Celery SeedCelery Seed
LATIN NAME: Apium graveolens
FAMILY NAME: Apiaceae
The one medicinal plant among Duke's Dozen that I take faithfully every day is the one I was initially the most skeptical about.
"The Crisis" is my name for a bout of gout, a condition I've endured for nearly two decades. I'd get attacks in my big toe so debilitatingly painful that words hardly do justice to the agony. I've suffered them enough over the years to know when they're all but certain to occur: after an injury, after a little alcohol-related overindulgence, or after I neglect to take my allopurinol, the pharmaceutical treatment of choice to prevent this condition.
The drug lowers the bloodstream's concentration of uric acid. At high levels, uric acid accumulates and then crystallizes in certain joints, typically the big toe. I so dread the pain these crystals cause that I took allopurinol faithfully almost every day for nearly 18 years.
Ever since I started taking celery seed, though, I've abandoned allopurinol. I simply no longer need it.
Celery is a good example of phytochemical medicine in action. For me, it's just as therapeutically effective as its man-made pharmaceutical rival--maybe more so. It's also safer. And you don't need a doctor's assistance or a discount prescription card to obtain it. You can swallow the seeds in standardized supplemental form. You can guzzle the reedy stalks as a juice or tonic, chew on them raw or relish celery's crunchy, flavorful presence in soups, salads, stews, and pot roasts. Try making a Bloody Mary with allopurinol. It won't work. And it won't taste very good, either.
Going Toe-to-Toe with Gout
I was 49 when "the Crisis" (my term for a gout attack) struck for the first time. That summer, I was munching on fresh asparagus from my garden like it was going out of style. Asparagus is one of the many foods high in purines, substances that the body, courtesy of an enzyme called xanthine oxidase, converts into uric acid. Too much uric acid can lead to gout.
I awoke one morning to pain in my big toe so excruciating that I couldn't even stand the weight of a bed sheet on my foot. Imagine what it was like to put on a sock and attempt to walk. My doctor diagnosed the problem immediately and prescribed colchicine, a very heavy duty chemical (derived, incidentally, from the autumn crocus) that purges the crystals as it purges you. (Laxity is one side effect.)
For a while, I tried the dietary route, avoiding asparagus, organ meats, mushrooms, sardines, and other foods high in purines. All to no avail. Finally, another doctor suggested allopurinol (a pill a day for life for preventing gout) and indomethacin, a potent anti-inflammatory that stops gout attacks not prevented by allopurinol (or those that come on if you forget to take allopurinol). I didn't forget too often in the succeeding 18 years. In fact, I came to remember a few other things: that drinking a six-pack and forgetting my allopurinol (not necessarily in that order) brought on the Crisis the next day and that getting hurt also triggered an attack.
So on my merry way I went, studying plants as substitutes for pharmaceuticals and taking my man-made medication like a good little pain-fearing patient. Then one day I came across an advertisement for a phytochemical supplement that purportedly prevented gout. celery seed extract, the ad claimed, was hypouricemic; it lowered uric acid.
I arched an eyebrow. I scoffed. I knew about celery seed. I've heard about its reputed medicinal properties. I had recorded everything known about the plant in my herbal archives. Sure, I'd read that it possessed some anti-inflammatory properties, but nowhere had I heard that it reduced uric acid. Itching for an argument and suspecting that he was motivated more by profit than science, I wrote to the man behind the ad, asking for more information about his research.
Imagine my surprise when I received copies of studies conducted in Australia and South Africa attesting to the anti-inflammatory qualities of celery seed extract. The science looked good. I was impressed. But how could I verify that it worked? I didn't have my own lab, and no other research in the world attested to the claims.
And then the dangerous idea dawned on me: I could serve as my own human guinea pig. No one, absolutely no one, is supposed to stop taking a drug without telling the prescribing physician. I beg you not to stop taking any medication on your own in favor of any herbal supplement advocated on these pages. Do as I say, not as I do.
Tossing aside everything I knew and believed about the advisability of discontinuing a medication, I stopped taking allopurinol. Instead, I swallowed, optimistically but hesitantly, four capsules of standardized celery seed extract. Then I braced myself. I was sure I'd wake up the next day to the oppressive load of the bed sheet on my big toe.
