A. sinensis, A. sylvestris A. selvatica
Angelica is known as herb of the angels, perhaps because of its sweet, heavenly scent. This herb has enjoyed a rich and honored reputation as a healer since ancient days. Angelica was used by Europeans in the Middle Ages as a safeguard against the plague and as protection from evil spirits. Laplanders chewed it like tobacco to lengthen life and it is a primary ingredient in Carmelite water, a centuries-old longevity elixir. Germans have called angelica Root of the Holy Ghost.
Russian peasants perform a yearly ritual, marching into town from outlying villages carrying tall stalks of angelica to sell. They chant an ancient and melodious tune, so old the words are no longer understood.
The roots and the leaves of European garden angelica, A. archangelica and A. sinensis, its Asian cousin (dong gui), are carminative with expectorant qualities; warming, strengthening and energizing to the reproductive organs, as well as to the digestive, circulatory and endocrine systems. Angelica is a mighty medicine with many nourishing, restorative and revitalizing gifts.
In China, dong gui is regarded as the supreme female tonic. Both dong gui and angelica offer diverse gifts to the female reproductive organs. For thousands of years, grandmothers around the world have used these herbs to regulate menstruation, relieve cramping and menopausal distress, promote healthy blood circulation, balance hormones and generally ease the journey through the childbearing and menopausal years. Women who integrate angelica or dong gui into their weekly self-nourishment program often experience side effects which include, but are not limited to, increased sexual pleasure and libido, the alleviation of constipation, a rosy complexion and sound restful sleep. I discovered wonderful angelica early in my menopausal transition and feel it is responsible, at least in part, for gracefully easing my way through. I took a dropper full of this herb two to three times weekly in combination with American ginseng for years, with excellent results.
The angelicas’ generous supplies of phytosterols, glycosides, saponins and gelatinoids support the body’s production of all important hormones, stabilizing emotional swings, and easing hot flashes, irritability and hormone-related headaches.
In Chinese medicine, dong gui is considered a blood nourishing tonic useful for both men and women. It is also considered a strengthening remedy for the heart, spleen, liver and kidneys. Angelica’s warming and tonifying benefits for the reproductive organs extend to men as well as women. Both species of the herb tone and strengthen the root chakra, help promote strong erections and relieve prostatitis and orchitis.
Both angelicas offer abundant minerals and vitamins, making them nourishing, health-promoting tonics. They are brimming with antioxidants, including rich stores of vitamins A, B (including B12) and E. Those B vitamins, in combination with abundant niacin, magnesium and calcium, help strengthen the nerves, relieving tension and promoting sleep. All that vitamin E helps to keep skin, internal organs and tissues - especially those of the bladder and vagina - well lubricated, moist and flexible.
The angelicas’ high iron content nourishes and builds blood, prevents anemia and increases vital energy. Angelicas are also rich in coumarin derivatives which promote antispasmodic and vasodilatory effects, and therefore are useful in relieving muscle tension and painful menstrual cramps. Coumarins are nourishing to the heart and circulatory system. They lower blood pressure and thin the blood, thus reducing risk of stroke. Women use the angelicas to help regulate menstruation after coming off The Pill, to relieve symptoms of premenstrual discomfort and to help stabilize blood sugar levels. The angelicas also contain limonene, one of a class of compounds known as monoterpenes, which detoxify carcinogens and disrupt the growth of cancerous changes within cells.
A typical dose of either angelica is a dropper of fresh or dried root tincture, two to three times weekly as a general tonic, or 10 - 40 drops daily if treating a specific ailment. One to two cups of infusion, or two tablespoons of infused honey daily, can also be effective. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong gui is taken in combination with other herbs, as it can be hard on the stomach when taken as a simple. I have found American ginseng to be a good working partner for this herb, although any soothing, mucilaginous herb is an acceptable choice.
The angelicas are generally interchangeable in their effects, but Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women and many other books, suggests dong gui as a long-term tonic and strength builder and European angelica for more specific medicinal purposes.
European grandmothers used angelica as an expectorant to treat coughs, chest congestion and bronchitis. They drank cups of warm infusion of the dried root or leaves, and applied the strained out plant material as a poultice. I’ve pounded fresh angelica root and squeezed out the juice, mixed this with an equal amount of honey, and taken a teaspoon every couple of hours to relieve a cough and help ease a cold or flu.
Angelica’s stimulating and digestive benefits have made it a popular addition to digestive liquors, usually referred to as an aperitivo or digestivo among my Southern Italia neighbors. They use both A. archangelica, which is planted in their vegetable gardens and Angelica sylvestris, the wild variety called Angelica selvatica, usually found growing in damp woods. Angelica is also employed as a sedative and the leaves are used as a vulnerary. Angelica root is bitter and has a long standing reputation for stimulating the appetite. It features prominently in Swedish bitters, a world renowned tonic for general health. Taken as a daily tonic, angelica root can be useful for nourishing the elderly and those suffering from wasting disease. It encourages appetite in anorexics. And, angelica’s wide array of essential oils, combined with its bitter principles, help allay nausea, ease intestinal colic, tone the digestive system and relieve flatulence.
Angelica’s anti-inflammatory action makes it a good ally in relieving rheumatic and arthritic swelling. Grandmothers suggest drinking a cup or two of an infusion of dried roots and/or leaves daily, and applying a warm poultice of the strained plant material. Angelica also possesses diuretic properties and acts as a urinary antiseptic, so it can help heal cystitis and urinary tract inflammations.
Flower Essence Angelica flower essence can help to foster awareness of angelic presence and is used to help open to communication from these realms.
Magical Lore A powerful herb of blessing and protection, angelica manifests good fortune and radiant energy. The Iroquois sprinkled angelic tea around their homes to quiet unsettled spirits. A visionary herb, it helps us get in touch with our true purpose in life. Old wives say inhaling the fragrance of angelica, fresh plant or essential oil, promotes intuitive awareness of subtle energies, helps us develop our spiritual gifts and puts us in touch with our true purpose.
Culture European angelica is especially rewarding because it gets so big and showy - six or seven feet high in rich, moist soil. Angelica likes to grow among sunflowers and at the edges of the garden, and I like to place this large, beautiful, biennial plant all around as a guardian herb. I have excellent germination planting angelica seed in the garden during the fall, soon after harvest. Its thick and juicy stalks are prized as a confection around the world and valued as a vegetable in Lapland and Iceland. Angelica flowers are huge, white-green umbels, which look like giant, rounded Queen Anne’s lace.
While growing the Chinese variety in my garden, I’ve noticed that the plant is much smaller and more delicate looking than the European variety, with a greenish purple tinge to the flowers. Angelica leaves are celery-like; dong gui’s are dark green and dainty, while the European varieties are bright green and huge. Both plants smell fantastic and the pollinators love when the giant umbels are in flower, most especially honey bees. I harvest the leaves whenever they are green and vibrant. The angelicas’ thick brown roots are fragrant, sweet and bitter, warm, somewhat musky and crisp and white on the inside. I dig them at the end of the first year’s growth or the beginning of the second, and dry them for infusions by laying them out whole or sliced on screens. I tincture the freshly dug root immediately in alcohol or vinegar and infuse some in honey. I’ve made an incredibly delicious syrup using freshly sliced angelica roots and honey. The honey pulls all the moisture out of the roots and creates a delicious syrupy confection.
WARNING! Do not take angelica/dong gui during pregnancy, while menstruating or if you have uterine fibroids. If you tend to bleed heavily and find angelica magnifies this, or if you’re taking blood-thinning medication, this herb is not your ally. If use of either angelica results in extreme breast tenderness, discontinue.
WARNING! Angelica grows wild throughout North America but is easily confused with the deadly poisonous water hemlock (Cicuta maculata). The weird smell of water hemlock may alert you to the difference, but be cautious. Use a good field guide or have someone with experience show you both plants.
Angelica is associated primarily with the four archangels known as the Angels of Holy Presence. Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, and also with Raphael and Phanuel. Saint Michael is our supreme protector. Gabriel is the messenger angel. Rafael is the healer and Phanuel is the angel of exorcism, he is the expeller of Satans and minister of truth. We are told in the book of Enoch 'This first is Michael, the merciful and long-suffering: and the second, who is set over all the diseases and all the wounds of the children of men, is Raphael: and the third, who is set over all the powers, is Gabriel: and the fourth, who is set over the repentance unto hope of those who inherit eternal life, is named Phanuel.' And these are the four angels of the Lord of Spirits…
Because angelica is such a mighty medicine for both men and women and often is used to address generative organ dysfunction of both sexes, fertility issues, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause as well as menstrual disorders and hormonal fluctuations, I think a good saint to remember for this herb is our Grandmother saint, Sant Anna, or Saint Ann. Saint Ann is the ancient crone. I like to say she is older than dirt. She knows everything. She is loving, generous and kind. She and her husband Joachin faced fertility issues, prayed to conceive and after many trials and tribulations and years, finally conceived and gave birth to Mary and later presented her to the temple as a little girl, as they had promised. She is the grandmother of Jesus and everything you know about grandmothers, you can now associate with Saint Ann. She’s got your back anytime you ask. Like any grandmother, she is a relentless ally in pursuing your happiness and obtaining what you want. Especially as relates to family matters. Shes the ultimate teacher, guardian, protector and intimate friend. Good Saint Ann, helps us remember and celebrate the personal encounters of our own blessed birth-giving events…whether that was a child, a book, project, and event, a career or something else entirely.
An ending blessing…with the help of the angels and the good saint ann, may we Savor the memory of our creations today and realize the pure sacredness of those efforts. May we extend this remembrace to our ancestors also, to all who have given birth, to all who have been held in those rarified moments of sanctified suspension, who sat with the unknowing, awaiting and anticipating a sacred birth. May we be held in their loving embrace, may we be blessed and be a blessing. Amen
© 2022, Gail Faith Edwards