Sunday, 18 January 2015

Angelica - An Interesting and Useful Culinary Herb

Angelica is an aromatic culinary herb that is also used in folk medicine. The herb has the intriguing scientific name of Angelica archangelica, which reflects one of two traditions. One is that the herb blooms on the feast day of Archangel Michael, or Michaelmas, which falls on September 29th in the modern calendar. Another is that the Archangel first informed humanity about the plant's medicinal uses.

Most people that have heard of angelica probably think of it in the form of candied stems, which are used as cake and pudding decorations. The plant can also be used as a vegetable and as a flavouring agent. Its pleasant scent and flavour are very nice additions to food.

The Angelica Plant
Angelica archangelica
Photo by Christian Fischer,
CC BY-SA 3.0

Angelica belongs to the Apiaceae family, which also contains parsley, dill, fennel, carrot and celery. Chinese angelica or dong quai belongs to the same family. 

Angelica is a tall plant that can reach a height of six feet or more - sometimes much more. Its stem is hollow and ridged. The plant has compound leaves with toothed leaflets. The leaves are bright green and shiny.

The small yellow, white or pale green flowers of angelica are born in a structure called an umbel. In an umbel, the flowers are located on the ends of short stalks (or pedicels) that all branch from the same point on the flower stem. The pedicels look rather like the ribs of an umbrella that has been turned upside down. The fruits of angelica are small, yellow-green and oblong.

Angelica is native to Northern and Central Europe and to Asia but has been introduced to other areas. It grows in both a wild and a cultivated form and requires moist soil. The plant is a biennial and flowers in its second year.

Culinary Uses of Angelica 

The roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds of angelica are all edible. Of course, it's vital to be absolutely certain of a plant's identity when foraging for wild plants. This is very important when a person is searching for wild angelica. The Apiaceae family contains poisonous plants as well as edible ones. 

Angelica leaves
Photo by Doronenko,
CC CY 2.5
Fresh angelica is used as a raw salad green or as a cooked vegetable. The leaves are added to fish, poultry, savoury stews and soups. They are also added to stewed fruit dishes, such as those containing plums, rhubarb or gooseberries, where they reduce tartness and the need for sugar. The oil in the roots and seeds is used to flavour liqueurs, jams and jellies. The stem is boiled with sugar to make a candied cake decoration or a sweet treat.

Health Effects of Angelica

Angelica was once used as a protection against harmful spells and as a cure-all for disease. Today a tea made from the plant's leaves is said to relieve digestive upset. This claim hasn't been scientifically proven, although there are suggestions that it may be correct. It's important that anyone who wants to eat an edible herb in more than food quantities checks with their doctor first, however. Some plants contain chemicals that interfere with certain medications or aren't suitable for people with certain medical conditions.

Another thing to watch out for with plants belonging to the genus Angelica is that they contain chemicals called furocoumarins. These chemicals increase the sensitivity of the skin to sun damage when they come into contact with the skin and may cause dermatitis at the same time.

Even when it's not being used medicinally, angelica is a very nice herb for a garden or a kitchen. Herbs can add interest and flavour to foods and may have health benefits, too. I love adding them to my food.


  1. I had never heard of this plant before, I found this very interesting. Thank you!