Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Angelica archangelica - Angelica

Angelica archangelica, commonly known as Garden Angelica, Holy Ghost, Wild Celery, and Norwegian angelica, is a biennial plant, it is also known as Archangelica officinalis.  Archangelica comes from the Greek word "arkhangelos" (arch-angel), due to the myth that it was the archangel Michael who told of its use as medicine.   It is believed to be one of few medicinal herbs originating in the northern hemisphere and was one of the plants that survived the ice age 8 to 10 thousand years ago.

Angelica has been cultivated as a vegetable and medicinal plant since the 10th century. In 1602, angelica was introduced in France, where the plague had ravaged the town of Niort, and it has been popular there ever since.  It is used to flavour liqueurs, omelettes and trout, and as jam. The long bright green stems are also candied and used as decoration.

Angelica is unique for its aromatic odour, a pleasant perfume entirely different from other herbs of its kind.  One old writer compares it to Musk, others liken it to Juniper.  Angelica contains a variety of chemicals which have been shown to have medicinal properties. Chewing on angelica or drinking tea brewed from it will cause local anesthesia, but it will heighten the consumer's immune system. It has been shown to be effective against various bacteria, fungal infections and even viral infections.

During the Middle Ages the liquid extract was used as eye and ear drops before going into battle; it was believed to improve the sight and hearing. During the 16th and 17th centuries angelica was combined with other herbs to make "Carmelite water," a medieval drink thought to cure headache, promote relaxation, and long life, and protect against poisons and witches' spells.

Due to its ability to clear tiny passages in the body, it is used to relieve dimness of vision by placing drops in the eyes and also used to improve diminished hearing by placing drops in the ears. An infusion of the root has also been used as eyedrops, often combined with eyebright.

Other medicinal qualities are: Carminative, antispasmodic, topical anti-inflammatory, diuretic, expectorant, digestive tonic, anti-rheumatic, uterine stimulant, cholagogue (gallbladder pain), stomatic, and diaphoretic. This herb helps relieve anemia, abdominal bloating, chronic bronchitis, dyspepsia, flatulence, gastrointestinal spasms, loss of appetite, peptic discomforts, arthritis and joint pain, typhoid, ulcers.  It has been used as a blood purifier, to promote blood circulation and in both sexes.  It relieves peripheral circulation problems and reduces high blood pressure by acting to stabilize blood vessels.

CAUTION:  Excess dosage may affect heart rate and blood pressure as well as increase the level of sugar in the blood.

The Vikings introduced the Angelica archangelica to Europe when they traded with other Europeans. The herb was an important export item from Iceland up until around the year 1500 and was even used as currency in trade.

Native Americans used it to discharge mucous from the respiratory tract, to induce vomiting and to cure TB and consumption. They mixed poultices of Angelica and the leaves of Canada Wormwood (Artemesia canadensis) and placed them on the side of the body opposite the pain to relieve the pain and also applied poultices to swellings.  Native Americans of the Rocky mountains made decoctions and infusions from the root and drank it as a tonic to build up the body after an illness.  It was used by Russians since ancient times for treatment of nervous exhaustion, epilepsy, hysteria, sedative, poor digestion, to increase the appetite, for stomach problems, for gas and bloating, for indigestion, heartburn and atony of the intestines.  The Chinese use the root for lung, stomach and intestinal problems.

Cultivate Angelica in ordinary deep, moist loam, in a shady position, as the plant thrives best in a damp soil and loves to grow near running water. Although the natural habitat is in damp soil and open quarters, it can withstand an adverse environment and even endure severe winter frost.

During its first year it only grows leaves, but during its second year its fluted stem can reach a height of six feet.  The flowers, which blossom in July, are small and numerous, yellowish or greenish in colour adn grouped into large, globular umbels, which bear pale yellow, oblong fruits.  Insects and garden pests do not attack the plant very much: its worst enemy is a small two-winged fly, of which the maggots are leafminers.

Not only is angelica part of many commercial drugs sold in regular pharmacies, it is edible. Its delicate taste permeates the stems, leaves and even seeds which are used in Persian cooking.  Angelica seeds and angelica roots are sometimes used in absinthe.  The French make candied angelica stems by immersing them in increasing concentrations of sugar for days.

Considered a vegetable in Iceland, Siberia and Lapland where the raw stems are eaten with butter.  Laplanders wrap their fish in the leaves to preserve them on long journeys due to the leaves' antimicrobial properties.  In Norway the powdered roots are used to flavor bread.  In Finland the young stems were baked in hot ashes and an infusion of the dry herb was drunk hot or cold and the fresh herb was added to fish stew.

Angelica tea is used for tired eyes and to cleanse skin.  A decoction of the root used in the bath is calming and including the leaves and seeds in a muslin bag will provide a lovely calming fragrance. Angelica salve is used as a skin lotion.   An incision in the bark of the stems and the crown of the root in early spring will allow a resinous gum to exude and can be substituted for musk benzoin.  Essential oil is used commecially in perfumes, creams, soaps, ointments, shampoos and oils.  The seeds and pieces of dried root can be used as incense. 

A 10th century French legend  says Angelica was named after the Archangel Michael who revealed this herb and its secrets in a dream to a monk during a plague epidemic.  It is said to bloom in Europe on the Feast of the Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel and is believed to ward off witchcraft and evil spirits. The roots were added to wines and elixirs by the Benedictine monks. An elixir of the root was used for digestive and lung complaints as well as the plague.  The juice of the roots was used to make Carmelite Water which was used as a cure-all, to ensure long life and to protect against witchcraft. It was believed to have been a preventative against diseases as well as a cure.

During early summer in the lake region of Latvia, peasants would march into town carrying armsful of angelica to sell. As they went, they sang chants in a language so ancient that the meaning of the words had been lost. Peasants would also make necklaces of the leaves for their children to be worn about the neck to ward off evil spirits and witches.

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