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.

Galangal, Herb of the Month: An interesting, but less familiar herb

Galangal, Herb of the Month: An interesting, but less familiar herb

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

The pungent, aromatic rhizome of the galangals, greater galangal (Alpina galangal) and lesser galangal (Alpina officinarum) are used in southeast Asian cuisines. They are trogalangal.jpgpical herbaceous plants in the ginger family with strappy leaves and white flowers resembling orchids. The rhizomes are red/white – orange/brown and are ringed with the scars of former leaves. The greater galangal rhizome is larger than that of the lesser galangal. In tropical climates, the rhizomes are harvested after three to four months of growth. While the greater galangal is used for cooking, it is the rhizome of the lesser galangal that has been used for its medicinal properties since the Middle Ages.

It is thought that the Arabic people brought the spice to Europe in the ninth century. It is said that they used the spice to “fire up” their horses. The notable Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen called galangal the “spice of life” and used it as a major healing spice in the early 12th century. In Chinese herbal medicine, galangal is used to treat abdominal pain. In India and southwestern Asia, it is also used for stomach pain and as an expectorant. In western herbalism, it has been used for indigestion, vomiting, and stomach pain and as a treatment for sea sickness.

Galangal’s spicy warm flavor is used in the Indonesian fried rice dish nasi goreng. It is sometimes used in the Chinese five-spice blend. A popular Polish vodka, Żołądkowa Gorzka Vodka, is flavored with galangal. (Translated, it means bitter vodka for the stomach.) It is often used in seafood dishes with chili, garlic, and lemon and can be sliced and used in soups and stews. The slices should be removed before serving. Fresh and dried galangal can be found in Asian or specialty grocery stores. It is also available as a powder.

For more information about the galangals and interesting recipes using it, go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month website. You will also find more than six years of Herbs of the Month on this webpage, making it an ideal place to start your herbal research.


Herb Society Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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.

Herb of March: Discovering Amaranth

Herb of March: Discovering Amaranth

By Paris Wolfe, with Randel A. Agrella, Seed Production Manager for The Baker Heirloom Seed Company

Amaranth Kerala red and Orange Giant_1When Karen Kennedy, Herb Society of America educator, told me amaranth was March Herb of the Month I was surprised. I had thought it a grain, not an herb. And, I didn’t know anyone who was growing it.

As synchronicity would have it, I picked up The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Heirloom Seed Company and 14 variations led the book. On a quest to learn more, I contacted Randel A. Agrella, Seed Production Manager. Now I want several in my garden as ornamentals and edibles.

 I thought amaranth was more of a weed not a cultivated food.

Amaranth is not a weed, but it sure grows like one! It has been cultivated for centuries in both the Old World and New. Several species exist. There are amaranths grown primarily for grain, or for the nutritious leaves, or both. There are also ornamental forms. That said, the plant has kept its vitality from the original days as a wild plant. And, actually, several amaranth species in North America ARE weeds. These are usually called “pigweed,” although that name is also used on some non-amaranth types.

How did The Baker Heirloom Seed Company manage to collect so many varieties of amaranth? 

By traveling to remote areas, shopping in unlikely places, and responding to customers, who often offer new varieties of many crop types, including amaranth.

Are they different in any way other than color?Amaranth Karala Red LSS 378

They vary in both leaf and stem color, and in the color of their rather amazing seed heads. They also differ in leaf-form –there are round-leaf types as well as the more usual, lanceolate leaf types. Seed color is also variable, with the white- or tan-seeded types being more favored for grain. There are some dwarf types, mainly the result of recent breeding efforts to tone down this robust plant. There are some variations in the flower-heads’ shape as well–most usual is a plume-like inflorescence, but there are some with a completely different shape, known as Elephant Head (because of a fancied resemblance to an elephant with upraised trunk). There is a weeping or trailing form, as in Love Lies Bleeding, which is grown as an ornamental, yet used for both its leaves and its seeds in its countries of origin.


What’s amaranth is the rarest?

The rarest ones are yet to be identified.

What amaranth plants are the popular? 

Golden Giant, an orange-flowered grain type, and Love Lies Bleeding Red, have been grown as an ornamental in American gardens for generations.

Tell me about their health benefits.

The seeds are very high in protein, and this protein is more digestible than that of many commonly grown crops. They offer a more complete protein and are especially rich in lysine, an amino acid often lacking in plant protein sources. The seeds are gluten-free, have anti-inflammatory and possibly even anti-mutagenic properties.


The blog for The Herb Society of America is written by members, staff and guest authors, to promote herb appreciation from cultivation and use to learning and research. It supports the Herb Society’s goals to protect botanical heritage, steward scientific diversity and promote personal enjoyment. Membership is open to individuals and businesses.

What are you doing with amaranth?