Why do people domesticate celery? It seems like a silly question, but if you think about celery in evolutionary terms, the low-calorie plant doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for humans to make an effort to cultivate.
NPR reporter Natalie Jacewicz asked botanists and anthropologists how celery, the watery, six-calorie-a-stalk vegetable, became so popular.
Celery is an umbellifer, a family of plants that tends to be poisonous. It includes other culinary delights like cilantro and parsley, but it’s also related to hemlock, the notoriously poisonous plant that killed Socrates.
According to the experts Jacewicz spoke with, celery is native to the Mediterranean. People were transporting wild celery seeds from Europe as far back as 4000 BCE, and it may have been used as a medicine for hangovers or as an aphrodisiac. The leaves were also used in Rome and Greece in victory crowns for athletic events.
The domestic plant we now buy at the farmer’s market and in the produce aisle was probably first cultivated around Italy and France in the 1600s, used to flavor soup and as a fibrous filler for meals.
Head to NPR for more delicious celery history.