Herb of Angels: Angelica
Its Name Sounds Mystical
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) is a European plant with hundreds of years of history. It is said that angels sent the herb to man during the Middle Ages to combat the plague, and it is so named after Michael the archangel.
The earliest known uses of Angelica come from the 10th century when it was cultivated as a vegetable. Historically, Angelica found its use in health and beauty, culinary, medicinal, aromatherapy, and massage therapy. All parts of this vegetable have been used to combat various complaints, from digestive issues to the plaque.
For the Superstitious
Angelica was grown to keep evil away. The root was worn for protection and good luck, and a wash was used to cleanse the home of bad spirits. There is always a tad bit of truth in superstition . . .
Stages of AngelicaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Growing Angelica in Your Kitchen Garden
Before you run out and purchase seeds, there are a few things you need to know about Angelica. It is finicky! It is temperamental, and the seed loses its viability quickly. Timing is everything.
Angelica likes cool creeks and stream banks, bright light, and average temperature. It loves sun but doesn't love heat. It loves moisture yet doesn't want to be wet. Angelica is a biennial and is zoned 4-9. Biennial means that it will take two years for this plant to go through its complete life cycle.
After three tries, over three years, with three different methods, and three seed companies, I finally got germination.
The Three Tries and Three Methods
First, I tried germination trays. A tried and true method for most seed starting. It was a total failure. I imagine this is due to either the warmth or the humidity that goes along with tray germination, or both. Biennials shouldn't be started in seed trays, anyways, so there is that. Seed trays don't have enough depth for a biennials root. And biennials don't particularly like being transplanted.
The second try was the window well, cool, shady . . . nothing. I think this one may have failed due to timing. I laid the seed in late Spring/early Summer. In Montana, where I live, there is a very short window between Spring and Summer. Temperatures can drastically change from bitter cold to holy Hannah hot practically overnight. I attribute the failure to this.
The third try is the charm, right? Into the habitat we go. I rarely plant anything directly into the habitat. My primary propagation technique is to start everything from seed so I can watch and document each stage of its growth. Then I transplant into the habitat. Angelica had failed me twice. It was time to give it to nature. On the lower end of my property was a fresh water drippy spot, partially shaded by trees. I watched the sun for the rest of summer until Fall tracking the shade and determining a good position to lay the seed. I was also trying to estimate the approximate time Angelica would be dropping seeds in nature. I laid the seed in late Fall in an area of the drippy spot that was moist but not wet. The seeds were not covered. The light would be full sun until noon, then shade for the rest of the day during the heat of Summer, with consistent moisture, but not wet.
Five months until spring. Patience is a virtue . . . or so they say . . .
Well, I'll be . . . there they were. As soon as weather permitted I was traipsing down the hill to check the drippy spot. It was about mid-March and most of the ice had melted. The drippy area is the last place to melt. The other reason I chose that spot. Because there is fresh water in this spot, it freezes, hard. For certain seeds, like this, it ensures they get cold enough for a specific time frame, and when the seed warms, it breaks its cycle and germinates. Some people place their seeds in the fridge or freezer to mimic this process so they can start seeds out of season. Technically, I just let nature do it for me.
There were about 20 happy baby seedlings emerging! It worked!
What About Those Seed Companies?
I'm not attributing any of my failures on the seed company(ies) . . . all three companies I have used for years. I have never received bad seed from any of them. With that said, I am very finicky about who and where I purchase seed from. I do not use or purchase seeds from large scale big name companies, I have a list of small scale family owned American businesses that have proven themselves reliable. They are the first place I go to for all seed.
Links to two of these seed sources can be found below:
Harvesting AngelicaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Due to Angelica's historical and traditional uses as a medicinal herb, there is a possibility that this herb grows in areas where the first pioneers made their homes, especially near the eastern seaboard where conditions would have been favorable. I highly discourage looking for or wild harvesting Angelica due to its many poisonous look-a-likes.
Angelica stalks are harvested in the Spring much like rhubarb, cutting only what is needed. The leaves and stalks are primarily used in cooking and can be consumed raw or cooked. Historically, the stalks have been candied or prepared into a syrup.
The leaves should be gathered before the plant goes to flower and dried. Leaves are used in teas or as a flavoring for tart fruits. They can also be chopped fresh and frozen for later use in recipes calling for fresh leaves.
Angelica's roots are chopped and dried and employed in the bath for rheumatic complaints, to cleanse the skin, and to increase circulation. They are pleasingly aromatic.
Essential oils are acquired from the root using steam or chemical distillation techniques. The essential oils are used with carrier oils in massage therapies to combat rheumatic ailments. Use of Angelica's essential oils can cause photosensitivity and should not be applied to the skin before being exposed to sunlight.
The seeds also contain high amounts of essential oil and are primarily used to flavor sweets and liqueurs. This oil is also used in the perfume industry for its earthy aroma.
Cooking With Angelica
Now that I had a source for fresh Angelica, it was time to play in the kitchen. I had been waiting for over three years to try these recipes. I love everything rhubarb, and this would be the perfect test. Exploring under or rarely used herbs and spices with common foods is exciting. And I was excited.
Cooking with Angelica was easy. It was very similar to cooking with celery and/or rhubarb. The stalks and leaves are used fresh (like celery), or the stalks were simmered and cooked like rhubarb. I found recipes for herbal butters and teas using the leaves; jams, jellies, and sauces that used stalks and/or leaves; and candies using the stalks.
The first recipe I chose was simple. I wanted to explore the flavor. When I cut the stalks, they were hollow, like a flute. The walls of the stalks were thin, unlike celery, and when I chopped them to be added to the rhubarb, they fell apart easily.
Angelica has a unique flavor that changes somewhat from hot to cold. I poached the rhubarb then added the Angelica and poached some more. The taste when warm was gentle. When cool, the taste was slightly bitter.
I was pleased with the outcome. As were my guinea pigs . . . we tested it on crackers, in yogurt, and over ice cream. It was a hit. And we hope you like it too. We will be trying more things angelica as soon as Spring arrives. Until then, here is the recipe we tried. And we promise an update on future recipes.
Angelica Rhubarb Sauce Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons angelica leaves, chopped fine
- 3 1/3 c rhubarb, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- water, to cover
Angelica Rhubarb Sauce
- Place all ingredients in a pan and just cover with water
- Poach until soft, about 10-15 minutes
- Serve immediately or use cool and use for pie filling
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found this information useful, and I hope you find an opportunity to try this delightful vegetable (herb). If you have already tried it, share your experience in the comments below. If you have grown it, tell us about that too. I am always up for new and exciting ways to grow and use herbs and vegetables in the kitchen garden. Happy Gardening!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2017 Kim French