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 posses sweet and slightly sour qualities. Angelica is a sialogogue 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 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 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).
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).
What practitioners say
Large angelica plant (Angelica archangelica)
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
Angelica is a biennial plant that can grow up tot 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.
- 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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Candied angelica (Angelica archangelica)
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.
You can make a poultice of angelic 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.
- Bernat. (2021, June 9). Angelicae radix (Angelica root) – Online consultation. ESCOP. https://escop.com/angelicae-radix-angelica-root-online-consultation/
- Angelica. (n.d.). Earthsong Seeds. https://earthsongseeds.co.uk/shop/herbs/angelica/
- Angelica. (n.d.). HerbRally. https://www.herbrally.com/monographs/angelica
- Angelica (Angelica archangelica) — Monograph. (2017, August 21). The Sunlight Experiment. https://thesunlightexperiment.com/herb/angelica
- 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
- 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
- Angelica – Nutritional Geography. (n.d.). https://nutritionalgeography.faculty.ucdavis.edu/spices/angelica/
- 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
- Culpeper, N. (1985). Culpeper’s complete herbal. Omega.
- Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine (2nd ed.). Edinburgh Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
- Wood. M. 2004. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Organs and Systems. North Atlantic Books,U.S.
- Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
- Stableford, A. (2021). The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine The Lotus Within. Aeon Books.
- Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism : the science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.