Celery goes to war

Aug 2, 2016

You may not know it, but celery is an herb. "Queen of Herbs" Jekka McVikar knows this, hence her title. She shares its history, and its potential for helping a common ailment, with Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I'd like to talk to you about celery leaves. No one thinks of celery leaves as an herb.

Jekka McVicar: No. The Latin is Apium graveolens. Now, are you sitting comfortably?

LRK: I am very comfortable.

Jekka McVicar

JM: Good, here goes: Every war, people have taken their herbs with them. So when the Romans invaded the U.K., they brought over 700 herbs with them. And celery leaf, Apium graveolens, is a U.K. native herb. Used to grow wild. And when we trotted off to India, to war, we took celery leaf with us. So the leaf and the seed is now used in Indian cooking. This shows how herbs travel around the world.

In France, celery leaf is called “parcel.” It looks just like French parsley, and what's happened is the growers have bred the celery sticks that you have. They're really tough and I don't like that. But if you get the seed for celery leaf, it'll look like French parsley, but it'll taste just like celery and it is gorgeous. It really is, it transforms the salad, or just add it to mashed potato. It is just fantastic.

But for me, with celery seed, I let it go to flower, and with that seed you can make celery salt. It’s a great Christmas present: You just buy the salt, dry the seeds, whack them together, and give it to your girlfriends. It is so good to cook with, you can add it to soups and things.

Personally, I'm getting on in age now and I've been in horticulture over 35 years. I have potted a lot of plants in my hands, so I've got arthritis now. When it's really bad, on damp days like today, I drink celery seed tea. I just put a teaspoon of seed into a cup, I add boiled water, and that helps my joints and really takes away the pain. It's fantastic. However, however, I'm giving you a warning: Please, if any of you are allergic to peanuts, do not drink celery seed tea. You can eat the leaf, by all means, you won't have any reaction, but you can to the seed.

LRK: If I want to use the tops of the celery stalks?

JM: Yes, absolutely. It's fantastic, it'll be slightly tougher than when I grow a celery leaf, but absolutely. I use it in soups. Don't waste it, it's great.

LRK: I love it because I think you cannot make a really good-tasting broth without those leaves.

JM: So right, so right. Brilliant.

LRK: I'm just making a note to myself because I never realized there was that plant that was really about the leaf. Thank you for this insight. We're not going look at a stalk of celery quite the same way.