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Angelica as a Plant Teacher

Updated: Oct 9, 2021



Angelica archangelica / Officinalis

Angelica is named after the Grecian word arkhangelos, after the Archangel Michael, who legend says taught the people of the plant’s medicine. Angelica is said to flower on his feast day on May 8th in Europe (Spring time). This refers to Norwegian Angelica which we will focus on, however the Canadian Angelica atropurpurea can be used interchangeably as a herbal medicine.

Common Names

Archangel : Norwegian angelica, a greater angel (A. archangelica)

Holy Ghost Root : after Archangel Michael

Dong Quai: Chinese Angelica, female ginseng (A. sinensus/polymorpha)

Masterwort : American Angelica, great or high angelica, a master medicine (A. atropurpurea)

Wild Angelica: A. sylvestris, Europe & Central Asia

The Angelica Tree (Xanthoxylum Americanum), Prickly Ash, is not related


Angelica’s use dates back many thousands of years worldwide as herbal medicine. We see Angelica species being used medicinally in Northern Europe, North America and East Asia, with some patterns to their use across the genus. The Saami of Norway have a documented history of their use of Angelica to preserve Reindeer milk. There, they say that Angelica stands are indicative of old Sami settlements and that people have actually brought the plants with them and spread them where they wanted to have them. This is a further indication of the potential that Angelica was managed by the Sami in a relationship of reciprocity with the natural medicine world.

"They used the entire plant. But it was harvested at different times. The root for example was supposed to be picked during spring. If you consider how people working with plants today would describe where the power is, it is obvious that you pick the roots either in spring or autumn when the power has returned to the root. I mean, nobody told the Sami this, but it was such knowledge which they had. They had learnt that it [the root] was at its strongest at that time. Simply that people living in nature all the time, they will see where the power in a plant is. And they will follow that power in the plant at all times.” (Greta Huuva, interview, April 10, 2014).

Distribution & Physiology

Angelica is a biennial herb (meaning it drops seed after about 2 years or more). It grows 1-3m tall, has thick & fleshy yellow/brown roots and green-purple stalks. It likes rich soil, partial shade, cool Winters, and not too hot Summers. It likes to grow near running water, perhaps under a large tree. It will grow for about 3 years, dropping seed being the final part of its maturation process, and can reach up to 3m tall, usually less. The seeds are said to not be viable after a few months so must be sowed quickly or left to self seed. It has aromatic leaves & roots akin to musk or juniper, quite a different smell to its parsley/celery/coriander cousins. A. archangelica is native to Scandinavia, Iceland & Greenland. A. atropurpurea grows in the deep North of America, A. sylvestris is native to Central Asia. A. sinensus is from China.

Apiaceae : Parsley family : Umbelliferae

Key features of this family are the compound umbels & hollow stems. The flower clusters all originate from a single point at the end of the stalk, like an umbrella (umbel). At the end of the flower stem is another umbel. They can be confused with members of the Buckwheat family. They usually have pinnate leaves. The parsley family homes 434 genera and 3700 species. Their medicine is rich with spicy, aromatic volatile oils. Spices from the family include anise, celery, coriander, caraway, cumin, dill, fennel, and parsley. Edible roots include angelica, carrots, and parsnips. Poisons include hemlock and water hemlock, two of the deadliest plants on earth, which can be mistaken for wild carrots. The umbels tell us to pay attention and identify the plant correctly. Spicy oils warm and stimulate the body, opening pores, which means they are plants that accommodate use alongside the early stages of fever. Volatile oils move into the air, decongesting stagnation and protecting against microbes. Aromatic plants expel gas & offer carminative effects to tension, sometimes stimulating the downward flow of fluids in the body (eg: digestion & menstruation). This brings with it warnings during pregnancy.

Doctrine of Signatures

The energetic architecture of the universe is a language communicating the individuated being within the cosmic Self. When it comes to herbal medicine, over the lifetimes, an association between the valid knowledge of the natural world has been interpreted by our ancestors into a translation of its use as natural medicine. It is a way to "acquaint all sorts of people with the very Pith and Marrow of Herbalism” (William Coles). The way that a plant looks can tell us about the disease or organ or even type of person it is a medicine for. “The idea is that the shape, colour, appearance, environmental niche, taste, smell, etc., of a plant or medicinal agent will display the tell-tale signs, marks, or configurations indicating how that agent may be used in medicine.” (Matthew Wood).

Let’s look at Angelica…

+ Deep green-red/purple stalks

+ Yellow/green/white flowers in an umbrella like formation

+ Large oblong fruits

+ Yellow/Brown fleshy root

+ Pleasant aromatic odour in the whole plant

+ Growing in extreme cold

+ Prefers damp/wetter regions but can handle some dry heat

Let’s start with habitat; the environment is functional medicine. Where does Angelica like to grow? Plants in cold, wet regions offer medicine to this tissue state. A medicine for cold/damp conditions. She can cleanse swampy parts of the body. Where is there a build of dampness in the body? Uterus, Digestive tract, Lungs.

