My garden has been offering me generous leaving gifts over the past few months. The little Elder tree has blossomed properly for the first time. The first bloom opened on the day I came down with a fever, providing me with the right medicine just when I needed it. Perfectly pristine and petite Wild strawberry plants have self seeded in one of my raised beds, to the delight of my children who were delighted by that first glimpse of red. The Betony, my old friends, are plentiful this year. And then there is the Angelica, taller than me by half, growing unexpectedly in the moist soil by the outside tap.
An Angelica likes to forge it’s root down into damp soil and is partial to a little shade. If it flowers it is a biennial and you should collect the roots in the Autumn of it’s first year to use medicinally. Being early Summer it’s now the time to collect the leaves, which also reward you with medicinal benefits. I use them externally on the chest during respiratory infections and as a beautiful hot compress for dysmenorrhoea.
I am enjoying spending time with this giant. With herbs I am so often damp kneed, down on the ground, in the grass, under the trees and in the hedgerows; it’s nice to chat to a plant face-to-face, so to speak, and breathe in it’s warm aroma. That warmth of aroma is reflected in it’s warming action within the body – where preparations made using the roots are warming to the digestion, increase perspiration, stimulate the nervous system and add a little fire to the heart and stimulate our circulation.
Being around Angelica you can’t help but reflect upon the Doctrine of Signatures. The long, hollow tubes were believed to be a reflection of tubes in the body, such as our bronchial tubes and the blood vessels. The way the stems lead to the the globular umbels is very reminiscent of the bronchioles leading to the alveoli. And indeed Angelica is an excellent herb for our respiratory system where, as a comfortingly warming expectorant it helps to clear the chest during coughs, colds and flu (where it’s diaphoretic actions are most welcome too), and even bronchitis – as the plants form seems to tell us beautifully. Angelica’s tubes were also thought to represent the blood vessels (and sometimes the stems are tinged with red), a reminder to us that this giant can stimulate the circulation (especially to the stomach, bowel and heart), warming and shifting stagnant blood as it goes. In Shamanism this plant’s tubular stem represents a passageway from this place to another, and the dried stem can be used in ceremonies as a staff to help with journeying. It is not only the Shamans who hold Angelica in high regard. It finds use in Pagan rituals and was a herb dedicated to pre-Christian Gods, believed to guard against evil spirits and witchcraft. As you spend time with this green sentinel you can appreciate why our ancestors felt a sense of protection and guardianship from Angelica.
On warm Summer days the aroma from Angelica carries across the garden and hints at the essential oil within. Phellandrene, pinene, linalool, borneol, thujene and limonene are found within the plant’s essential oil and, as might be expected, Angelica is a glorious carminative and antispasmodic, aiding intestinal spasms, flatulence, nausea and colic. It’s cholagogue action (the root contains bitter principles), combined with it’s warmth and digestive actions make it useful for coaxing back a depressed appetite. I find it very useful for this purpose with the elderly, where it can also help during convalescence, to bring system-wide warmth and as a supportive tonic. The elderly may also benefit from an infused oil of this green gem, which, used externally, helps to ease stiff joints and aching muscles.
Angelica is a stunning tonic for the female reproductive system, improving the uterine circulation, again – warming and could be considered internally for dysmenorrhoea and PMS. For women with chaotic cycles who are trying to conceive, Angelica can help to regulate the cycle, being particularly useful for women who have become disenchanted and negative about their reproductive system following failed attempts to conceive. The image of a herb bringing warmth and circulation and therefore nourishment and energy to this system can be a powerful and positive image. Use of the herb must cease in pregnant women.
Despite it’s heavy, gravity defying flower heads, Angelica’s structure exudes strength and that strength and stability is truly reflected in it’s cumulative action within the body. It’s aromatic warmth and stimulation encourages the return of strength when it has been lost through illness, or promotes further strength in those who feel worn down by life or age. A herb that we can lean on, like the steadying staff supplied by it’s vasiform stem.
“Contagious aire ingendring pestilience
Infects not those that in their mouth have ta’en
Angelica, that happy counterbane,
Sent down from heav’n by some Celestial scout,
As well the name and nature both avou’t”
*The furanocoumarins contained with Angelica mean that this is one of our herbs that could cause photosensitivity. Be aware that high doses could interfere with anticoagulant therapy. Angelica is contraindicated in pregnancy. Herbs are best administered under the care of a qualified Herbalist.