Mabh Savage June, 2015
Notes from the Apothecary: Angelica
A tall, stately plant that I remember well from my mother’s herbaceous garden when I was tiny, Angelica is as beautiful as the name suggests. Unlike many of the herbs in my Apothecary, Angelica can withstand quite cool climates and is found as far north as Iceland and Lapland. In seeming contradiction to this, the plant’s ruling astral body is the sun, and it is mostly closely associated with fire. Despite being classed as a masculine plant, Angelica is linked to the goddess Venus; deity of love, beauty, sex, prosperity and fertility. We can follow the link from the mother of Romans to Aphrodite, her Greek forebear, so Angelica is a perfect offering for either of these deities.
The Kitchen Garden
Angelica is yummy. Known as the ‘herb of the angels’, it is closely related to parsley and celery so it’s no surprise it has a flavour to back the relationship up. A diverse plant, the stems can be used to replace celery in recipes, and the younger shoots candied and used as sweets or cake decorations! The seeds are used to flavour wines and gin and the leaves to lend body to stews and pasta sauces. The Japanese even make tempura from angelica stems. Despite the myriad of uses for this wonder herb, the stuff is nigh on impossible to get a hold of (in the UK at least). Even candied Angelica diamonds, the mainstay of traditional Christmas Cakes, has left our supermarket shelves although you may still find it at small, independent stores. The only answer is to grow it yourself.
As a medicine…
One of the reasons Angelica is so widely used as a seasoning is because of the way it aids digestion. Angelica actually helps promote the production of digestive juices and bile, making it particularly useful (as well as flavoursome) with meat or fatty dishes. It is also an anti-spasmodic so a tea of the herb is excellent for stomach or uterus cramps.
As a diaphoretic, angelica is useful as an herb to bring fever down say during a cold or mild flu episode. The root is cleaned and bruised to free the juices. Boiling water is then poured over the root to create an infusion. This can be drunk 3 times a day.
The root can also be dried and powdered; I have a spice grinder for jobs like this, but you can use the traditional mortar and pestle if you wish.
Mixed with honey, angelica is effective at soothing a sore throat. The leaves also relieve flatulence after a heavy meal!
Science tells us…
Like its cousins parsley and celery, angelica is an emmenagogue, meaning it can stimulate menstrual blood flow. For this reason, you should avoid these plants if pregnant or trying to conceive. Users of warfarin should also avoid angelica as it can react badly and cause bleeding.
The Icelandic Science Institute have proven that there are compounds in angelica that can influence cancerous cells, but the ramifications of this are not yet fully understood. They are also researching the impact of angelica on the immune system. If proven to have a positive impact, this would justify the use of angelica as a tonic for the last few millennia!
In the Witch’s Kitchen…
In her Modern Botanical, Mrs Grieve tells us that Angelica was associated with ancient Pagan festivals, and that it wards against evil spirits and dark magic. Even after the advent of Christianity, the name Angelica was linked to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and was also known as the ‘Root of the Holy Ghost’ and held in much reverence for its protective properties.
Cunningham corroborates Angelica’s powers of protections, adding that bathing in the herb may help break a curse or hex upon one’s person. The plant is also used for exorcism, and to ward against negative energy. He also states that the plant was used in America as a gambling talisman, carried in the pocket.
Angelica can be combined with lavender to create a peace spell for home and hearth. It is also used in a similar fashion to protect new-borns; a piece of the root is hung in a bag near the child (not so near the child can reach it!).
Historically angelica has been associated with women’s health and reproduction, particularly women who are trying to conceive. However, as stated above, angelica promotes menstruation, not conception, so use with caution if this is your goal.
For you to try at home
Sow angelica seeds in a small pot and keep moist, but not over watered. When the seedlings have 4 leaves, move each into its own, larger pot. When the plants have a sturdy stem, move them into an eastern point in your garden. They will reach up to greet the rising sun, the fire of the skies, and the haunt of Venus. This is just one way you can tie your herbal garden into the elements and directions of your Pagan path, or of any path that observes the movement of the seasons and the skies.
If you don’t have a garden, just keep one plant on a windowsill that gets some sun, and give the others away. A healthy angelica plant would be a great gift! Remember though, the plant can get quite tall, so make sure you have enough room for it.
When the plant goes to seed, collect enough seeds (3 or 4 at least) to start a new batch of plants. The rest of the seeds, gather into your palms and hold them close to your chest, thinking of all the things you love about your hearth and home. At the new moon, walk the outside perimeter of your home, dropping a seed every few steps, imagining an invisible barrier appearing between the seeds that keeps all negativity out, but allows love, happiness and joy through both ways. When you have walked the full perimeter, thank the plant for its protection and ground yourself with wholesome food and water.
Finally, one thing you didn’t know about Angelica…
According to John Parkinson (1629), angelica used to be taken with wine as an anaphrodisiac, to ‘abate the rage of lust in young persons’!