Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wild Angelica/ Skov-Angelic

Angelica sylvestris

Although there is only one Angelica-species in Denmark it is often named Skov-Angelik (skov=forest). The plant is up to 2 m high. The stem is coarse, tunular and violet at the bottom, with broad leaf shafts. At the top the stem has fine hairs.The white or pale pink flowers are found in compact round heads at the top of densely hairy leaf stalks. This is a plant of damp grassland, marshes and wet open woods. In the garden, it is an excellent addition to the back of a border or by a pond or stream.

Angelica is unusual for its special aroma which is quite unlike that of other umbellifers like fennel, parsley, anise, caraway or chervil. Some garden writers liken it to musk, others to juniper. The seeds of angelica, which are bitter to taste, are used to produce a distillate employed in the flavouring of alcoholic beverages such as Vermouth, and of liqueurs, like Chartreuse. Angelica contains many vitamins, various essential oils and other biologically active substances - therefore it is used in folk medicins and as vegetable plant. It is eaten by cattle.

Medicine and Magic:
Like a surprising number of plants, Angelica was unknown to the ancients. Although found in the northern and temperate regions of Europe and eastward all the way to the Himalayas, it does not seem to have attracted attention until the 15th century and first appeared in European herbals in the early 1500's. Its name reflects the legend that an angel revealed its special virtues to a monk during a time of plague. Angelica wasn't believed to cure the plague but protect against it; a piece of root was held in the mouth as an antiseptic. In Germany, it was known as the root of the holy ghost and was believed to eliminate the effects of intoxication and also to render witchcraft and the evil eye harmless. In England, where it was also known as bellyache root, dried angelica roots were made into powder and mixed into wine to "abate the rage of lust in young persons." The plant was also given symbolic qualities: angelica stands for magic and poetic inspiration.

(Read the warning below). This herb is excellent in diseases of the lungs, gout, stomach troubles, heartburn, colic,dyspepsia and stomach upsets, sciatica and the heart. It is useful for skin lice, relieves itching, swelling, and pain. Regular users of Angelica root develop a distaste for alcoholic beverages. Chewing the root is recommended for people suffering from a hangover after excessive alcohol consumption. An infusion should be made from the leaves and chopped stems. This will also provide an excellent gargle for the treatment of sore tonsils and throats.

According to one legend Angelica (European Angelica) was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the plague. All parts of the plant were believed effective against evil spirits and witchcraft. It was held in such esteem that it was called 'The Root of the Holy Ghost.' In America it was used by the Iroquois and other tribes as Witchcraft Medicine, and infusion of smashed roots was used as wash to remove ghosts from the house.

With blossoms scheduled to appear annually on the 8th of May, the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, angelica is said to possess mystical powers against disease and evil. One reference claims this herb was named after the Archangel Raphael, who according to a 10th century French legend, revealed the secrets of this herb to a monk for use during a plague epidemic. In old-world Latvia, peasants would march into town with armloads off the fragrant herb and suddenly burst into song in languages that no one, not even the singers, understood.

Food: (Read the warning below)
It is said that the plant is useless for food, however it is known that it was used as a vegetable until the 20th century. The plant prevents scurvy and it can be stored. The stem was eaten fresh, and the leaves could be boiled to a stew for storage. It could later be cooked up with milk into a tasty dish. In dire times Wild Angelica has been an important source of nutrition. Angelica raw stalks are delicious when eaten with a little cream cheese, and the washed roots are also quite tasty. This plant is used to flavor many alcoholic drinks and its candied stem has long been used in confectionery.

The flowers of the plant were used for dyeing wool yellow.

Angelica Oil:
The roots and fruits yield angelica oil, which is used in perfume, confectionery, medicine (especially Asian medicine), in salads, as teas, as a flavoring for liqueurs, and as the source of yellow dye. This robust and sweet-tasting plant is best known for decoration of cakes and puddings. Angelica lessens the need for sweetener when making pies or sauces. It can also be cooked and eaten as a fresh herb, used for seasoning fish, or made into syrup for pudding and ice cream toppings. The Norwegians make a bread of the roots. In the Lapland region, the stalks are regarded as a delicacy. A popular tea, tasting much like China tea, is infused from fresh or dried leaves.

Wasps and Queen Wasp upon Angelica

Warning: All members of this genus contain furocoumarins which increase sensitivity to sunlight and may cause dermatitis. Do Not take angelica if you are pregnant or have severe diabetes. Angelica has a tendency to increase the sugar in the urine. Angelica archangelica has been identified as a suspected carcinogen in recent years. This drug will render you sensitive to light. Use of angelica for a fairly long time, will cause contraindicate ultraviolet or tanning salon treatments as well as strong sunlight for the duration. Large doses can affect blood pressure, heart action, and respiration. To avoid these problems, do not exceed recommended dose.

Please Note: Angelica belongs to the Apiaceae Umbelliferae, a family with many poisonous members that can be mistaken for this medicinal plant. Wild angelica (Angelica Sylvestris) can be confused with European Water Hemlock, which is extremely poisonous. Do Not collect angelica yourself under any circumstances! It is recommended that angelica not be harvested unless positively identified by a trained botanist, habitat being the same as for the poisonous varieties.

Source: V.J. Brøndegaard, "folk og flora", Dansk Etnobotanik, Rosenkilde og Bagger 1980; Danmarks fugle og natur, Felthåndbogen 2012. 

photo Høstemark Skov, Lille Vildmose, North Jutland september 2007: grethe bachmann.


stardust said...

The angelica I know is the candied stems which can be used in making cakes or sweets. I like that light green color stem coated with frost-like white. I didn’t know what angelica plant looks and now I understand.


Thyra said...

Hej Yoko, the candy is delicious. It also gives a fine taste in a herbal snaps. I'm actually going to find it soon. I have bought a neutral snaps for a store of herbal snaps for winter!
Grethe ´)