- Major entries:
- Apium graveolens Linn., Ache. Celery. Smallage.
- Apium graveolens rapaceum, Celeriac. Turnip-Rooted Celery.
A plant of marshy places whose habitat extends from Sweden southward to Algeria, Egypt, Abyssinia and in Asia even to the Caucasus, Baluchistan and the mountains of British India and has been found in Tierra del Fuego, in California and in New Zealand. Celery is supposed to be the selinon of the Odyssey, the selinon heleion of Hippocrates, the eleioselinon of Theophrastus and Dioscorides and the helioselinon of Pliny and Palladius. It does not seem to have been cultivated, although by some commentators the plant known as smallage has a wild and a cultivated sort. Nor is there one clear statement that this smallage was used as food, for sativus means simply planted as distinguished from growing wild, and we may suppose that this Apium, if smallage was meant, was planted for medicinal use. Targioni-Tozzetti says this Apium was considered by the ancients rather as a funereal or ill-omened plant than as an article of food, and that by early modern writers it is mentioned only as a medicinal plant. This seems true, for Fuchsius, 1542, does not speak of its being cultivated and implies a medicinal use alone, as did Walafridus Strabo in the ninth century; Tragus, 1552; Pinaeus, 1561; Pena and Lobel, 1570, and Ruellius' Dioscorides, 1529. Camerarius' Epitome of Matthiolus, 1586, says planted also in gardens; and Dodonaeus, in his Pemptades, 1616, speaks of the wild plant being transferred to gardens but distinctly says not for food use. According to Targioni-Tozzetti, Alamanni, in the sixteenth century, speaks of it, but at the same time praises Alexanders for its sweet roots as an article of food. Bauhin's names, 1623, Apium palustre and Apium officinarum, indicate medicinal rather than food use, and J. Bauhin's name, Apium vulgare ingratus, does not promise much satisfaction in the eating. According to Bretschneider, celery, probably smallage, can be identified in the Chinese work of Kia Sz'mu, the fifth century A. D., and is described as a cultivated plant in the Nung Cheng Ts'nan Shu, 1640. We have mention of a cultivated variety in France by Olivier de Serres, 1623, and in England the seed was sold in 1726 for planting for the use of the plant in soups and broths; and Miller says, 1722, that smallage is one of the herbs eaten to purify the blood. Cultivated smallage is now grown in France under the name Celeri a couper, differing but little from the wild form. The number of names that are given to smallage indicate antiquity.
The prevalence of a name derived from one root indicates a recent dispersion of the cultivated variety. Vilmorin gives the following synonyms: French Celeri, English celery, German Selleree, Flanders Selderij, Denmark Selleri, Italy Sedano, Spain apio, Portugal Aipo. The first mention of the word celery seems to be in Walafridus Strabo's poem entitled Hortulus, where he gives the medicinal uses of Apium and in line 335 uses the word as follows: "Passio turn celeri cedit devicia medelae." "The disease then to celery yields, conquered by the remedy," as it may be literally construed, yet the word celeri here may be translated quick-acting and this suggests that our word celery was derived from the medicinal uses. Strabo wrote in the ninth century; he was born A. D. 806 or 807, and died in France in 849.
Targioni-Tozzetti says, it is certain that in the sixteenth century celery was grown for the table in Tuscany. There is no mention of celery in Fuchsius, 1542; Tragus, 1552; Matthiolus' Commentaries, 1558; Camerarius' Epitome, 1558; Pinaeus, 1561; Pena and Lobel, 1570; Gerarde, 1597; Clusius, 1601; Dodonaeus, 1616; or in Bauhin's Pinax, 1623; Parkinson's Paradisus, 1629, mentions Sellery as a rarity and names it Apium dulce. Ray, in his Historia Plantarum, 1686, says, "smallage transferred to culture becomes milder and less ungrateful, whence in Italy and France the leaves and stalks are esteemed as delicacies, eaten with oil and pepper." The Italians call this variety Sceleri or Celeri. The French also use the vegetable and the name. Ray adds that in English gardens the cultivated form often degenerates into smallage. Quintyne, who wrote prior to 1697, the year in which the third edition, of his Complete Gardener was published, says, in France "we know but one sort of it." Celeri is mentioned, however, as Apium dulce, Celeri Italorum by Tournefort, 1665. In 1778, Mawe and Abercrombie note two sorts of celery in England, one with the stalks hollow and the other with the stalks solid. In 1726, Townsend distinguished the celeries as smallage and "selery" and the latter he says should be planted "for Winter Sallads, because it is very hot." Tinburg says celery is common among the richer classes in Sweden and is preserved in cellars for winter use. In 1806, McMahon mentions four sorts in his list of garden esculents for American use. It is curious that no mention of a plant that can suggest celery occurs in Bodaeus and Scaliger's edition of Theophrastus, published at Amsterdam in 1644.
