History of Celery

In the course of history, celery has been known by many names, and touted for many uses. The name "celery" in the English language is thought to have been derived from the French word "celeri." In turn, celeri came from the Greek version of the word. This vegetable/herb even made an appearance in Homer's Odyssey as "selinon." Most experts believe that celery originated in the Mediterranean basin. Other areas that lay claim to nativity for celery include Sweden, the British Isles, Egypt, Algeria, India, China, and New Zealand.

Though today it is mainly thought of as a vegetable meant for consumption, celery was originally used for medicinal purposes, as a flavoring herb, and sometimes fed to horses. It has medicinal properties because of the oils and seeds it contains. In ancient times it was used to treat many ailments, including colds, flu, digestion, water retention, and more. It is less commonly used as a medicine in modern times, but there is evidence that its consumption can help effectively treat high blood pressure.

Once it was understood that celery could be beneficial, its use began to spread. Archaeologists have found celery in ancient Egyptian tombs. The Greeks believed celery to be a holy plant. They even wore necklaces of it at their Nemean Games. For the ancients there was not much difference between celery and parsley. In fact the name for parsley actually means rock-celery.

In Europe it was not until the 1600s in France that celery was first noted as an edible plant meant for consumption. Soon the Italians began using celery the way we use it in modern times. They set out to find a way to give it a more desirable flavor because celery was thought to be quite bitter and strong. A technique was developed to remedy this stronger taste in the form of blanching.

This led to two different types of celery developing. There is self-blanching or yellow celery (a recent hybrid) and green or Pascal celery. In North America most people prefer the green variety. In Europe and other locations self-blanching varieties are more prevalent.

Another form of celery becoming popular is celeriac. Celeriac is turnip-rooted celery developed from wild species. It has an enlarged root and is never served raw. Instead, celeriac is cooked and added to soups and stews. Celeriac is not new. It dates back to the 1600s.

In the 1850s celery seed was brought to Kalamazoo, Michigan from Scotland by George Taylor. He began growing it at a nearby farm. At a fancy ball at the Burdick House he offered it free of charge to be on the serving table. It got considerable interest. Dutch immigrants in the area caught on to the idea, and Kalamazoo became the "Celery Capital" of the nation.1 However, this was not to last. Celery production died out after a blight hit the area in the 1930s. Now the biggest producer of celery in the nation is California.

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1. Kalamazoo Public Library

Interesting Fact:

Blanching celery means to cover up the stalks while they are growing to keep them from being exposed to the sun so they become pale in color.

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