Angelica - Botany

Angelica is a very well-known medicinal plant that has been employed throughout various parts of the globe since the ancient times. Comprised of some sixty species scattered all throughout the world, the angelica is a tall biennial or perennial (depending upon the species) herb which thrives in a variety of different climates but that generally prefers temperate or subarctic climes. Generally somewhat large, angelica species grow from between one to three metres in length depending upon the species and the viability of the environment where it thrives. They are notable for their large aromatic, bipinnate serrated leaves, but more so for their compound umbels (flower clusters) which display an often mesmerizing array of ivory-white, stark-white, or jade-white hued flowers.

Angelicas are unique in that they possess fluted hollow stems which exude a fragrant resin when injured, as well as uniquely shaped ribbed, semiflat, semi-convex yellow or pale-yellow fruits, with nearly the whole of its constituent parts exuding an aromatic quality that is often described as "musky". Generally thought of by ancient herbalists as being a native of Syria, the angelica plant also thrives in less hospitable climates, typically flourishing even in subarctic temperatures. Ideally, angelicas thrive in environments that are moist, cool, and which possesses amply nutritive soil, although the places where they tend to grow well vary from country to country and between species, with some angelicas being hardier than others (some species are even able to grow in the tropics and semi-tropics!) The more notable places where angelicas have thrived (and continue to thrive) are in the cold climates of Scotland, London, Lapland, and Iceland. In the East, angelicas also thrive and flourish in China, Japan, and Korea. [1]

Angelica - History

The angelica has long been harvested as medicine since ancient times, having been employed by nearly every culture as a curative herb, and lauded by early physicians and herbalists as a nearly unbeatable panacea-like herb capable of curing a wide array of various diseases. Despite being relatively old, there seems to be no evidence that points out to its probably usage in early Antiquity, with the probability of the rise in its cultivation for medicinal purposes came about sometime during the latter part of the 1400s, although probable folkloric non-documented or perhaps forgotten usage suggest a far earlier employment of the plant. What is known is that angelicas were originally gathered during flowering season, the flowers of the plant being then sold by local peasants or otherwise dried and stored for personal usage. The roots of the plant were also gathered, typically during the Autumn seasons, and was likewise stored for later use. To this day, angelica is still employed as a medicinal plant, although in some parts of the world, the plant is now cultivated instead, to facilitate larger and better yields. Cultivating angelicas for large-scale harvesting can be a very difficult process, as propagating the plants tend to be quite finicky and difficult. [2]

Angelica - Herbal Uses

Since ancient times, angelicas have been gathered and employed for medicinal purposes, with the earliest known recorded use of angelica dating back to Ancient China, where it was used extensively in many medicated teas, pills, tablets, and medicated wines. Perhaps the most well-known users of angelica were the Northern and Eastern Europeans, who have long cultivated the plants for medicinal and ritualistic use since before the Middle Ages and the conversion of the greater part of Europe to Christianity. [3] Due to the sheer number of differing angelica species, each distinct species possesses its own unique therapeutic properties, with general 'default' properties found in the whole genus present, notwithstanding.

Veering away from the commonplace medicinal use of the plant, angelicas are also cultivated as ornamental landscape plants, typically prized due to their unique and beautiful inflorescence. Outside of the realm of the aesthetic, it has also been employed (albeit in a more modern sense) as a flavouring for a number of different liqueurs. In the field of alcoholic beverages, the roots, seeds, stems, and even the leaves of the angelica have been employed for a variety of different purposes. Some types of gin are often flavoured with the roots and seeds of angelica in lieu of some other, more commonplace flavourings; while the dried leaves of the plant are sometimes incorporated in the preparation of hop bitters for added body, aroma, and nuance. The roots are prized by liqueur makers for its one-of-a-kind aroma which is often compared to that of musk (and which has been used as a cheap alternative for it).

Angelica is also employed for confectionary, mostly due to the same reasons as the former. [4] Known for exuding a sweetness when prepared into a macerated syrup, it was an early source of saccharine matter in earlier times, when such items were luxurious commodities often far beyond the means of the common everyman. It was used when available in the Middle Ages as a primary ingredient for the creation of sweetmeats, which were believed to be nutritionally superior to common foodstuffs, and which supposedly had the ability to drive away pestilential ills when consumed. The hollow stems of the plant were also consumed as a type of vegetable in much the same way that celery is consumed today; the practice of eating angelica in fact, persists to this very day in select areas of the world. [5] Nowadays, rendering saccharine from angelica is now commonly relegated to the culinary world, the confectionary industry, and the liqueur industry, as its "sugar" is valued for its unique flavour profile and nearly inimitable colour.

When employed medicinally, the leaves, flowers, roots, seed, and stems of the plant are all viable, and are sometimes even used simultaneously. In spite of the therapeutic usefulness of all of its constituent parts, there seems to be a preference for angelica root in traditional and modern herbalism. The fresh root (which is usually appears gnarled and aged, possessing a golden-yellow hue), or the dried root (typically grayish and fragile, appearing as the former does) are bruised, and either decocted and infused, the resulting liquor then being administered from the treatment of a number of diseases, among them fevers, cough, cold, dyspepsia, diarrhea, and colic. [6] Depending on the concentration and the amount taken, it may also be drunk as a general tonic.