There is no clear evidence, then, that smallage was grown by the ancients as a food plant but that if planted at all it was for medicinal use. The first mention of its cultivation as a food plant is by Olivier de Serres, 1623, who called it ache, while Parkinson speaks of celery in 1629, and Ray indicates the cultivation as commencing in Italy and extending to France and England. Targioni-Tozzetti states, however, as a certainty that celery was grown in Tuscany in the sixteenth century. The hollow celery is stated by Mawe to have been the original kind and is claimed by Cobbett, even as late as 1821, as being the best.
The first celeries grown seem to have differed but little from the wild plant, and the words celery and (cultivated) smallage were apparently nearly synonymous at one time, as we find cultivated ache spoken of in 1623 in France and at later dates petit celeri or celeri a couper, a variety with hollow stalks, cultivated even at the present time for use of the foliage in soups and broths. Among the earlier varieties we find mention of hollow-stalked, stalks sometimes hollow, and solid-stalked forms; at the present time the hollow-stalked forms have been discarded. Vilmorin describes twelve sorts as distinct and worthy of culture in addition to the celeri a couper but in all there is this to be noted, there is but one type.
In Italy and the Levant, where celery is much grown, but not blanched, the green leaves and stalks are used as an ingredient in soups. In England and America, the stalks are always blanched and used raw as a salad or dressed as a dinner vegetable. The seeds are also used for flavoring. In France, celery is said by Robinson never to be as well grown as in England or America. By cultivation, celery, from a suspicious if not poisonous plant, has become transformed into the sweet, crisp, wholesome and most agreeable cultivated vegetable.
Europe, Orient, India and California. This variety of celery forms a stout tuber, irregularly rounded, frequently exceeding the size of one's fist, hence it is often termed turnip-rooted celery. In France, it is commonly grown in two varieties. The tuber, generally eaten cooked, is sometimes sliced and used in salads. In Germany, it is commonly used as a vegetable, cooked in soups or cooked and sliced for salads. In England, celeriac is seldom grown. In this country, it is grown only to a limited extent and is used only by our French and German population. When well grown, these bulbs should be solid, tender and delicate.
In 1536, Ruellius, in treating of the ache, or uncultivated smallage as would appear from the context, says the root is eaten, both raw and cooked. Rauwolf, who travelled in the East, 1573-75, speaks of Eppich, whose roots are eaten as delicacies, with salt and pepper, at Tripoli and Aleppo; and J. Bauhin, who died in 1613, mentions a Selinum tuberosum, sive Buselini speciem, as named in Honorius Bellus, which seems to be the first mention of celeriac, as the earlier references quoted may possibly refer to the root of the ordinary sort, although probably not, for at this date the true celery had scarcely been sufficiently developed. In 1729, Switzer describes the plant in a book devoted to this and other novelties but adds that he had never seen it; this indicates that celeriac was little known in England at this date, for he adds that the gentleman, who had long been an importer of curious seeds, furnished him with a supply from Alexandria. Celeriac is again named in England in 1752, 1765, and by succeeding writers but is little known even at the present time. In 1806, McMahon includes this in his list of American garden esculents, as does Randolph for Virginia before 1818. Burr describes two varieties, and two varieties are offered in our seed catalogs. The history of celeriac is particularly interesting, as we seem to have a record of its first introduction and of a size at that time which is not approached in modern culture.
Jo. Baptista Porta, a Neapolitan, writes thus in his Villae, published at Frankfurt in 1592 (lib. 10, chap. 21), the translation being liberal: "There is another kind of celery called Capitatum, which is grown in the gardens of St. Agatha, Theano and other places in Apulia, granted from nature and unseen and unnamed by the ancients. Its bulb is spherical, nearly of the size of a man's head. It is very sweet, odorous and grateful. Except in rich land, it degenerates, until it differs from the common apium in no respects, except in its root, round like a head."
Apium prostratum Labill. Australian Celery.
Australian and Antarctic regions. Mueller says this plant can be utilized as a culinary vegetable.