Celery Seeds: A Surprisingly Potent Spice

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Celery seed does not come from celery. It comes from a wild ancestor of the celery plant sometimes called smallage, lovage or Chinese celery. Celery along with its ancestor plant is in the same family as parsley and the carrot. These plants originated in the Mediterranean region.

Both the leaves and seeds of the celery plant were widely used by the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. In both cultures, they used the seeds as medicine. There are texts that show celery in use before 850 BC.

Aulus Cornelius Celsus was a doctor and Roman medical writer. He wrote that celery seeds should be prescribed for pain relief. The ancient Chinese and Japanese people also believed celery seeds to have medicinal value.

Ancient Indian practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine used celery seeds to treat a range of health issues. These issues included water retention, pain and liver ailments.

Only in the 19th century did people start to use the seeds for cooking. Early North Americans would use them mainly to flavor pickles. These days, most celery seed comes from China but India and France are major producers as well.

Celery seed flavor profile

Celery seeds have a strong flavor that some people describe as bitter. The celery seed flavor is reminiscent of celery’s unique flavor but considerably more potent. In fact, celery seeds have a stronger flavor than any other part of the plant.

Celery seed from India has a mild lemony aroma; the aroma of French celery seed is more herbal with sweeter citrus notes.

Celery seed health benefits

Celery seed delivers a variety of health benefits. Its benefits are due to the multitude of nutrients it contains. Those nutrients include:

  • Phytochemicals: These are compounds that help to protect health. Among the phytochemicals in celery seeds are limonene, coumarin and apigenin. These phytochemicals are thought to benefit health by fighting inflammation. Inflammation increases an individual’s risk of developing cancer, heart disease and other health problems. The seeds also have a pthalides, which is another type of anti-inflammatory phytochemical. The distinctive aroma of celery seeds comes from these pthalides.
  • Minerals: A single teaspoon of celery seed provides 35 mg of calcium and 0.9 mg of iron. The calcium content is relatively small compared to the 1 gram needed daily but is still significant given the small amount of celery seeds. The iron content is more than a third of what an adult male needs and about 16 percent of what an adult female needs. A tablespoon of celery seeds also provides 0.5 mg of manganese. In other words, it provides almost a quarter of the amount of this mineral that an adult male needs on a daily basis. It also provides more than a quarter of what an adult female needs.
  • Flavonoids: Celery seeds are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants that provide pigmentation in plants and that may prevent damage to cells.

Celery seed is used to treat conditions like:

  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Muscle spasms
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Studies also show that celery seeds are an effective mosquito repellant.

Common uses of celery seeds

Celery seed is a popular ingredient in various dishes in Europe and North America. They are used to flavor salad dressings, soups and pickles along with coleslaw and bread. Ground celery seed (celery powder) is often used in various types of sausages including knockwurst and salami. In India, celery seed is sometimes added to curries and to chutneys.


Photo by Howcheng (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons