Angelica, the "Angel of Herbs"
Angelica reportedly has healing powers, and is used in herbal medicine for a variety of ailments. The use of Angelica dates back to the time of the Great Plague. In this article, we will discuss the herb Angelica - its history, uses, propagation and preservation.
Angelica is said to bloom on May 8th, which is the feast day for St. Michael the Archangel. The Latin name, Angelica Archangelica, shows this connection. Angelica is believed to have magical powers of healing and protection. In 1665, during the great plague, a monk is said to have been visited by an angel in his dreams. The angel told the monk that angelica would cure the plague.
The College of Physicians in London proclaimed it an official remedy, and called it "the King's Majesty's Excellent Recipe for the plague." Nutmeg, treacle and angelica water were beaten together and then heated. The potion was given to those suffering from the plague to drink twice a day. Research does not show any results from the use of angelica for the plague, but its use continued on. People took angelica remedies for everything from rabies to pleurisy. Prepared in a syrup, it was proclaimed as a digestive aid. It was claimed to help poor eyesight and deafness, and was often poured into the ear.
Angelica is still used today for a variety of things, including use in cooking. It is recommended that women who are pregnant and people with diabetes not use angelica. For diabetes, it can raise the blood sugar count.
For cooking, many parts of the Angelica plant can be used. The stalks and leaves are used in salads. The stalks and stems are often candied, and used for decorating candies and cakes. The candied stems are often added to jams and jellies. You can even cook the stems - either fresh or dried - and use them as you would any vegetable.
Angelica's curative properties today are seen as natural cures for indigestion, flatulence, bloating and gas of the stomach. It is said to warm the body during the winter, whether eaten or used in an herbal tea. Herbologists report that the tea can be made of any part of the plant, but that you must insure that when making an infusion, to only use one part of the plant at a time, such as seeds or leaves or stems.
How Angelica Grows
Angelica is best propagated from seed. A biennial, it grows to heights of 4 to 6 feet - even higher if conditions are right. Angelica is also called wild celery, masterwort and dang gui (China). Its habitats are rich thickets, bottomlands, moist cool woodlands, stream banks and shady roadsides. It grows prolifically in eastern North America. It ranges from Newfoundland to Tennessee, and as far west as Iowa. The plant can be identified by its tall stature, its smooth, dark purple, hollow stem 1 to 2 inches round with dark green leaves divided into three parts. The larger, lower leaves can grow to 2 feet in diameter. The flowers of Angelica resemble Queen Anne's Lace, with flowers small and numerous, usually yellowish or greenish-white, and are grouped in large compound umbels. Angelica will bloom in mid-July. When finished blooming, they produce pale yellow fruit that is oblong. These pods, 1/16" to 1/4", when ripened can be 8" to 10" in diameter.
Angelica requires fertile, moist loam to grow well. It should be properly shaded, although it has been known to grow in full sun. It should be started to grow before last frost, and then transplanted outdoors. The seeds picked from Angelica are best planted fresh, but have been known to propagate when kept in a freezer. It dies after the second year if allowed to go to seed.
How To Preserve Angelica
There are several methods to preserving Angelica. Handle the seeds as you would any herb. The root is sliced into thin slices, and steeped in water for three days. Change the water each day. Then, place the roots in a crockpot and add water to cover. Next day, drain water, add 2 pounds of sugar and 2 quarts of water to each pound of root. When boiled thoroughly, remove roots and continue to boil sugar and water to make a heavy syrup. Can as you would any vegetable.
Things To Remember
Don't use angelica if pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have diabetes, you should avoid angelica, or at the very least consult with your doctor.
When gathering angelica in the wild, be very careful that you don't mistake it for water hemlock, which looks almost like angelica. Water hemlock is an extremely poisonous plant and if taken by mistake, requires immediate attention.
As with all herbs, use carefully, and fully educate yourself in their use. You may be pleasantly surprised at how good they can make you feel.