Celery (Apium graveolens L.) is an important aromatic plant grown mostly for its
fresh herbs as salad crop in different parts of the world. The dried fruits are also used
as spice. Celery is known as Celeri in French, Sellerie in German, Apio in Spanish,
Salleri in Swedish, Karafs in Arabic, Selderiji in Dutch, Sedano in Italian, Aipo in
Portugese, Syelderey in Russian, Serorjini in Japanese; Chin in Chinese; Karnauli
or Ajmod in India. The origin of celery and its allied varieties is not clear. Wild
forms can be found in marshy areas throughout temperate Europe and Western Asia.
Although the eastern Mediterranean region appears to be the most logical centre of
domestication, the distribution of wild types raises some doubt (Rubatzky and
Yamaguchi, 1997).

Celery was probably not under widespread cultivation till the middle ages, though
ancient literature documents that celery was cultivated before 850 BC. Celery production
developed in the lowlands of Italy and further spread to France and England. The first
mention of its cultivation in France was reported in 1623. The present cultivated
celery plants are a quite sweet, appetising and wholesome food but its wild ancestors
were considered poisonous. The ancients associated celery with funerals and believed
it to be a bad luck omen. In India, celery was introduced from France around AD 1930
by a trading company in Amritsar in Punjab and now is commercially grown on a
large scale for seeds and spice in that area.
The wild plants were used for medicinal purposes hundreds of years before its use
as a food plant. The early forms of celery having an adaptation to its marshy origins,
had a tendency to produce hollow stems and petioles. During domestication, selection
altered this heritable characteristic and reduced the associated bitter and strong flavour.
Celery leaves and stalks have been used as salad vegetables for thousand of years in
Europe and the Middle East. The seeds have also been used in traditional systems of
medicine in the Middle East since ancient times. However, the use of celery seed oil
has come about with the development of the processed food industry, as the oil is
widely used as food flavourer in the USA and Europe.

In the treatise Handbook of Herbs and Spices Peter (2001) has given a conventional
classification of spices based on degree of taste and classified celery as an aromatic
vegetable because it is mainly grown for fresh herb, the leaves and petioles. In
another classification of plant organs used as spice, celery has been categorised as a
seed spice because seeds are used as whole seed, powdered or in the form of seed oil
or oleoresins. The taxonomic classification of celery is:
Division: Spermatophyta
Sub-division: Angiospermae
Class: Magnoliospida (Dicotyledoneae)
Sub-class: Rosidae
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Apium
Species: graveolens
On the basis of characteristic features, celery can be classified as shown below:
Foliage colour: green or yellow/golden
Blanching habit: early or late
Bolting behaviour: slow or quick
Climate: temperate or sub-tropical
Life cycle: annual or biennial
Height: tall, intermediate or dwarf
Season: autumn or winter
The classification of Apium graveolens L. on the basis of horticultural types as given
by Orton, 1984 is:

  1. Apium graveolens var. dulce – blanched celery
  2. Apium graveolens var. rapaceum – edible rooted celery
  3. Apium graveolens var. secalinum – leafy type (smallage type)
    Rubatzky and Yamaguchi (1997) have reported A. graveolens var. secalinum to be
    the most popular celery in Asian and Mediterranean regions. Of the above three
    morphotypes of celery, Apium graveolens var. secalinum (smallage type) has been
    reported to be commonly cultivated in India for seeds as spices and behaves annual
    in growth habit (Malhotra, 2006a).

Celery is a herbaceous annual or biennial erect herb growing to a height of 60–90 cm
with conspicuous branches bearing well-developed leaves on long expanded petioles.
Stems are branched, angular or fistular and conspicuously jointed. Leaves are radical,
pinnate, deeply divided into three segments, once or twice divided and toothed at
apex. The leaflets are ovate to suborbicular, 3-lobed, 2–4.5 cm long. The flowers are
small, white in colour and inflorescence is a compound umbel. Calyx teeth are
obsolete; five petioles ovate, acute with tip inflexed; carpels semiterete, subpentagonal,
primary ridges distinct and filiform. The fruit is a schizocarp with two mericarps,
suborbicular to ellipsoid, 1–2 mm in diameter, aromatic and slightly bitter. The seed
(mericarp) results from the splitting of schizocarp (fruits) and is also ribbed and
much smaller than carrot seed.

In cytogenetical studies, Choudhary and Kaul (1986) observed celery as a diploid
with chromosome number as 2n = 22. The flowers, although potentially self-fertile,
are normally cross-pollinated by insects.

Production and international trade
Celery is widely distributed in Europe, America and Asia. In the Western countries,
it is grown for the herb, which is consumed as salad or cooked as vegetable and ranks
second only to lettuce. In the USA, the major growing states are California, Florida,
Michigan and New York, whereas in Europe major producing countries are France,
Germany, the UK, Hungary, Italy, Belgium and Holland. Celery is cultivated for seed
as spice predominantly in India, southern France, China and Egypt. India is the major
producer and exporter of celery seed in the world market, which is partly used for
extraction of seed oil and oleoresins. In India, it is cultivated in Amritsar, Gurdaspur,
Jalandhar and Ludhiana in Punjab, Panipat in Haryana and Saharanpur in Uttar
Pradesh for production of celery seed (Vijay and Malhotra, 2002).
Celery, as seed spice, is grown on around 6000 ha with production of 5500 tonnes
annually in India. Indian celery seed and extractives are exported to the USA, Canada,
the UK, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, Japan and Germany.
During 2005–2006, India exported 3400 tonnes celery seed of worth $2.5 million.
India is meeting 62% of world demand for celery seed. About 284 metric tonnes of
celery spice powder worth Rs. 14.5 million, celery essential oil quantity of 17 metric
tonnes worth Rs. 33 million and oleoresins 183 metric tonnes worth Rs. 46.4 million
was also exported from India during 2005–2006. The total world production of seed
oil is about 45 tonnes, of which 17 tonnes is produced from India and the remainder
from Egypt, China, France, the UK and the USA.