The next day, nothing. The day after that? Nothing still. For a week here at home in my herbal vineyard, I took celery seed extract. And my big toe was as happy as it could be. Coincidence? I didn't think so, but I couldn't be certain. I knew I'd find out soon, though. I had to leave for a week in Peru--a week of walking several miles a day through the rain forest, a week that inevitably would end with a parting ceremony filled with drink and dance. If ever there were a prescription for triggering the Crisis, this was it.
And so I went, armed with an ample supply of celery seed extract--and my anti-inflammatory medication, indomethacin, just in case. I toughed it out in the jungles all week long, and the gout held off. No problems. I didn't need the anti-inflammatory indomethacin.
Then on my last day there, we all convened at Tahuampa Bar, a thatch-roof refuge stilted over a tributary of the Amazon. We worked hard all week long and were ready to let our hair down.
It's a familiar scenario, one that I've been a part of many times before: lots of drinking, lots of over-vigorous dancing with guides who play great rancheros and salsa music. I recall an episode from years earlier in which spirited dancing to spirited music with spirituous Amazonian rum precipitated a splenetic attack of gout. Still, I didn't care. I was in the middle of an experiment.
So this 67-year-old man took his celery seed extract, drank his potent Peruvian rum, danced--barefooted!--the dances of a 30-year-old, and threw caution to the wind. All evening long at the Tahuampa, we cut the rug and shook the mahogany floor. I remember, at one point, writhing to the beat with my partner, a masseuse who's a quarter or a third my age. We jumped up and down, then sideways, then up and down again, with me leaping higher and higher.
All of a sudden I felt an agonizing pain as I dropped down on my left foot. I thought I dislodged my hip from my pelvis. It hurt like hell. But, probably exceeding the legal limit for dancing, I kept on moving and finished out the song. Then, weary, hurting, and barely able to walk, I quietly absented myself and went to bed.
The next day greeted me with black-and-blue marks spanning some 15 inches from my left upper hip to below my buttock. It hurt. I could barely walk. But I tried not to show my pain. After all, in store for us that day were two hours on the Amazon, a long wait at Iquitos International Airport, and an even longer journey home. I didn't want to dampen anyone's fun, and complaining certainly wouldn't have put me out of my misery, although part of me wished someone would.
From the river, through Peru, and through long walks at the airports in Miami, Charlotte, and Baltimore, I was in agony all the way back--but not from gout. My big toe never let out a peep.
Knowing that traumatic injuries can conjure up the Crisis just as easily as a traumatic party, I fully expected a double-duty dose of gout pain. I anticipated it as a sentry awaits an imminent attack. At my side was a bottle of indomethacin, but I didn't reach for it. Instead, I took celery seed extract. I was, as I've said, in the middle of an experiment. In case an infection simmered near the damaged hip joint, I took some echinacea.
By all rights, I should have fallen over in agony somewhere between Miami and Charlotte. Certainly, I should have been causing an embarrassing scene in the aisle of the airplane somewhere over Virginia. But I didn't. I didn't feel very well, but I knew that gout wasn't part of my pain.
Finally back home, I took some turmeric and boswellin (along with celery seed), then crashed, anticipating that the Crisis would awaken me the next day. It didn't. In fact, I slept through my shift back to Eastern Standard Time, got up and performed my usual back exercises, walked out into my beautiful herbal vineyard, did some back stretches later on, took two more celery seed supplements, and felt pretty good. My wife was in Michigan, visiting our daughter. I was all alone--just me, the birds, and the other animals.
Well, that's not entirely true. The indomethacin was never far from ready reach. But I didn't need it--not so long as I had celery seed extract. As I walked around the garden, my limp grew less noticeable. I took it easy, but I was still using my brutally abused hip. By the end of the day, I concluded that I didn't even need to see the chiropractor or osteopath.
The next morning, I took more celery seed extract, felt even better, and continued to go about my business. Still no reason to take the indomethacin. Days wore on to weeks, weeks progressed to months. Before I knew it, Thanksgiving was at hand, then Christmas and New Year's and all the excesses that each holiday mandates. Throughout it all, the Crisis stayed away.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? I didn't forget my old acquaintance (gout) that holiday season, but I did the year after. And the year after that. With celery at my side, gout pain is just a ghost of grimaces past. Good riddance.
