Celery’s surprisingly colorful history has sparked my imagination and has humbled me to the wisdom of great scholars of the past. Are celery benefits scientifically proven? Let’s take a look at what we know today.
I decided that I wanted to explore the rich tales of this plant to see if our ancestral traditions surrounding this plant could be put to the test with modern science.
The legends of celery are bigger than life. Say what you will about this under-respected, often bitter and lanky vegetable, it has some amazing lore and legends.
The history of plants and their use to aid human survival gives us clues and windows into the rich past.about life, and possibly how we need to move forward with progress in the modern world which abounds with poor quality of health.
Celery’s Medicinal Use in History
Imagine a time when celery was used strictly for medicine; this happens to be true for most of recorded history (1). Archeological evidence suggests that celery seeds were transported in Switzerland around 4000 B.C.
Celery is believed to have been cultivated for at least 3000 years; most of this time it is known to be used exclusively for medicine. The first time celery was first recorded to be used as food in France was in the 1600s.
Should we value celery as medicine today, and should it have ever gone away as medicine, more importantly? This blog will delve into the parallel uses of celery as medicine that our ancestors discovered, and how science is rediscovering these health benefits today.
Celery (Apium graveolens) likely originated in the Mediterranean regions, but wild celery, also known as smallage, grows in wet places over Europe and Asia.
Celery that we know today was domesticated around the 1700s in Europe, and became widely used for food after that point.
Celery Nutrition and Taste
Rich in nutrients, celery contains good amounts of vitamin K, potassium, folate, and fiber (2). But nutrient discussion is not the aim of this blog; it is the healing powers of this fascinating plant.
Knowledge becomes motivation to eat medicinal plants like this; after all, celery may not be your first choice in terms of taste for eating because of its sometimes powerful bitterness, stringy texture.
However, it has a characteristic aroma that lends itself well to cooking and dipping. It has a very cleansing feel to the digestive tract, palate and teeth. More on this later.
Taste can be improved easily with many flavor additions and cooking preparation methods.
Ancient Celery Uses
Celery legend from history is nothing if not vibrant. “He now has need of nothing but celery” meant that some unfortunate person was about to die, according to the ancient Greeks. The Greeks also gave celery to their prized athletes.
The famous Grecian, Hippocrates, described celery as a nerve-rebuilder. He was likely on point and keenly astute about this matter as you will soon find out.
Evidence of celery offerings to the tomb of Tutankhamun have been also been found (3). Romans were also known to revere celery; they dedicated celery to Pluto, their God of sex.
Celery Sex Legends
Celery was famous in history as a passion promoter, from the nymph Calypso owing her seven-year-long love fest with Odysseus to celery (4), to the mistress Madame d Pompadour invoking lust from Louis XV with celery soup (5).
Celery has been used for centuries to treat impotence and as an aphrodisiac. Casanova is well-known to owe his amorous ways to daily consumption of celery (6).
Scientifically Proven Celery Benefits
What we know today: Celery helps lower blood pressure, improves cholesterol, and has at least 12 kinds of antioxidants that may improve cardiovascular function (7-9).
Improving cardiovascular function may improve sexual ability. Why? Sexual dysfunction is often linked to poor circulation in the small blood vessels (10).
Heart patients are sometimes given nitroglycerin to help with vascular blood flow and reduce chest pain (11). You guessed it; celery has natural nitrates that seem to have similar if not more mild functions (12). Celery does not contain the toxic version of nitrate known as nitrites (9).
Celery Flavonoid Content
Celery contains apigenin — a flavonoid and protein inhibitor that may boost testosterone production in the testes. It protects the testes from toxins such as pthalates (13).
Apigenin also likely makes the body use insulin more effectively, making the blood vessels healthier (14).
Celery May Reduce H. Pylori
Could erectile dysfunction be related to H.Pylori? If you needed one more reason to eat celery, it seems to reduce the chances of gastric ulcer by reducing H.Pylori infections.
H.Pylori increases type 2 diabetes risk by over 3 times (15-16). Type 2 diabetes is also associated with erectile dysfunction. More dots connected. Yes, a convoluted link, but it all starts to add up.
Celery Androsterone Content
Not enough to get your heart pumping? Celery also has androsterone, which is a natural steroid found in sweat, and it acts like a pheromone (17).
In humans, pheromones are known to exert feelings of well-being, but in animals, are known to have very powerful signals for sex.
