As the legend goes, angelica was revealed to a fourteenth-century monk by the Archangel Michael as a plant that could help ward off the plague. This legend inspired the plant’s botanical name, Angelica archangelica. Angelica has been celebrated for many centuries for its multitude of uses.
Angelica is a pleasantly aromatic herb that sets itself apart from most other members of the Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae) family of which it belongs. Its scent is quite different from other members of the plant family. This includes fennel, anise, caraway, parsley and chervil. This plant family also includes osha, or bear root, which also has a very pleasant and distinct aroma.
Used to make perfume and fragrant liqueurs, angelica’s unique essential oils also make it an effective respiratory and digestive aide. These powerful essential oils are also the reason why angelica is used to make digestive bitters, as well as flavoring for liqueurs such as Benedictine, Vermouth, Dubonnet and Chartreuse. Angelica is also used in the distillation of gin and absinthe. The stems are candied for culinary purposes and the leaves are used to flavor fish, poultry, soups and stews.
Angelica archangelica is commonly known as A. officinalis. Common names for A. archangelica include angelica, garden angelica, wild celery, archangel, European angelica and Norwegian angelica. It’s a biennial herb that can grow up to six-feet tall, with large bright green leaves and greenish-white umbel flowers that look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. It prefers damp soil near running water. Leaves and stems are harvested in early summer, and the seeds can be harvested in the late summer after they’ve ripened. The roots should be harvested in late autumn after the first year for maximum potency. The aerial parts and roots can be used fresh or dried, while the seeds are best used dried.
SUSTAINABLE HARVESTING AND CULTIVATION
Angelica can be used in a sustainable way, as it is fairly easy to cultivate. It has not been hybridized to the point of diminishing its potency. It grows wild in the northern parts of Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Himalayas, Siberia and the Faroe Islands.
ANGELICA SPECIES AROUND THE WORLD
Did you know there are over 50 Angelica species worldwide?! Although this blog focuses on Angelica archangelica, there are several other Angelica spp. worth mentioning. Angelica sinensis, also known as dong quai or dang qui, is a popular herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, used mainly to nourish the blood and support a healthy menstrual cycle.
In Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Michael Moore talks about seven different native Angelica spp. (A. hendersonii, A. pinnata, A. arguta to name a few) that are typically found at higher elevations in the western United States. Many herbalists report that these species can be used in a similar way to A. archangelica. Mathew Wood uses A. atropupurea, or American angelica, which he reports can be found in the eastern woodland region of the U.S., up into Canada and in the western Rocky Mountains. Stephen Buhner mentions that there are more than 18 American Indian tribes that use the various species of angelica native to the U.S. The Creek tribe chewed the root and swallowed the juice or smoked the leaves for digestive discomforts.
If you choose to harvest Angelica spp. you should do so with extreme care, as they are relatives of, and can look similar to, the deadly poison hemlock and water hemlock.
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
Angelica is an important herb in the Celtic tradition, especially during the time of Imbolc. It’s believed that scattering the leaves can purify an area. Adding the leaves to incense is said to promote healing.
It was thought of as a “journeying medicine” in ancient times due to its reported ability to relax and open the mind. Throughout the world, angelica was reportedly worn as protection against bad energies and contagious diseases. It is said to represent vision, wisdom, enlightenment and balance.
A. archangelica has been cultivated since the tenth century, and gained popularity among the Scandinavian Saami people in the twelfth century, who consider it a sacred herb. The British Flora Medica from 1877 mentions that Laplanders regard angelica as a very important herb, using it primarily as a digestive aide.
DIGESTIVE, RESPIRATORY & CIRCULATORY TONIC
Angelica is a warming tonic that is useful for supporting healthy digestion and respiratory function, as well as stimulating healthy circulation in the entire body. The leaf, root, stem and seeds are all used for these purposes, but the root is the most commonly used part of the plant. The root and seeds are the most aromatic parts of the plant, containing a larger amount of the volatile oils that are responsible for its effectiveness with digestive, respiratory and circulatory function.
Angelica is a respiratory stimulant, helping to warm, tone and clear the lungs. It also helps to establish a healthy inflammatory response in the respiratory system. You can find dried angelica root in many apothecaries, and it’s often found in respiratory formulas, such as WishGarden’s Deep Lung.
CIRCULATORY TONIC AND WOMEN’S HEALTH
Many herbalists use A. archangelica to support a healthy menstrual flow the same way that A. sinensis, or dong quai, would be used. Although A. sinensis is more of a blood builder than A. archangelica, they both have similar blood moving properties, which is helpful for improved circulation and regulation of menses. Angelica also helps to soothe discomforts associated with menstruation.
Angelica is also well-known for its ability to induce sweating, warming the body and supporting overall immunity as the body overcomes seasonal bugs. Drinking angelica tea is said to calm nausea, coughing, and sneezing.
As an aromatic, bitter stimulant, angelica is helpful for supporting healthy digestive secretions and soothing gas and bloating. Bitters made with angelica root can be taken before meals. Preparations of angelica may also help improve appetite. It’s common to find angelica in many herbal bitters found in natural food markets and liquor stores.
You can make your own bitters, too! It’s quite simple – check out the recipe below. And they make a great gift!
Cacao Chai Bitters Digestive Tonic
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1/4 tsp dried ginger root
- 1/2 tsp fennel seed
- 5 star anise pods
- 1/2 tsp cassia chips
- 5 cloves
- 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 chopped vanilla bean
- 1/4 tsp angelica root
- 1/4 tsp burdock root
- 1/2 tsp cacao nibs
- 2 cups high-proof dark rum or bourbon
- Place all ingredients except high-proof alcohol into a quart-sized mason jar.
- Pour in 2 cups of dark rum or bourbon, adding more if needed to cover all of the ingredients.
- Place the lid on the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily.
- Strain into a clean jar through a coffee filter-lined funnel.
- You may then bottle the liquid into colored glass bottle. Bitters can last indefinitely but best when used within a year.
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Mathew Wood
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman
Herbal Vade Mecum by Gazmend Skenderi
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner
Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
Sacred Plant Medicine by Stephen Harrod Buhner
Uses of the Angelica Plant
Writer Amy Malek, CCN, CCH, INHC is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Clinical Herbalist, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Flower Essence Practitioner. She discovered her love for plants in the Sonoran Desert while living in Tucson, AZ. She has been studying plants of the Mountain West and Southwest for 10 years. Her many teachers include Paul Bergner, Rosemary Gladstar, Dr. Aviva Romm, Lisa Ganora, Kat MacKinnon, Erin Smith, John Slattery and Charles Kane. Her career is divided between Holistic Health, Graphic/Web Design and Marketing/Social Media Consulting. She is currently WishGarden’s Social Media Coordinator. She lives in Boulder County, CO. She enjoys wildcrafting and growing her own medicinal plants and making a variety of herbal remedies. You can learn more about her practice on her website, www.wholeheart-wellness.com.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.