What Celery Seed Is and What It Can Do
If you ask Commission E (a German panel of experts roughly equivalent to the Federal Drug Administration), nothing about celery makes it worthy of recommendation. It's used only occasionally in folk medicine, according to the panel, mostly as a diuretic for kidney and bladder woes and as an ancillary supplement for rheumatism. The commission apparently didn't do the same homework I did and is thus a wee bit pessimistic.
I think Commission E is conservative in this respect. My own experience has convinced me that celery seed is an effective preventive for gout. For me, at least, no matter how much I tempt hyperuricemia, whether with an injury or a six-pack, celery seed seems to keep the Crisis at bay. Even three years into my experiment, my success could just be coincidence. Maybe I'm just one big 220-pound anecdote. But I doubt it. I think I'm on to something here.
HERB LORE AND MORE
Celery's light-green stalks seem so commonplace, so mundane that you might not suspect the plant boasts a long history of numerous therapeutic uses. Folk medicine practitioners dispensed various leaf preparations for cancerous ulcers, inflammatory tumors, herpes infections on the fingers (whitlows), and corns. Seed-based remedies were said to help breast and vulvar tumors. Celery juice could purportedly treat some forms of cancer in the eye and stomach, while a tea decocted from the seeds was said to help lumbago and rheumatism.
Other folk practitioners used the seeds against liver and spleen diseases, bronchitis, asthma, and flatulence. Indian medical experts believe the roots and leaves relieve colic, encourage excretion, and lessen tissue swelling from water retention. In Chinese medicine, the seeds are a standard treatment for dizziness, high blood pressure, calming the body, and regulating the menstrual cycle. The plant and its seeds have also been given to provoke menstruation and abortion. Celery's volatile oils do, in fact, induce uterine contractions and trigger menstrual flow. (Remember, an overdose of many, if not all, herbs and medicines can do the same or present problems for pregnant women. A former National Institutes of Health director has gone so far as to say that pregnant women and children should avoid all herbs. I cannot support such an extreme position.)
How Celery Seed Can Help
Apart from gout, let's look at what other applications might work, too.
Arthritis and inflammation. Whether you suffer from gout or arthritis, you need to cool the fires. celery seed is just what the doctor ordered for both conditions because of its myriad anti-inflammatory properties. Phytochemicals relieve pain and reduce water retention and tissue swelling.
Gas. In folk medicine, celery has a long-standing reputation as a "carminative," something that alleviates flatulence and the stomach pains associated with gas. I've received anecdotal accounts that relief comes rather quickly, too. According to other informal but informed reports, it also relieves indigestion, cramping, and heartburn.
Heart problems. Celery's active ingredients make it of potential value if you have arrhythmia or the chest pains of angina. With compounds that lower cholesterol and blood pressure, dilate arteries, thwart fluid retention and tissue swelling, normalize heart rhythm, and fight hardening of the arteries, I'd say it's a must-have medicinal for anyone concerned about cardiac health.
Hypertension. Celery contains apigenin, just one of about a dozen active ingredients that contribute to healthy blood pressure.
Science has confirmed celery's value from both clinical and experimental research. In one small study, 14 out of 16 men reduced their sphygmomanometer readings by drinking 40 milliliters of celery juice three times a day. Other lab investigations show that celery extract lowers blood pressure in dogs and rabbits; direct injections of an extract cut blood pressure significantly.
FROM MY SCIENCE NOTEBOOK
Celery is chock-full of substances that explain its healing properties. After I began to use myself as a guinea pig to ascertain its effect on gout, I turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture databases for an assessment of its anti-inflammatory potential. I wasn't surprised to retrieve a list of some 25 anti-inflammatory compounds. Now we know why celery seed is an ingredient in some 60 British anti-inflammatory preparations.
Celery is also a good source of apigenin, which allows blood vessels to relax and dilate. This natural compound is just one of more than a dozen active ingredients that contribute to healthy blood pressure, either directly or by encouraging the body to excrete excess fluids--something Chinese medical practitioners have known for a long time. Natural calcium-channel blockers and heart rhythm stabilizers are among celery's myriad active ingredients, making the plant of potential value if you have arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or the chest pains of angina.
Little or no scientific research validates celery's other therapeutic uses. I can't confirm its effectiveness, either, but I can tell you that at least some of its phytochemical content explains folk uses against cystitis, kidney stones, and gallstones. Its essential oils possess some tranquilizing action, perhaps explaining its folklore use as a sedative.