A brew made from angelica root, sometimes mixed with stems or flowers for mellower liquor has long been employed as a remedy for bronchial complaints, indigestion, and all manner of upper respiratory and bowel disorders. Mild infusions of the roots, leaves, or a combination of its constituent parts may be drunk during meals to help promote digestion and ease heartburn. [7] Very mild infusions may be given to infants and toddlers as a remedy for flatulence, bloating, distemper and colic, while slightly stronger decoctions can be drunk for its diaphoretic, nervine, and analgesic effects. [8]

Perhaps the most notable medicinal benefit of angelica is in its employment as an extremely potent expectorant. A highly effective cough syrup may be made by combining rendered angelica "sugar", along with finely chopped or ground roots, leaves, and flower petals. The leaves and root of the plant may even be employed in its dried state by crushing it and encasing it in a medicine bag only to be applied as a poultice to the chest area to relieve congestion and alleviate the symptoms of asthma attacks and whooping cough. [9]

In the latter part of the Middle Ages, very powerful decoctions of angelica root, often mixed with its seeds or leaves were drunk by women as an emmenagogue, although they also employed it as an abortifacient. These potent decoctions were also employed as antibacterial and antifungal rinses, often applied topically to treat fungal skin infections and to disinfect wounds. Its antimicrobial properties also make it an excellent all-natural astringent. It may be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from facial rinses, natural anti-dandruff washes, or organic, non-alcohol-based mouthwash. Strong decoctions of angelica may be taken internally in very small moderated doses, as it also possesses significant antihypertensive and anti-diabetic properties. [10]

Angelica sinensis

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a specific specie of angelica, A. sinensis, also referred to locally as dong quai, is employed as a sort of hormonal regulator. It is commonly drunk as a tea, or otherwise taken as a supplement in capsule form to help pre and post-menopausal women manage the often uncomfortable associated with that specific biological phase. It is also taken as a supplemental remedy for fatigue, as a natural cure-all for gynecological troubles, and as a general "health food", although prolonged and excessive usage may pose detrimental side-effects. [11] Some modern herbal hair-growth formulas often contain dong quai, usually in conjunction with saw palmetto (Serenoa ripens) and stinging nettle root (Urtica dioica), as its natural effects veer towards the regulation of hormones, often subduing free testosterone and eliciting an estrogenic effect. While such formulas are quite popular, their efficiency can sometimes be unreliable or inconsistent, with potency typically differing from one formula to another.

The angelica plant also yields a potent essential oil which is extracted via steam distillation from its leaves, seeds, and stems. This oil, which possesses antispasmodic, stimulant, and nervine properties have been used since the middle of the 16th century for perfumery and the flavouring of various types of liquor. It is a prime ingredient in "Angelica water" a draught certified under a Royal Prescription which was employed in the mid-1600s as a remedy for plague and pestilence. Angelica oil may be diluted in one's choice of base oil and employed for massage purposes. It works well in soothing tired, sore muscles as well as helping to facilitate calm and restiveness for anxious or hyperactive individuals. Highly diluted mixtures may also be applied as general skin-care oil due to its antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Care should be taken when using angelica oil however, as prolonged usage may cause the skin to develop photosensitivity. When heavily diluted in water or alcohol and drunk sparingly, angelica oil may help in the expectoration of phlegm as well as regulate one's bowel movements. [12]

Nowadays, angelica is readily available in whole, encapsulated, tabletized, tinctured, cream, or essential-extract form. It is usually taken as a food supplement, employed as a beauty product or as an alternative for over-the-counter medications. It remains quite popular in health food stores, generally in its more modernized form, while Chinese preparations of angelica still generally retain their traditional "feel".

Angelica - Esoteric Uses

The angelica has long been thought of since pagan times as a Sacred plant. It has long been considered a protective plant and a plant of healing. It was employed by pagans as a means to ward themselves against malignant forces. With the introduction of Christianity to the West, angelica later took on angelic symbolism and associations, all the while retaining its esoteric properties. In the adopted Judaeo-Christian concept of folk magick, angelica soon became a talismanic plant associated with archangels, specifically the Four Archangels - Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. [13] In some branches of Kabbalistic ceremonial sorcery, angelica is used as to create a barrier of protection during childbirth, to protect the infant from being 'stolen' by the Demon Lilith. It is also used to evoke the angelic beings Snwy, Snsnwy, and Smnglf, themselves sworn hunters of Lilith and protectors of infants.

Angelica's esoteric usage soon evolved from that of a mere protective herb, to a powerful banishing herb. In hedge witchery, angelica is usually sprinkled in the four corners of a house or otherwise used to create a circle around the perimeter of a chosen area in order to ward off evil. A decoction of angelica's constituent parts mixed with regular bathwater makes for an excellent cleansing wash to remove negativity and hexes. In Voodoo, Hoodoo, and African-American conjure, the roots of the angelica are employed as a talisman of protection against all possible harm. It is also employed for uncrossing and blessing. Most neo-shamanic (and some traditional shamanic) systems even employ angelica as an incense to drive off illness, usually when conducting healing rituals. [13]

Angelica - Contraindications And Safety

While a myriad of benefits can be gleaned from the use and consumption of angelica, it should be noted that moderation is important when consuming the herb, since excessive or prolonged consumption of angelica may cause photosensitivity in most individuals, as well as itchiness, rashes, or breakouts. As a given, pregnant and nursing women should avoid using any products that may be made from, or that contain angelica, as not only is it a potent abortifacient in large doses, it may also result in unexpected side-effects that may be detrimental to a suckling's health when employed while nursing.

Angelica - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: bai zhi / dang gui (angelica root) / du huo / dong quai
Japanese: toki / ashitaba / shishiudo
Korean: cham dangwi
French angelica / archangelique / Angelique de Boheme / Angelique sauvage / herbe aux Agnes / herbe du Saint-Esprit
English: angelica / archangel / garden angelica / root of the Holy Ghost / wild celery
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Angelica sinensis / Angelica archangelica (other nomenclatures exist, depending upon the species)


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Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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