Angelica, also known as garden angelica, wild celery, and Norwegian angelica, is a biennial plant. Though there are many species of Angelica, Angelica archangelica is the one used for medicinal purposes. It probably originated in Syria, where it spread to cooler European climates and adapted. Its name comes from a supposed dream a man had during the Middle Ages in which the archangel Michael told him the use of this plant would cure the bubonic plague, which at that time was rampaging through Europe. From then on, the plant was said to have the power to ward off evil spirits as well as other mystical powers.
While angelica does not have the potential to influence the spiritual realm, it has many other uses as a medicinal herb. It has been long used as a digestive aid, as well as for relief of anemia, chest pain, and bronchitis. Tea made from the leaves can be used as a skin refresher or eyewash, and compresses made from the roots or leaves can relieve gout or rheumatism. The stems, which taste slightly like celery, can be used in salads or candied.
Angelica is a tall plant and can reach a height of 6-8 feet. It produces small white flowers in umbels perched atop slender stalks. During the first year it only produced leaves; from the second year onward it will grow taller. It is recommended to plant angelica annually to ensure a steady supply as it is a short-lived perennial. It flowers after two years and dies a year or two later.
Angelica prefers cool climates and a shady-to-partial-sun location. It also likes moist, rich soil. It should be given extra room in the garden as it spreads 2-4 feet. It is recommended to start the seeds indoors after a period of stratification. Lightly tamp seeds into the surface of the soil (1/4’’ deep) and expose them to heat and light for germination. When the seedlings are 3-4’’, transplant 12’’ inches apart and allow 36’’ between rows.
Harvesting and Processing Angelica
All parts of the angelica plant can be used. If using the root, it should be harvested in the autumn of the first year to avoid it being worm-eaten and moldy. It can be sliced into pieces to facilitate the drying process. Angelica root can also be used fresh.
Cut the leaves the summer after transplanting and either dry or use fresh. The flowers, if they are to be used, should be cut off before they develop seeds. The stem should be cut in mid-summer. The seedheads should be harvested after the dew has evaporated and spread out on a piece of cloth for drying. When they are sufficiently dry, beat the seeds out and filter them to remove any pieces of stalk or seedhead. The seeds must be completely dry before storing in airtight containers.