How to Take It and How Much
Until clinical trials compare celery seed extract, whole stalks of celery, and allopurinol, we'll never really know what the average person can rely on for freedom from gout or arthritis. Nor can we really know how much to take for heart-related help. One day, I hope, someone will conduct such research. Until then, I can only make guesses and tell you what works for me. You take it from there.
Supplements. At first, I took four capsules of standardized celery seed extract a day to keep the gout away. I later learned, though, that I could get by just as well on two daily capsules. The first capsules I took contained 800 milligrams of concentrated extract. Then I graduated to 500 milligram capsules, standardized to contain 450 milligrams of extract.
WHAT NEW RESEARCH TELLS US
We don't know if eating celery or taking it as a standardized supplement can improve blood fat profiles in people, but it appears to work for rats. In one study, scientists deliberately raised cholesterol levels in two groups of lab rodents by feeding them a high-fat diet for eight weeks. One group was then given regular supplements of a celery extract. Cholesterol profiles for the celery-swilling rats improved markedly, with triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein, and total cholesterol all dropping. In another experiment, a celery extract was given for 13 days to a group of rats genetically destined to have high cholesterol and to another group with normal blood fat profiles. The plant supplement prevented cholesterol increases among the genetically predetermined rodents, while blood fat readings among the other rats remained unchanged.
Food. My success bred further experimental daring and allowed me to discover that the "food farmacy" route works just as well. For two different two-week periods at home, I stopped taking supplements and relied on eating four stalks of celery a day. Gout still didn't put a crimp in my walk, even when I challenged myself with the six-pack test.
Right now, supplements remain the mainstay of my do-it-yourself gout treatment, but every once in a while the cheapskate in me emerges. If celery goes on sale at the grocery store, I'll buy bunches of bunches, juice and freeze most of it, but save some to eat.
Four stalks or two to four capsules a day may be enough to keep the cardiologist away, as well. Again, that's an estimation on my part.
DR. DUKE'S RECIPES
To enhance the phytochemical results in mild cases of hypertension, juice some garlic, onion, and tomato along with the celery. For more serious heart conditions and cardiovascular disease, I've concocted something I call "angelade." It's a juice made from angelica, carrots, celery, fennel, parsley, and parsnips. (Hawthorn makes a good addition for people with heart disease.) I'd like to think that angelade packs the calcium-channel-blocking punch of verapamil. I'll probably never know for sure, but I'll wager that it's safer than pharmaceutical calcium-channel blockers. It won't make your legs swell, it won't make you dizzy, and it won't give you a headache--all known possible side effects of these drugs.
Seeds. How else might you take celery seed? Some research reports success with an infusion tea made by mixing one-half to one teaspoon of celery seeds in a cup of hot water. Others suggest using 34 teaspoon of crushed seeds per cup of water, taking 0.3 to 1.2 milliliters of a 1:1 liquid extract three times a day.
For gas and gastric pain, chewing, but not swallowing, one teaspoon of celery seeds may help. For complete relief, you might have to chew on a second spoonful. I can't vouch for the remedy, however, because my experience in this regard is limited. I once tried it and found the seeds rather gritty. Right now, though, I'm getting hungry just thinking about sprinkling some seeds (maybe a tablespoon) on a piece or two of garlic-buttered toast.
DR. DUKE'S NOTES
For hypertension, traditional Chinese practitioners prescribe three daily cups of heated celery juice. A clinical study done in China demonstrated that 20 milliliters of celery juice, along with 20 milliliters of honey, thrice daily, effectively lowered high blood pressure.
I don't need anything else to keep the Crisis away. You might. For gout, arthritis, and help for heart problems, Mother Nature has stronger possibilities to which celery should serve as a companion. I'll mention the best.
For Outing Gout
Here are several useful combinations for getting gout out.
Cat's claw. In my pre-celery days, I once found myself caught with my pants down and my toe pain up. No pharmaceuticals on hand for help. Desperate for relief, I took a couple of pills that contained this herb, known for its ability to throw a bucket of water on inflammation. Nothing happened. So I took two more. Again, nothing. Two more pills later, still no relief. Neglecting the advice I always give others about ingesting too much of a medicinal herb, I swallowed a few more capsules. And a few more. When I had consumed a total of 12 capsules, I finally noticed some pain abatement. I'd never intentionally substitute uño de gato, as it's called, for celery in a case of the Crisis, but it could come in handy in a pinch.