Next let’s look at its colour. Colour speaks to energetics. Bright green almost purple stalks, green-yellow flowers and yellow-brown roots. Flower first: Green-yellow is associated with bile, and therefore the Liver & Gallbladder, the assimilation of fats & digestion as a whole. In TCM yellow-orange-brown tones speak to the Earth element, the Spleen & Stomach. As the Earth element is deeply rooted by nature, Earth & stillness itself, when we see yellow toned roots, we know this medicine is grounding, will improve our digestive capacity, will improve the quality of our blood, our Qi, and represents self nurture in a basic sense, coming home to stillness and the Earth. Intensely green stalks or leaves speak to a plant high in minerals that cleanse the blood & liver. We’re beginning to see a plant that works on the whole digestive tract, warming & moving. Purple tipped stems might speak to its indication for purple fingers (poor circulation) or bruises. Or yellow veins on the arms, with a heavy liver load.

Next let’s look at its texture & shape. To some extent, shape is function, and shape can speak to organ affinity & action on that organ. Angelica has purple hollow stalks, a signature for the blood vessels and moving blood stagnation. This is a signature for the specific indication of purple veins on the forearms - stagnant blood. We also see airy roots, growing in damp conditions, giving rise to ‘airing out the wet’.

Lastly, let's look at its smell. Aroma is one of the first impressions we experience of our environment. Aromatic & pungent. Aromatics can deeply penetrate, and suggest a downward flow on fluids as a natural medicine. They are also purifying, and move wind (gas). The active principles of most aromatic herbs are highly antiseptic or germicidal and contain valuable antibiotic principles useful in herbalism.

Next let’s look at its taste. Taste is an extension of smell, with more detail. She is sweet and aromatic at first, then slightly bitter & warming after. Yellow & bitter = Liver, to cleanse, Yellow & sweet = Spleen, to boost blood.

Lastly let’s look at Spirit Signatures; does it resemble an animal or is a preferred animal medicine? This is a powerful imprint of plant & animal connection. This is especially important in First Nations American Herbalism. Angelica has the signature of the Bear, which eats herbs in the Summer & Spring time. Bears are master herbalists & foragers. They love brown, furry roots, high in oils, that are spicy and warming in Spring. These remedies act on the adrenal cortex, to fatten up, or strengthen the parasympathetic to relax and dream. To allow your to hibernate through Winter and re-emerge strong in the Spring. So there’s some magic to her yet.

Angelica’s doctrine is a herb to clean & strengthen the blood from the spleen, improve the digestion especially when it comes to the liver & fats, and push damp stagnant fluids down & out of the body.

Planetary Influences

Under the influence of Sun - Radiant, Fire element, Warming & expanding, Yang.

“The Sun indicates the presence and function of oxygen within the body. Difficult aspects with the Sun may affect the health of the body’s vital fluids.” (Culpepper)

Many diseases arrive due to low self-esteem, and harsh self judgement. People that live in a constant state of self-criticism, self-doubt, or any level of self-hatred, can greatly benefit of solar herbs. Through working with solar herbs, the inner seed within one's spirit is more easily broth into manifestation. We are better able to recognise our role, and what we are here to do in this life.

Energetics Warming & drying Pungent, Oily, Sweet & Bitter For the Atrophy or Cold/Depression tissue states, bringing oils, oxygen and Qi (life force) Meridian / organ systems: Stomach/Spleen, Liver/Gallbladder

Magick She is associated with the deities of Sun Gods such as Ra, or the Archangel Michael. An inner angel of light, warming and stirring. “Angelica aligns you to walk with your guardian angel” (Julia Graves). Traditionally one might wear Angelica around the neck for precaution against psychic attacks or epidemic contagions. For the Lapps or the Sámi/Saami people of Northern Scandinavia, Archangelica is a shamanic herb for journeying in the dreaming. The large red/purple hollow stalks are also signatures for a wise man’s or woman’s staff to journey to another dimension. If you are sensitive, you can burn the dry herb, breathe it in, and it is said to have effects similar to cannabis.

Constituents Volatile oils, resin, wax, bitters, furanocoumarins, flavonoids, sugars, organic acids, phytosterols

Actions & Uses

Digestion; Cholagogue. Choleretic. Increases digestive capacity by increasing cortisol & raising blood sugar. Specifically for liver insufficiently (bitter flavour) to increase the production of bile, secretion of bile from the gallbladder, metabolism of fats and therefore nutritive value of food. Can be used to treat anaemia. Aids in thickening up a malnourished person, for treating atrophy and wasting, anorexia or a poor appetite. Although moistening due to it's oils, it actually is drying to dampness. Aids in removing winds in the digestive tract (Vata digestion), bloating or someone with an accumulation of fluids, intestinal gas & diarrhoea and is one of the most important digestive herbs. If there is excess activity in the stomach, it can calm heartburn, and any nausea or vomiting relating to this. Angelica makes fluids more active by breaking up concentrations of water/phlegm/blood. This is how it is good for heavy souled people with excess kapha.

