, after a gardener checks out their seeds and takes them home, when the fall harvest is complete, participants are encouraged to bring their seeds back to the library to restock the supply. If properly executed, the seed library can become a closed circuit sustainable program offering its community a wide selection of regionally adapted, local seed. But it’s this part of the program that has proven to be the most challenging.  The general consensus among the directors of these programs is that getting community members to return seed at the end of the season is the most difficult challenge they face every year.

In my eyes one of the most beneficial aspects of a seed library is its ability to strengthen a community. When like-minded people gather together for a common cause, the friendships and relationships that develop have a value that’s far too great to measure. If a seed library’s sole accomplishment was to get people talking to their neighbors again, sharing seeds and recipes or even just their surplus zucchini, I would consider that a win. But what a seed library offers is also so much more.

Seed libraries are on the forefront of the local food movement, empowering communities with the tools and skills they need to regain the independence we must have in order to live happy and healthy lives. Every neighborhood deserves access to locally grown and adapted seed; every neighborhood should be home to a community seed library program.

 –an excerpt from the book ‘From Our Seeds & Their Keepers; a collection of stories”


Here is how you can start a seed saving library in your community.

Step 1: Consider contacting your local library and if they don’t already have a seed library in place, maybe it’s time for you to plant that seed.

Step 2: Many hands make light work. Connect with like-minded community members to form your seed library working group. Consider Master Gardeners, community gardens, your local herb society and other similar organizations.

Step 3: Time to gather your seeds! Many seed companies are willing to donate to community gardening programs. Reach out to them and make contact. The best time to solicit seed donations is in the winter when companies are hoping to clear out the previous year’s stock.

Step 4: Decide how your community seed library will organize and distribute your seeds. Will participants need to sign up and become members of your seed library? Or will your library be more of a “hands-off” give and take freestyle program? You’ll need to assess your community’s needs as well as your seed library’s resources to determine what the best fit is for your program.

Step 5: Budget for success! While you may be able to acquire your initial seed stock for free, there will be other small expenses you may incur during the setup phase, such as envelopes, labels etc. Plan accordingly!

Step 6: Have fun! Sharing seeds and stories is a fun and healthy way to support your community. Local seeds grow local food and healthy communities are happy communities! Together we can make the world a better place, one seed at a time.


Learn more about seed libraries and Bevin’s work at www.smallhousefarm.com

Bevin has published two books on the subject of seed saving:

From Our Seeds & Their Keeper; a collection of Stories, Small House Press, 2018

Saving Our Seeds: the Practice & Philosophy, Small House, Press 2019

Both titles are available via Amazon or directly from the author at www.smallhousefarm.com

 

 

 

What is Sustainable Seed & Why We Care

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

SSC_Theo

 

Theo Bill, V.P., Sustainable Seed Co

 

Waiting for my big toe to heal from joint replacement, I spent a little (maybe, a lot) of time armchair gardening. That’s how I stumbled on the Sustainable Seed Company.

 

The family-owned company offers more than 1,875 varieties of organic and heirloom seeds, including 10 types of basil.I’m ordering the complete basil collection, but only a few of the 300 varieties of tomatoes.

I chose Sustainable Seed Company after quizzing Theo Bill, Vice President, about the meaning of “organic” seeds. It sounds responsible, but what does it really mean? In his words …

What is “organic” seed?
“Organic seed” technically means untreated or organic seeds that were planted, grown and harvested in an organically approved system.  That means no GMOs, no overt pesticide or herbicide usage, and adherence to other National Organic Program rules.  The “Spirit” of organic seed though is much broader – it covers the health of the soil, pollinators, water conservation, runoff issues, and more.


How is organic seed different?USDA organic

Organic seed is grown in an organic method, so it becomes accustomed to organic growing
conditions. Conventional seed, for example, is often grown using a great deal of herbicides and pesticides.  Organic plants don’t use the same kinds of chemicals and have to be hand-weeded or out-compete the weeds to thrive.  They receive more natural fertilizer (often manures or natural minerals instead of anhydrous ammonia or other conventional fertilizer).

Unfortunately, more intensive manual labor and higher input costs, result in higher production costs. That means organic seed often costs more.  However, you are buying a higher quality seed which is more weed-resistant and less reliant on herbicides and pesticides.

Why is organic seed better?
That depends on how you want to grow your plants, and what kind of inputs (including weeding) you’ll be using.

What are the most popular herb seeds sold by Sustainable Seed Co.?Sustainable seed rosemary
Lavender would be our most popular followed by basil and rosemary.

What herb grows best from seed? What herb is the toughest to start from seed?
The easiest would be cilantro. The most difficult is probably rosemary.

What tips would you give for growing herbs from seed?
For Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, lavender, etc.) add clean sand to the soil mix for better drainage.

Thank you, Mr. Bill.


From Sustainable Seed Co. — Discovering “new” heirloom seeds is one of our passions, and we would love to hear from anyone who is growing heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations. We hope to preserve this part of history and believe that, with the continuing encroachment from large producers of hybrid and GMO seeds, companies like ours, along with our customers, may be a crucial link to saving the future of food.

 

Armchair Gardening Season Begins

armchair_gardening_dreamstime_m_48583763 (1)By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Saturday morning over fried eggs and rye toast at Mary’s Diner, my boyfriend texted me a link to Rodale Organic Life’s “Grow Healthy Plants from Seedlings Every Time.” Yes, he texted me the link though we were in the same booth. (Sheesh. The manners we learn from our kids.)

Fueled by a faux-Fiestaware mug of black coffee and his tall diet Coke, we talked about using a seedling tray and heat mat($15 on Amazon.com) to jumpstart Spring. We were greedy about what we might ripen in early July. He wants Rutgers’ tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes. And more tomatoes. I want to try slow-bolting cilantro and myriad chile peppers.

The sooner we sow, the sooner we reap. Right?

Thirty-two minutes later, I’m in the corner of his milk-chocolate-brown leather sectional with my feet tucked under me. His laptop is balanced on a muted-yellow, square pillow atop my legs. I’m keyboarding my Northeast Ohio address into seed catalog subscription forms. I realize the catalog industry uses mega-tons of paper, but I’m too old to go exclusively digital. I want to dog ear pages and circle “wants” in saturated Sharpie colors. I want to carry the catalog to my pillow and reread until sleep fuses my eyelids. And so, I justify my decision.

By the way, Herb Society of America members should keep in mind that they get a 10% discount from Richters Herb & Vegetable Catalogue and 15% from The Grower’s Exchange. And, many mail order growers offer early-bird discounts through January. Check out web sites for your favorite company.

While I’m waiting for colorful, slick paper catalogs to be mixed with my bills and sale flyers, I’ll settle for shopping online. I already want 10 types of basil, among them Thai, cinnamon, lemon, and lime. I’m uncertain what I’ll use them for, but I visualize various pestos and noodle dishes from around the globe.

Armchair gardening season is here. And, I’m ready.