ANGELICA (Angelica archangelica/officinalis – Umbelliferae)
“The whole plants, both leafe, roote and seeds, is of an excellent comfortable sent, savour and taste.”
(John Parkinson, Theatre of Plants, 1640)
An old legend claims that the benefits of the angelica plant were revealed to a monk by an angel during a terrible plague – thus the common and horticultural names, and another local one, ‘root of the Holy Ghost’. Angelica is an umbellifer and is native to northern Europe and Syria, commonly growing in many sorts of habitat. Various varieties are known: the norvegica in Scandinavia, the sativa in Holland and northern France, and the refracta and japonica in Japan; sylvestris is the wild British variety, but this is not so good to use or eat as the officinalis which is generally seen in the wild as a kitchen garden escapee.
The Angelica plant can reach a height of 1.5 – 2 m (5 – 6 ½ ft), and the seeds, stems, leaves and roots are all aromatic. The stems are hollow and ridged, the leaves bright green and large, divided into toothed leaflets. Small yellow-green flower groups in large umbels bloom from early summer.All parts of the plant have been used over the centuries for many purposes. A third-century Chinese physician wrote that ‘when I tell the common people that……. angelica and peony can cure colic…. they doubt or deny it and prefer to believe in wizardry.’ John Gerard, herbalist to James I, attributed many virtues to angelica, and during the plague of 1660, angelica stems were chewed as a preventative against infection, and seeds and roots burned to purify the air. The same measures had been prescribed by Paracelsus some 150 years earlier during an epidemic in Milan.
Angelica is cultivated and used in many European countries, as well as China, for its medicinal properties. The seeds (best gathered on a dry day after the sun has dried the dew) are used along with the leaves, in teas and tisanes. The stems and roots are used too: the former should be cut in late spring/early summer; the latter should be dried as quickly as possible so that they retain their medicinal properties, and stored in hermetically sealed brown glass jars. Dried roots are wrinkled and brown and have a very pleasant aromatic odour of benzoin, pepper and musk.
The leaves, seeds, roots and stems possess carminative, diaphoretic, stimulant, stomachic, expectorant and tonic properties. John Gerard prescribed angelica as a preventative against viral infections. Two well-known seventeenth-century French herbalists, Nicolas Lemery and Jean-Baptiste Chomel, described angelica as being sudorific, tonic, depurative and an expectorant. Dr Leclerc prescribed it for anorexia as it stimulates the nervous and digestive systems.
ANGELICA ESSENTIAL OIL
Description: There are two angelica essential oils, one distilled from the seeds, one from the roots. Sometimes they are combined. As an essence, angelica has been distilled only recently in Europe. At first it is colourless, but with age it turns yellow and then dark brown. It must not be used when dark brown. It is quite thick, but still fluid. The seeds contain more essential oil than the roots, but the root oil is much stronger and more concentrated.
The principal constituents: Seeds – these are dependent on the variety but include angelic acid, sugar, valeric acid, volatile oil, bitter principle and a resin called angelicin. The angelica oil is extracted from the roots when the plant is approximately one year old and it contains angelicin, bergaptene, two furocouma¬rines, phellandrenic compounds and terebangelene and other terpenes (limonene). Danger: Exposure to sunlight or ultra- violet light after use may cause dermatitis.
In general, angelica can be used for rheumatic conditions, virus infections, a smoker’s cough, for indigestion, flatulence, colic and urinary infections or complaints. It is also an emmenagogue, a blood cleanser, and can help the symptoms of PMT and the menopause.
It is a remarkable healer for scars, wounds and bruises. Mix about 5 drops of angelica oil with 10 ml (2 tsp) of a vegetable oil like almond, and apply three times a day at first, then once every day until cured. Patience is necessary. Caution: Don’t expose yourself to the sun or ultra-violet light straight after use.
Two drops of angelica seed oil added to 20 ml (4 tsp) base oil together with a few drops of eucalyptus, niaouli or cajuput oil is good for coughs and colds, either warmed and rubbed on the torso every morning, or added sparingly to the bath. (See Caution above.) Slices of dried roots chewed twice a day for six months builds up a resistance to viruses. Stems chewed after meals prevent flatulence and indigestion – or you could steep some stems for a fortnight in some brandy, and drink a little before or after meals.
Vin d’ Angelique
This is very useful in convalescence as a fortifier, and you should take a large spoonful three times a day before meals. It can also help the symptoms of PMT, menopause, and is wonderful after meals for flatulence.
- 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) Malaga wine
- 30 g (1 ¼ oz) angelic roots
- 20 g (3/4 oz) angelica seeds
- 10 g (1/2 oz) cinnamon
- Mix together and stand for ten days in a hermetically sealed glass container. Strain into a bottle.
- (See also cuts and wounds and fatigue)
Many writers, ancient and modern, recommend angelica eye and face washes. Use a mild decoction of the seeds. Angelica was also a major constituent of one of the earliest perfumes, Carmelite water, first distilled in the middle Ages.
The best known culinary use of angelica is as the green candied stem used in confectionery and cakes. Chunks of the sugar-preserved and dried stems can also add flavour to preserves, jams and marmalades. To make your own is very simple, and it will have a better flavour and more health-giving benefit than shop-bought. The Elizabethans used angelica leaves on their salads, and both leaves and roots can be used for flavouring fish and soft cheese dishes, and for sweetening stewed fruit. During times of famine, the dried roots – which can weigh up to 1.4 kg (3 lb) – were once ground and used as bread flour.
Angelica plays an important part in the history of alcohol: it flavours many spirits such as gin and absinthe, as well as Chartreuse and vermouths.
The roots and seeds can be burned on the fire for a wonderful and purifying fragrance, and both leaves and roots can be part of a pot-pourri.