Cherries. Science doesn't provide any reason for why the fruit might alleviate gout, but a friend of mine swears by black cherries, as do many other people. I once tried a juice made from tame and wild cherries, but it didn't impress me nearly as much as celery does, so count me out. Maybe the remedy will work for you. If you want to try, you'll need to eat about eight ounces of the fruit, canned or fresh.
Chiso. If you've given celery the chance it deserves but still double over with a painful big toe, try some chiso. This minty weed contains four different xanthine oxidase inhibitors that will help curb your body's production of uric acid. As a medication and a food, chiso is popular in the East. I like to put it in my mint teas.
Licorice. Get the real thing, not twisted sticks of the candy-counter impostor. True licorice raises blood pressure and lowers potassium levels in some people, so proceed cautiously. If you're not affected, my guess is that teaming up licorice and chiso will improve your overall antigout counterattack.
Turmeric. Another ingredient in Duke's Dozen, this Indian spice works via a different mechanism. The curcumin it contains deters certain pain-producing prostaglandins in the body. In high dosages, it also triggers the release of pain-easing cortisone from the adrenal glands. (See Chapter 15, turmeric, for dosage information.)
Other foods. If you're caught without your celery, licorice, and cherries, other foods might get you out of that painful pinch. Eat more oats, olives, and pineapple. The first two are decent diuretics, while pineapple contains bromelain , an anti-inflammatory. Other herbs that might help harness gout pain include Devil's claw, stinging nettle , and willow.
Pineapple is a smart pick if arthritis is your main complaint. Its bromelain helps the body get rid of two compounds implicated in the joint disease. stinging nettle and willow, aspirin's original herbal form, are valuable here, too, though they might share the ulcer-inducing potential of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But you have a couple of other companions:
Ginger. Some 75 percent of the people with rheumatoid arthritis in one small long-term study felt better after they took ginger, in daily dosages ranging from three to seven grams. After more than two years, the relief persisted, and nobody ever felt any untoward effects.
Oregano. Oxidation apparently is part of the inflammatory process, and oregano contains some rather strong antioxidant chemicals. As research continues to affirm that antioxidants help to relieve both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, I'd redouble my efforts to include oregano in both my food and my supplement regimen.
Red pepper. Maybe all of the pain perception is transferred from your joints to your tongue, but you gain a temporary respite from arthritic aches when you eat red pepper. It works topically, too. Capsaicin, the "hot" property in this plant, interferes with the transmission of pain impulses and encourages the body to release endorphins.
Other foods. Fortify your arthritis defense with Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, both good food sources of the anti-inflammatory pain-relieving nutrient S-adenosyl-methionine, and rosemary, a good antioxidant partner to oregano.
A Hand for Your Heart
If you're looking for the premier phytochemical fix for cardiovascular health, especially as it relates to high blood pressure and high cholesterol, dog-ear this page and go straight to the chapter on garlic. Celery is pretty good against these two risk factors for heart disease, but garlic is one of the cornerstones of a natural treatment. Then turn to chapter 9 on hawthorn and similar heart herbs. Come on back when you're ready to finish your primer on celery seed.
Caution: Contraindications, Interactions, and Side Effects
I haven't experienced any. Nor did I knowingly fall victim to any of allopurinol's well-known side effects, which include skin reactions and eruptions, drowsiness, diarrhea, and nausea, not to mention the infamous "induction period," a month-long spate of time when you first start taking the drug during which gout attacks can actually increase. But many other people have.
I took allopurinol for almost 18 years, and I hope I'll be taking celery seed for the next 18 years to fairly compare its potential for side effects. In the meantime, I'll go with my instincts and predict that the natural is less likely to do harm than the unnatural. So far, 3 years have passed, and I haven't noticed any consequences. I doubt that it's much more dangerous than coffee, and I drank seven cups of coffee just as I wrote this section. I don't recommend that you drink seven cups, nor do I recommend that you take seven capsules of celery seed extract per day. Almost no one, though, should fear chomping on seven stalks of celery.
Photosensitivity. I once even tried to give myself a case of photodermatitis, which is sort of a bad
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