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Angelica is an aromatic medicinal plant used for conditions of the digestive and reproductive systems


Angelica archangelica Apiaceae

As a warming, aromatic circulatory tonic angelica has many health benefits. Angelica is often used in herbal medicine to support digestion and for menstrual problems. It also has blood-purifying actions and helps to clear congestion in the respiratory, lymphatic and digestive systems.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Digestive complaints
  • Warming expectorant
  • Uterine pain
  • Blood purifying
  • Antibacterial
  • Urinary antiseptic
  • How does it feel?

    Angelica has a powerful aromatic flavour profile that is followed by mild bitterness. Both the tincture and the tea of angelica possess sweet and slightly sour qualities. Angelica is a sialagogue, which means that it stimulates the production of saliva. This effect can be experienced quickly upon tasting and reflects its action to stimulate the digestive fluids further down the gastrointestinal tract.

  • What can I use it for?

    Angelica plant (Angelica archangelica)
    Angelica plant (Angelica archangelica)

    Angelica is one of the best herbs to call upon for complaints in the digestive system, particularly when it comes to dyspeptic complaints, sluggish digestion, flatulence and gastrointestinal spasms (1, 3, 14). The combined effect of its bitters and volatile oils as well as its relaxant action upon the smooth muscle allow angelica to settle irritation in the digestive system including where there is colic and bloating. It can also be used to stimulate the appetite and promote digestion (1,12).

    Angelica’s warming, aromatic qualities stimulate the circulation which directly impacts the lymphatic system to clear dampness and congestion from the tissues. This action can be useful in clearing excess mucus in colds, flus and coughs. Angelica invigorates the blood and soothes menstrual irregularities via this same action (2). It is a smooth muscle relaxant which can also help with menstrual pain and to promote healthy menstruation. For menstrual problems, angelica works well with cramp bark, calendula and ginger.

    Angelica’s volatile oil content and resulting antimicrobial actions may be beneficial in maintaining health following infections, e.g. urinary tract infections (2). Like many plants that thrive in the damp, it is useful for gardener’s aches and pains that get worse in the cold, damp months of autumn and winter (meadowsweet and white willow bark are two other herbs to consider for damp inflammatory conditions in the muscolskeletal system) (2).

    Like other members of the carrot family, angelica contains compounds called furanocoumarins that can cause light-sensitivity following exposure of sensitive skin to sunlight. Care should be taken when harvesting (2). Long term internal and external use of angelica may also lead to photosensitivity (1).

    As a warm poultice or compress, angelica may be applied to the chest for coughs or respiratory congestion, to the lower abdomen for menstrual pains or to aching joints to bring circulation and warmth (14).

  • Into the heart of angelica

    Angelica seed bud (Angelica archangelica)
    Angelica seed bud (Angelica archangelica)

    Angelica has oily, warming and nourishing qualities, yet is also drying due to its expectorant (clearing mucous and congestion) actions. It is stimulating via a diffusive, aromatic action to promote movement of the fluids out of congested systems throughout the body including in the blood, lymph, respiratory or stagnations in other body tissues, angelica directly drains dampness or stagnant energy via this stimulating action (11).

    In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) angelica is used to balance the yin, awaken the appetite, invigorate the spleen, stomach, and intestines. It is also well applied to dispel damp mucous conditions. It is one of the primary herbs for all conditions classified by yin excess, such as cold, damp, and phlegm congestion in the lungs, intestines, and uterus (4).

    Angelicas invigorating properties may also help to both enhance and relax the mind. It was used as a journeying medicine in ancient times and in many cultures it is revered as a sacred herb that opens the imagination (11). Many herbalists regard this herb as one for psycho-spiritual healing due to its specific protective and opening effect on the heart, mind and higher centres (13).  

    As a warming aromatic herb, angelica is best applied for cold and depressive tissues states (14). The aromatic oils in angelica elicit a stimulating and energising effect. Fragrant plants like angelica are used to clear putrefaction and remove stagnation (11). They are specific for ‘depressive’ states – this refers to both depressiveness or under function of the tissues but also depressiveness of the mind (10). By the same means, angelica may be applied for headaches and migraines that are relating to poor peripheral circulation (12,13). These diverse actions make it a herb that is useful for convalescence (10).

