Archangelica officinalis (Angelica)
Archangelica ssp. litoralis; Hals Færgehavn (Ferry harbour) North Jutland
See Liber Herbarum for the various species of Angelica and Kvan.
Angelica is a very large and tall umbellifer with a strong spicy scent and green flowers in a round umbel, exists in many forms.
In Denmark are only the species Vandkvan or Strandkvan,( Archangelica litoralis), found at water streams and brooks mostly close to the coast.
The two sub-species Strand-Kvan (Angelica archangelica ssp. litoralis)= (England: beach-Angelica) and Fjeld-Kvan (Angelica archangelica ssp. archangelica officinalis ) have various habitats. Strand-Kvan is found in moist beach meadows in the North and in Greenland, while Fjeld-Kvan is mostly known from cultivation. Strand-Kvan grows in sand at i.e. Ebeltoft Færgehavn (Ferry-harbour) where it is found together with chichory, parsnip, orpine, sea wormwood, reed and groundsel.
In Norway, Iceland, on the Faroe Islands and in Greenland the contents of C-vitamin were used to counteract scurvy. In the Middle Ages the plant was possibly the most used means against the plague. The root was considered especially active. Angelica breaks down the oxal -acid in rhubarbs. Diabetics should not eat the plant. Wild-growing angelica should only be collected by experienced herbalists since some similar looking umbellifers are poisonous. The stalks can be blanched and cooked as a vegetable, they can be crushed and cooked together with fruit for marmalades. Candied stalks are delicious. The seeds are used as a flavouring in vermouth, chartreuse and gin. Angelica leaves added to aquavite for a well-tasting snaps. Angelica is the characteristic flavour in Benedictine-liqueur.
In Denmark the Skov- og Naturstyrelsen recommends to replace Giant Hogweed with Angelica archangelica officinalis (Fjeld-Kvan) - which is an ancient Nordic cultural plant with a similar growth.
The real kvan with the eatable stalks is the sub-species , which is not found in the Danish flora, but is growing wild (also cultivated) in the northern Scandinavia, at the Faroe islands, Iceland and Greenland; it is mentioned the first time (as Angelica ) in the physician Henrik Harpestræng's transcripts from ab. 1300 and was cultivated in Denmark in the late Middle Ages.
The name Kvan is old Norse hvonn /hvannir and of uncertain origin.
In Denmark in 1546: Kvan was known overall in the country; everyone wants it in their garden. In 1750 is mentioned "The Angelik -plantation as a part of Vistoft vicarage-garden where the plant probably grew wild after earlier cultivation. In 1802 Angelica grows in some gardens in Thy.
At the Faroe Islands: The pale shots were eaten like celery and used as a spice in salads. At the Faroes was angelica cultivated in almost all kitchen gardens. In 1670 the plant was found in large numbers in the gardens and at church yards. One century later angelica was cultivated in small fenced places at the houses, somewhere the stalks were eaten with whipped cream, or in junket with sweet cream and sugar. In 1880: a household was no good if it hadn't got a "hvanngård", besides they found wild kvan/angelica if it was growing nearby.
Greenland: Angelica/Kvan was very sought after by the Greenlanders, who were eating the young stalks raw, they often went on long tours by land or by sea to gather the plant. The stalks gave a very important C-vitamin supplement to the Greenlanders' food. The stalks were preserved with seal-blubber and kept during winter in skin-bags. The dried leaves were smoked as tobacco.
Folk Medicine: 1400s: eaten in the morning the root helps against poisoning caused by food or drinks; water-decoct cleanse the breast,; upon a bite from a mad dog is put the crushed root boiled with honey.
Henrik Smid 1546: drives out poison, warm the blood, this goes for water destilled from the root and not from the leaves. Against the plague: crushed angelica mixed with teriak in angelica water - also helps against malaria,; in times of plague people were protected against infection, if they sniffed to the softened root in vinegar and mixed it in their drink. Angelica water and the powder from the root was good for all internal diseases - and against the same diseases wine or honey water-decoct from the root. The juice put in a hollow aching tooth, and in the ear for ear ache, in the eyes to make them clear - destilled water and the juice and powder from the plant to heal old deep wounds, make the flesh grow - the destillate was used as a painkilling means against podagra.
Simon Paulli 1648: Especially the root was used as an antidote, "there is no better advice or a better herb against the plague than angelica"; the pulverized root was strewn in the clothes against infection; in times of plague people rubbed the temples, wrists and the breast at the heart with angelica-balm. The root held in the mouth counteracts bad breath and breathlessness.
Officinalis 1772: Root and seeds were stated in the pharmacopoiea in 1772. The best quality roots and most of the roots were bought abroad by the pharmacists . The root was a part of a universal means for diseases of unknown nature and in a incense. It was a part of "Tycho Brahe's" prescriptions against the plague (1500s); and in a profylactic plague-aquavite (1700s). Wine-essence from angelica, alant and kalmus root as a drink against angst and giddiness; the root pulled on a red silken band and worn around the neck protected against both angst and giddiness. The root was in a tea against consumption and in a cake against jaundice, in snaps for internal pain. The root was considered good for the stomach, angelica was in a medicine " A Wise Man's Stomach Drops".
Magic: The root was worn against exorcism, (1400s) ; it was used in incense or wine essence as a protection in diseases caused by witchcraft; it was a part of a magic means against witchcraft in the cattle; it was given in the fodder to bewitched chickens and put in the churn to get butter from bewitched cream.
At the Faroe Islands: When an infectuous disease came to the village, people eat angelica or had some in the pocket; this was especially for those, who brought the bodies to the church yard; in 1915 a garland of angelica was bound around the neck of bad-smelling corpses; people also placed stalks and leaves in the door-opening or in the front-room as a protection against infection, they planted it by the outhouses and at the church yards. If people had warts, they should one evening grib around a dewy angelica upon a church yard. The root was placed under the pillow against insomnia, but the root had to be removed as soon as the sleep had come or else would the person never wake again.
Source: V. J. Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik 3, 1979
Angelica floating in the inland water stream
photo ⓒ Hals Færgehavn 2008: grethe bachmann