Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Angelica - Herb of the Week
Recently I was researching an article for Wisconsin Herbalist Magazine. I was writing an article on Herbs for Saints. I came across this herb in my readings and decided to make it my
Herb of the week - Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Also known as European Angelica or Root of the Holy Ghost, this tall, sweet-smelling herb resembles its close relative parsley and cilantro, but with a much taller more branchy and thickly stemmed look. You can candy the stems and use as a cake decoration and dry the seed, leaves and root to use in healing teas. The seeds of this plant are used to flavor gin. In the evening a light breeze will carry the light sweet scent of the flowers, so do not plant too far from your back door or porch so you can enjoy this pleasant smell.
Historically this northern European native was thought to ward off evil spirits. It figured prominently in pagan ceremonies and may have gotten its scientific name from the fact that it flowers around May 8 the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.
This a biennial you can train to be a short-lived perennial that lives no longer than 4 years. It does well in zones 4 through 9. It will grow as tall as 8 feet and can in the second year spread to 3 feet. Also in the second year it flowers in late spring with dynamic flower heads that look like great rounded Queen Anne’s lace umbrels. The greenish white sweetly scented flowers are its most striking attribute. The leaves are bright green and large with shapes differing from bi- or tri-pinnate.
This plant can be grown from seed or planting out seedlings in autumn. Sow the seed uncovered as angelica needs light to germinate. You also need to grow the pant from fresh seed, so if you are not planting it shortly after seed, you will need to keep the seed in the refrigerator to keep the seed viable. You can sow seeds indoors in early spring in peat pots placed in plastic bags in the refrigerator after 6 to 8 weeks place in bright indirect light at 60 degrees F. Angelica transplants poorly so it is sometimes better to just sow the seed in the fall where you want it to grow. Once the seed has sprouted thin to 3 feet apart. This plant needs large amounts of water so watch for the leaves to turn yellowish green as a sign that water is needed. It will thrive in the shade and needs a large amount of space to grow. It is great as a border plant and looks stunning against a wall. It needs a deep and moist soil. It is good to add mulch and /or compost around the plant to help the soil retain moisture.
The plant will die back at the onset of winter, but new shoots will come up early in the spring. Angelica will bloom in the second or third year in June or July. The flowers in a greenish color, resemble fennel blossoms and are honey-scented. Once seed is set in the second year, the plant will die. If your cut the plant back in the autumn and remove the seed heads before they set seed, you can keep the plant living for up to 4 years. It will also self-seed in the same location if allowed to set seed.
During the second year cut the stems and use them for crystallizing. For use in salads cut the fresh new leaves up until the time the plant flowers. Use these leaves also to dry for culinary and medicinal uses. Collect seeds when they begin to ripen. Harvest roots for use medicinally in the second autumn immediately after flowering and dry. Cut the stems at a node (where the leaf attaches to the stem) several inches above the ground. Strip the leaves from the cut stems. When harvesting seeds enclose the whole seed head in tissue or muslin when nearly ripe to prevent shattering. Use a spading fork to dig up the roots, but do so in dry, not rainy weather.
Angelica is now best known as a decorative confectionery for cakes. Homemade, pale green candies angelica tastes and smells similar to the freshly bruised stem or crushed leaf of the plant. If you like rhubarb, but want to use less sugar, add a few young angelica leaves and the muscatel flavor will cut the acidity of rhubarb making it seem sweeter.
There is some research to suggest that Angelica is either a carcinogen or an anti-cancer compound. The scientific research is continuing.
Medicinally Angelica stimulates circulation. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The young leaves can be made into a tea whose flavor resembles black China tea. If you drink a tea made with Angelica before bed to reduce tension. It is also good for treating nervous headaches, indigestion, anemia, coughs and colds. You can also use it in bath preparations to assist with exhaustion and rheumatic arthritis pain.
caster sugar (powdered) for dusting
Choose young tender springtime shoots. Cut into 3 to 4 inch lengths. Place in a saucepan with just enough water to cover. Simmer until tender, then strain and peel off the outside skin. Put back into the pan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil, strain immediately and allow to cool.
When cool, weigh the angelica stalks and add an equal weight of granulated sugar. Place the sugar and angelica in a covered dish and leave in a cool place for 2 days.
Put the angelica and the syrup which will have formed back into the pan. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the angelica becomes clear and has good color.
Strain again, discarding the liquid, then sprinkle as much caster sugar as will cling to the angelica. Allow the stems to dry in a cool oven (200 degrees F.) If not thoroughly dry, they will become moldy later. Store in an airtight container between grease-proof paper.