    Angelica assists in maintaining and restoring vitality and wellbeing on multiple levels. Stableford (13) comments on the diffusive nature of angelica as used for engendering a sense of boundary, integration and control. In his book ‘The Handbook of Energetic and Constitutional Herbal Medicine’ he suggests this herb may be useful for those who have become emotionally stagnant or depressed as a result of ‘holding on’ or mental rigidity (13). Angelica has the positive potential to create liberation and movement via its upward and outward movement of blood and energy (13).

  • Traditional uses

    Angelica in summer (Angelica archangelica)
    Angelica in summer (Angelica archangelica)

    It was in the medieval period that this plant gained its name, ‘angelica’. This was because a monk at the time was said to have been gifted a vision by archangel Micheal that it was a herb that would cure the black plague. It was therefore believed to have been brought to humans by an angel as a cure, hence the botanical name, Angelica archangelica (7).

    These historical insights of the plant were not unfounded as modern science now understands this plant is of much importance as an antimicrobial due the presence of its essential oil (8).

    In the writings of Nicholas Culpepper, 1653 angelica is described as a herb that ‘resists poison, defends and comforts the heart, blood, and spirits; treats the plague and all epidemical diseases’ (9). 

    The candied stalks and roots of angelica were eaten to prevent infection during fasting. It has a long history of use for stomach complaints that are associated with coldness. It was primarily used to help digestion and to treat coughs (9).

    Culpepper also records multiple uses for the juice of angelica; these are as drops into the eyes or ears to improve sight and deafness; as a remedy for tooth cavities and as a healing agent for ulcers. Culpepper also refers to angelica as a distilled water to ease gout, sciatica, and pain (9).

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Large angelica plant (Angelica archangelica)
    Large angelica plant (Angelica archangelica)

    Reproductive system

    Angelica has both stimulating (3) and relaxing (13) effects on the uterus. This contradicting action of being able to improve the blood flow to reproductive organs yet also relax the smooth muscle via an antispasmodic action can prove highly useful in certain types of condition in the female reproductive system (3, 13). 

    These actions may be helpful to bring on a delayed menstruation and to reduce menstrual cramping. Similarly, angelica has been used in some circumstances to help bring about labor or to encourage healthy contractions of the uterus. However, angelica should only be administered under the care and advice of a qualified professional as it is not advised for use during pregnancy. It is also sometimes used post-partum to assist with the release of the placenta (3).

    Due to its antispasmodic action, angelica may also be a useful herb for the pain associated with endometriosis (3) and other conditions associated with congestion in the pelvic region (13).

    Respiratory system

    Angelica can be used as a warming expectorant for mild or chronic congestive conditions in the respiratory tract. A herbalist may employ angelica for its mucolytic actions where there is profuse catarrh such as in bronchitis or emphysema (10).

    Angelica is specifically indicated for congestive conditions in the respiratory system, especially those accompanied by sluggish or under functioning digestive processes (10). These type of catarrhal presentations may be accompanied by abdominal distension, loss of appetite and loose stools; this would be a classic profile indicating angelica. As a warming expectant and stomachic medicine, angelica is best taken before meals (10).

    Digestive system

    Angelica is one of the most important carminative herbs in the Western materia medica via its ability to improve digestive secretions but also to help relax smooth muscle spasms (11). Due to its aromatic and bitter qualities, it relieves both the stomach and intestines of tension but also assists in better assimilation of digestive nutrients particularly with lipid metabolism (11).

    Angelica can be useful for helping to overcome gastric infections with diarrhoea (10). Its ability to  improve gastric acidity may help to reduce the chances of reinfection. It works best after the symptoms have been treated with herbal astringents such as agrimony or raspberry leaf as well as anti-infectives such as ginger and echinacea (10).

    Other uses

    Herbalists will often include aromatic herbs such as angelica in a formula to assist the effective circulation and deliverance of other herbs and their active constituents to the tissues where they are needed. This classification of aromatic stimulants may be described as carrier remedies as they potentiate the effects of other herbs.

    These aromatic herbs are invaluable as part of any prescription and may also find their way into medicines for cold and congestive conditions in the muscloskeletal system e.g. arthritis and gout, as well as for conditions affecting circulation such as classified by high or low blood pressure, headaches, cold extremities, Raynaud’s syndrome, and fluid retention (11, 12).

