All about Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

All about Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

Angelica is often the star of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with its dramatic large flower heads that are a joy for pollinators.

Mythology around Angelica

The name Angelica probably comes from the Greek arkangelos, archangel or angelos, meaning messenger; or perhaps because it blooms on St Michael’s Day, the Archangel; or because, according to one legend, Angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to a monk as a cure for the plague. All parts of the plant were believed effective against evil spirits and witchcraft, it was held in such esteem that it became known as ‘The Root of the Holy Ghost’.

The family and genus of Angelica

Angelica is a genus of about 60 species of tall biennial and perennial herbs from the family Apiaceae, which is more commonly known as the celery, carrot or parsley family, or simply as Umbellifer. Wild Angelica is found in moist fields and hedgerows throughout Europe. The garden Angelica is Angelica archangelica and is widely cultivated as a garden plant. However, like several other species in the Apiaceae family, its appearance is similar to several poisonous species (Conium, Heracleum, and others), and should not be consumed unless it has been identified with absolute certainty.

How to grow Angelica

Angelica is monocarpic, which means it will live until it has successfully flowered and set seed. The rootstock varies in colour from pale yellow-ish beige to reddish brown. It hates hot humid climates and appreciates a spot in the garden where it can be in shade for some part of every day. Be warned, it can grow to 1 – 2m tall and spread 1 m in its second year; therefore, it might be difficult to accommodate in a small garden and is not suited to container growing (unless the pot is very large). It can be grown from seed and is best planted in deep and moist soil at the back of the border. It will propagate itself in the same situation if allowed to self-seed.

Culinary uses of Angelica

The entire plant is edible from root to seed. You can use the leaves fresh from spring onwards and for drying from early summer until flowering. It you cook rhubarb or gooseberries with young angelica leaves, you will need to add less sugar. Angelica does not sweeten the fruit but its muscatel flavour cuts through the acidity of the rhubarb. The most best-known use of Angelica is as a decorative confectionery for cakes that is made by simmer the young tender springtime shoots and then storing in sugar. The root is best known as a botanical in the production of gin; providing a savoury or umami flavour and giving body and weight to other botanicals, namely coriander and juniper; the ‘Holy Trinity’.

It is also cultivated commercially for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. This bitter-sweet herb is a warming tonic with a wide range of applications.  Purportedly it has stimulating properties for the lungs and is also used as an aid to digestion. 

In the home the dried angelica root acts as a perfume fixative and can be used a substitute for Orris  (Iris germanica) in pot pourri.

Warning

A word of caution, like many of the Apiaceae family, the sap from the stems, if picked on a hot sunny day, can cause burns to the skin.