Nervous System / Emotions; Calmative herb. Nervine.

Calms nervous excitation & relaxes the thinking apparatus of the mind. Small doses are relaxing, whilst large doses can cause depression of the central nervous system. Balances excess in the sympathetic (nervous; shuts down digestion) & parasympathetic branches (gastrointestinal excess; hot digestion with dampness inside), of the autonomic nervous system. Angelica connects the mind with the spirit. If someone is cut off from the spiritual world not believing, not being able to pray, or no longer making sense of life. Angelica relaxes an intense mind. For the emotionally empty or hollow person to stimulate the imagination. Matthew Wood speaks to stimulating the imagination a lot in healing. That we are yearning for medicine that inspires us, and that modern medicine prescriptions are devoid of creativity. If a herb does not stimulate the creative mind, how can we become the new? Angelica opens the sphincter of the mind.

Lungs; Expectorant. Anti-catarrhal. Antiseptic. Antiviral.

Drys up excess catarrh, or catarrhal deafness especially in the feeble or elderly. For clearing up dampness in the lungs, bronchitis, coughs or colds. For lung congestion accompanied with dullness of the mind or a pale complexion. For chills associated with the flu or seasonal allergic asthma.

Bladder; Diuretic.

Increases urination

Heart & Blood; Circulatory stimulant.

Strengthens the heart & warms the peripheral circulation. It can therefore treat headaches, vertigo, and fatigue by improving blood flow. It is indicated for cold hands/feet, purple fingers/toes or easy bruising. If there is poor circulation (cold & pale) or blood stagnation (purple pooling). For either high or low blood pressure.

Sex organs; Hormonal normaliser. Antispasmodic.

Chinese Angelica is a female tonic and highly estrogenic, but European & North American Angelica is not. The way that it works on the liver & blood however has a similar effect on women’s hormones through a different mechanism. By warming & moving the blood, it is used for restoring uterine & female reproductive balance. For women with excess bleeding or amenorrhea. Weakness or cramping during menses. Especially for middle aged women with full figures with cysts, blood stagnation or excess bleeding. Or for a man with prostate problems.

Fever; Warming Diaphoretic.

Can be used for the beginnings stages of fever to warm the body, increase circulation, increase sweating. The North American peoples use Angelica ‘on the rocks' in sweat lodges, vaporised to open the skin, bring the circulation to the surface, and open the mind. Sweat lodges teach that perspiring flushes the fluids.

Musculoskeletal; Antispasmodic. Anti-inflammatory.

For arthritic joints, gout, or stiffness associated with the cold, the oils lubricate & rebuild. Oily plants are nutritive in effect. For calming muscular cramps, spasms, nerve problems or epilepsy through working on the nervous system & cells. For treating atrophy we use herbs with fixed oils which increase cellular membrane nutrition, aiding in the transfer of hormones through the body. This also gives you great skin! By rebuilding fatty tissues around nerves swathes & cartilage, nervous tension to the body is decreased.


For treating lipoma (benign fatty tumors)

To stop alcohol or tobacco cravings (reducing nervous tension & the bitter flavours block the taste buds)

An additive to the traditional Absinthe brew, a Swiss herbal medicine wormwood liquor with prophylactic effects.

In the Garden

"If you have space for only one plant in the garden, plant the Angelica” (Harald Tietze)

The Angelica Person

The woman's spirit herb. Maiden medicine. Stephen Buhner talks of Angelica being a female role model, for a maiden becoming a woman. Especially a girl in her Saturn returns or late 20's, who has lacked a strong female role model to guide her into her mature feminine. For a woman having trouble establishing her own identity or wanting to break free from society’s role models. The Angelica person may be thin, malnourished and pale needing to gain mass with poor circulation, or they might also be large, stout bear-like person with blood stagnation & fluid retention. By strengthening one’s self image, with the tone of balance, this naturally grounds the superfluous elements of certain personalities. When this person presents, Angelica is the plant medicine to call on. She holds the teachings & healings of this state.


Angelica should not be used during pregnancy. The furanocoumarins can cause photosensitivity and irritate the skin in sensitive people, so limit sunbathing. According to Canadian First Nations people, the root can be prepared into a deathly poison (could be a misidentification for a cousin apiaceae Cicuta virosa which is poisonous). The roots are poisonous if not dried properly.


The roots must be dried first, and quite soon after harvest to avoid the oils turning rancid. Likewise the seeds also lose potency if not frozen. A decoction of the root creates a more bitter medicine, whereas a tincture increased the relaxing effects. Extracts should be made from dried root.

Tincture: Dry Root 1-3 drops 1-3 x day (Matthew Wood) Dry Root 1:5 30-60 drops 4x daily (Buhner) Seed 10-30 drops 4x daily (Buhner)


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