    Due to its antiseptic and antimicrobial actions angelica may also be combined with urinary tonics in the treatment of urinary tract infections and cystitis (14).

  • Research

    Essential oil of angelica (Angelica archangelica)
    Essential oil of angelica (Angelica archangelica)

    There are currently no published clinical trials on angelica as used in herbal medicine. However, there are a number of in vivo/in vitro studies that focus on a number of its compounds and extracts of angelica which demonstrate a variety of its effects. A systematic review of the available literature revealed the presence of essential oil, coumarins, acids, sugar, a bitter principle, and a peculiar resin called angelicin, triterpenes, and flavonoids in different parts of this plant (5).

    The research included mostly laboratory and in vivo studies on angelica and its bioactive compounds which demonstrated a variety of effects such as promising anti-tumor, antifungal, neurotoxic, anticonvulsants, hepatoprotective and antiulcerogenic actions. There are a lack of available human studies (5).

    Animal studies are not condoned by herbal reality, however for the purpose of including research from which some understanding of therapeutic actions can be confirmed, some animal studies have been included herein.

    Another review discusses a number of actions of angelica as identified from the available literature which include anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant, cognition enhancing and antiviral activities as well as cholinesterase inhibitory potential, anti-inflammatory, gastroprotective, and radioprotective activities (6). 

  • Did you know?

    Angelica was traditionally made into a candied sweet and today is used to flavour French liqueurs or spirits such as Chartreuse, Bénédictine, Vermouth, and Dubonnet. Angelica roots are among the most common botanicals used in gin distillation along with Juniper berries.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Angelica is a biennial plant that can grow up to 2.5 meters (slightly over 8 feet). The leaves are composed of numerous small leaflets organised into three primary groups, each further divided into three smaller groups. The leaflet edges are finely toothed or serrated. The stems are hairless and tend to be tinged reddish where the leaf stems join the flowering stems. Flowering occurs in July, with small and plentiful yellowish or greenish flowers grouped in large, globular umbels that yield pale yellow, oblong fruits. Seeds ripen in August and September, going from light green to brown. 

    Please note: It is extremely important to be cautious with plants in the Apiaceae (carrot) family. Poisonous hemlock and water drop-wort hemlock are members of this family which are botanically quite similar to angelica. Hemlock is usually fatal if taken. Do not attempt to forage any plants from the apiaceae family unless you are highly experienced with plant identification.

  • Common names

    • Garden Angelica
    • Wild celery
    • Norwegian Angelica

    A. archangelica is often referenced alongside Dahurian angelica (A. dahurica) and American angelica (A. atropurpurea) (11, 13). Whilst they may have some differences in chemistry and medicinal actions, the majority of their well-known uses are interchangeable with A. archangelica.

  • Safety

    Angelica is best avoided in pregnancy and lactation (1).

    Angelica should only be used for short periods of time due to the presences of compounds called furocoumarins which may cause photosensitisation to the skin (1).

  • Interactions

    Angelica may interact with blood thinning medications. It is advised to work alongside a qualified medical herbalist if you are seeking to use herbal medicines along side anticoagulant medications.

  • Contraindications

    Angelica is not recommend for women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding or for those trying to conceive due its strong uterine stimulating action (3).

    Angelica is not advised where there is chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal system due to its stimulating action (13).

  • Preparation

    • Tincture
    • Decoction
  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5 in 50%): Take between 1-3ml in a little water up to twice a day (1).

    Decoction: To make a decoction, place 1-3g of dried material in one cup of boiling water, simmer gently for between 15- 20 minutes. This should be drunk hot twice a day (1).

  • Plant parts used

    The most commonly used parts of angelica are the roots and seeds. All parts of the plant have medicinal properties including the leaf and flower which are more commonly used in culinary recipes. The roots and the seeds have similar chemical composition.

  • Constituents

    Volatile oils: Terpenes, including α-pinene and β-phellandrene, cyclopentadecanolide (these give angelica root a distinctive musky aroma), β-pinene, camphene, myrcene, β-phellandrene, limonene, caryophyllene, borneol, carvone (present in seeds and roots) 1, 14).

