Name: Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Otherwise known as: Angel’s Food
Habitat: A biennial member of the Umbelliferae family, which grows to about 2m in river valleys and damp meadows. A large, aromatic, hairy plant with hollow, ridged stems and broad leaves which look similar to the leaves of celery. It has umbels of white/green flowers in its third year which go to seed and then the plant dies. Originally a native of Europe, it can now be found in most temperate regions and is grown mostly for the root and seed.
What does it do: According to legend the archangel appeared in a dream to the Abbot of a medieval monastery and revealed that the plant would cure plague. It is also said to bloom on May 8, the feast day of St Michael, and is therefore regarded as offering protection against evil spirits and witchcraft. It was certainly highly regarded by early herbalists who believed it would cure every conceivable malady, including plague, poisoning ague, and all contagious diseases.
The principal constituents are a volatile oil, lactones and coumarins; the essential oil is mostly betaphillandrene. In aromatherapy angelica is used for a variety of ailments including psoriasis, anaemia, anorexia, flatulence, bronchitis, migraine and dispersal of toxins.
It is antifungal and antibacterial, carminative and diuretic, a smooth muscle relaxant and a digestive tonic. Angelica is one the many plants known as a ‘friend of the elderly’, being able to increase the circulation of blood and therefore oxygen to the brain, heart, liver and intestines. The coumarins that have a proven ability to dilate the coronary vessels and relieve spasms, are also calcium channel blockers which are now coming to prominence as treatments for hypertension, angina and arrhythmia. Angelica is considered specific against Buerger’s disease, which leads to a narrowing of the veins in the extremities.
Research conducted in 1976 and 1983 suggests that the coumarins in angelica have immune-enhancing activities and will prove of importance in offering protection against the growth and spread of tumours.
The plant is greatly valued as fragrance in soaps, creams and perfumes, especially colognes. It is also a flavouring agent for Chartreuse and Benedictine, which is interesting as infusions of the root were given to recovering alcoholics. Crushed seeds spread in car interiors reduce travel sickness.
All parts of the plant are edible and the root is candied like ginger. However, it must be avoided when pregnant.