Celery is a crunchy biennial plant which has been cultivated for centuries in various forms. Although originally cultivated for its perceived medicinal qualities, it has since made the jump into the daily diets of consumers around the world. The plant is in the family Apiaceae, and is related to dill, carrots, fennel, and parsley. The domesticated and highly cultivated species is formally known as Apium graveolens. While growing, celery has a cluster of stalks topped by green leaves and white flowers during the blooming season.
All of the parts of the plant are usable and edible, including the root, also known as celeriac; crisp stalks; seeds; and feathery green leaves. A specific varietal, turnip rooted celery, is cultivated for its unusually large, knobbly, flavorful root. Celeriac can be included in mixtures of roasted root vegetables, and tends to have a more rich flavor than the stalks. The stalks are long, green, and retain their crunchy texture after brief cooking. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are often included on crudite platters and in stir fries and soups. The seeds are often dried for use in various cuisines. Raw whole celery is also used in blended green drinks.
The low caloric content of celery makes it a popular choice for dieters, and it is also rich in vitamins K and C. The stalks taste best at the peak of the season, in the summer. When selecting celery in the store, buyers should look for white to green evenly colored specimens that are tightly clustered around the core. If it is being sold precut, consumers should make sure that it is not flexible or soft. If the stalks appear wilted at all, they are not at their best. The stalks should make a snapping sound when they are pulled apart. The vegetable can be kept refrigerated for approximately one week.
It is also possible to grow celery at home, although the plant is notoriously difficult. It needs to grow in a place with a long, cool growing season, with daytime temperatures of around 65°F (18°C) and cooler nighttime temperatures of 60°F (15°C). The plant is highly sensitive to frost, and most gardeners start seedlings indoors, moving them outdoors after the danger of frost is passed. Celery should be heavily composted and mulched to help it retain water, and it should also be watered frequently.