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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