Does this matter in humans? Recent evidence suggests that men who eat more vegetables instead of carbohydrate rich foods smell better to women, particularly their sweat (18).
And to women, scent is a very important quality in the opposite sex. While this study didn’t prove that celery itself is sexy to women, it further supports the hypothesis that diet matters in the arena of sex.
Celery Sexual Function Verdict
Were our ancestors right in their exertion that celery was an aphrodisiac? All signs so far point to yes. We certainly could benefit from some more direct scientific evidence, however.
Is celery the plant form of Viagra? I certainly hope not.
With food and medicinal plants, it’s the long game and balance that matters. But a “celery a day keeps the Viagra away” should and could be put to the test without fear of harm, unlike the drug.
You just might save yourself a trip to the doctor for digestive and liver issues
Rich antioxidants in celery likely also help protect the digestive tract and biliary system.
What does history tell us? Ayurvedic doctors and ancient Romans have used celery to treat poor digestion and liver ailments.
Here is the current science supporting that our ancestors were right in their assertions of celery healing the digestive tract.
Celery may reduce the toxic effects of alcohol. However, it is most important to NOT over-consume alcohol anyway for many reasons.
Celery seeds were given to mice with gastric ulcers brought on by alcohol; celery was able to inhibit over 90% of stomach ulceration; this is a similar potency to the active control drug called omeprazole (19).
Due to celery’s antimicrobial properties, it may help fight infections.
The University of Maryland Medical Center website for gastritis management notes that flavonoids in celery may prevent the growth of bacteria, which are responsible for gastritis, or inflammation in the stomach lining (20).
Celery Liver Benefits
Celery seems to reduce liver fat, improve liver detoxification, and handle cholesterol metabolism in an enhanced way.
How? Celery may also protect the body from environmental toxins like bisphenol A and pthalates.
Celery also improves liver enzyme function (21).
Celery Mood Benefits
Celery cools a hot temper according to Danish folk medicine (22). Hot tempers or mood disorders are related to digestive issues in modern medicine.
Other facts we know today:
Celery’s apigenin, exerts anxiolytic effects, possibly by modulating GABA receptors (23). High concentrations of apigenin also occur in chammomile, parsley, artichokes, peppermint, red wine, and licorice.
Apigenin also reduces cortisol levels indirectly because it is rich in bioflavonoids coumarin and apigenin (24).
These compounds help to prevent your body from producing stress hormones in excess, which helps to calm your nervous system.
Additionally, celery is also rich in magnesium, which promotes a calming effect, as well.
Perhaps most intriguing, celery’s apigenin stimulates neurogenesis in adults (25);
Hipporates seemed to get it right. This means it helps growth of new nerve cells.
All combined, the multiple mechanisms discovered in animal models point towards easing of emotional states that trigger digestive issues, plus many additional benefits that neurogenesis may afford.
Celery and Cancer
Celery contains cancer-protective compounds including polyacetylenes, luteolin, and apigenin (26-28). Early studies have shown that polyacetylenes help reduce toxicity and fight against cancer formation, specifically breast cancer, pancreatic, intestinal cancer and leukemia (28-29).
Eating foods high in apigenin may reduce breast cancer risk by about 20%, and also seems to help prevent colon and pancreatic tumors (27-36).
These compounds act to inhibit tumor growth factors and are involved in cell cycle arrest of cancer cells.
Pain and Inflammation
Celery reduces uric acid levels, a major contributor to gout symptoms; additional research shows that celery seeds might have potential use in alleviating inflammation and pain associated with gout (37-38).
Celery seeds may provide strong pain relief by suppressing cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme involved in the production of inflammation(33).
Celery seed extract has been found to be as effective as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen to reduce existing inflammation and pain in rat models of arthritis (39).
Does the Science of Celery Support Claims?
Does celery prove to be medicinal, as our great scholars and legends suggested? Should we honor time-tested traditions and eat celery medicinally?
Some medical experts and skeptics may say we don’t have enough evidence yet backed by randomized clinical trials.
But what do these trials measure anyway? If researchers look at one endpoint, they will likely miss the big picture; they miss numerous facets of celery and of many other diverse plants in this rigid form of research.
I would argue that waiting for randomized clinical trials might be fool-hardy.
One of the most renowned medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine, just recently published that we need to encompass many forms of research when making informed decisions about how to help heal people (40). What a fresh breath of air in the sometimes snooty world of medical research.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.
Yes, Virginia. I believe.
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Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.