    Both the seeds and roots contain coumarins and furocoumarins. Among these are 2′-angeloyl-3′-isovaleryl vaginate, archangelicin, oxypeucedanin hydrate, bergapten, byakangelicin angelate, imperatorin, isoimperatorin, isopimpinellin, 8-[2-(3-methylbutroxy)-3-hydroxy-3-methylbutoxy, psoralen, osthol, ostruthol, oxypeucedanin, phellopterin, psoralen, and xanthotoxin (1). Flavonoids, sugars, sterols and plant acids (14).

Angelica illustration (Angelica archangelica)
  • Habitat

    Angelica is native to regions of northern and eastern Europe, including Scandinavia, Iceland, and Russia. It also grows in certain parts of Asia, such as Siberia and the Himalayas.

  • Sustainability

    Angelica is not yet included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants database.

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). 

    Read our article on  Herbal quality & safety: What to know before you buy  and Sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    For best results, angelica seed should be exposed to cold, moist conditions prior to sowing, a process known as stratification. This can either be done by sowing outdoors in the autumn, or by mixing it with moist sand and keeping it in a sealed bag in the fridge for a month prior to sowing in the spring. Either way, sow the seeds on the surface and gently press into the soil; don’t fully cover the seeds as they require some light to germinate.

    We usually sow our seed in November using deep trays protected with a mesh to stop birds or rodents from getting in. We leave the trays outdoors for the whole winter and germination normally starts by the beginning of March.

    Pot up as soon as the seedlings have grown its true leaves then plant out when it has grown to around 4-6 inches. Being a biennial, it doesn’t flower until the second year (and then the plant dies), but it can still get very big in the first year, so allow a spacing of around 1m between plants. It is generally said to be a shade-loving plant, but we find it also grows very happily in full sunshine.

  • Recipe

    Candied angelica (Angelica archangelica)
    Candied angelica (Angelica archangelica)

    Candied Angelica

    Harvest the tender young stems in spring, preferably before June. Blanch the stems of angelica and then add them to a sugar syrup, adding more sugar until the stems start to crystallise.

    The angelica stems can then be removed from the syrup and dried on parchment paper in the refrigerator. You can also keep the syrup in a clean (sterile) container for at least a year in the refrigerator. 

    The candied angelica makes for a refreshing herbal snack and the syrup can be used for mild digestive symptoms and respiratory symptoms.

    Angelica poultice

    You can make a poultice of angelica using the leaves for aching joints or a chill on the chest by ’steaming’ whole leaves in a steam basket for a couple of minutes and then applying warm (not too hot) to the needful area.

  • References

    1. Bernat. (2021, June 9). Angelicae radix (Angelica root) – Online consultation. ESCOP. https://escop.com/angelicae-radix-angelica-root-online-consultation/
    2. Angelica. (n.d.). Earthsong Seeds. https://earthsongseeds.co.uk/shop/herbs/angelica/
    3. Angelica. (n.d.). HerbRally. https://www.herbrally.com/monographs/angelica
    4. Angelica (Angelica archangelica) — Monograph. (2017, August 21). The Sunlight Experiment. https://thesunlightexperiment.com/herb/angelica
    5. Kumar, D., Shah, M., & Bhat, Z. (2011). Angelica archangelica Linn. is an angel on earth for the treatment of diseases. International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology, Neurological Diseases, 1(1), 36. https://doi.org/10.4103/2231-0738.77531
    6. Kaur, A., & Bhatti, R. (2021). Understanding the phytochemistry and molecular insights to the pharmacology of Angelica archangelica L . (garden angelica) and its bioactive components. Phytotherapy Research, 35(11), 5961–5979. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.7206
    7. Angelica – Nutritional Geography. (n.d.). https://nutritionalgeography.faculty.ucdavis.edu/spices/angelica/
    8. Fraternale, D., Flamini, G., & Ricci, D. (2014). Essential Oil Composition and Antimicrobial Activity of Angelica archangelica L. (Apiaceae) Roots. Journal of Medicinal Food, 17(9), 1043–1047. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2013.0012
    9. Culpeper, N. (1985). Culpeper’s complete herbal. Omega.
    10. Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine (2nd ed.). Edinburgh Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
    11. Wood. M. 2004. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Organs and Systems. North Atlantic Books,U.S.
    12. Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
    13. Stableford, A. (2021). The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine The Lotus Within. Aeon Books.
    14. Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism : the science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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