Angelica: The Viking Herb

Angelica comes from Northern Europe where it grows in damp areas like woodlands and alongside rivers. The Vikings are thought to have brought this herb with them to Eastern Europe. One story about how the plant got its name is that an angel supposedly visited a monk to offer angelica as the cure for a plague. Another story is that angelica got its name because its blooming season roughly coincides with the feast day of the archangel Michael.

The herb was an ingredient in the Carmelite water used to ward off witches and spells during the medieval period. Angelica was also used during the London Black Plague outbreak in 1665. It was included along with nutmeg and treacle as a supposed cure formulated by the College of Physicians.

Angelica still grows wild throughout Northern Europe, especially in Germany and Romania. It is cultivated in France as well as in parts of Southeastern Asia, including Thailand.

Flavor profile of angelica

One name for angelica is “wild celery” and the flavor of celery is one of the most pronounced aspects of this herb’s taste. That taste is particularly noticeable in the roots and stems. The celery flavor is backed up by a licorice flavor that you may recognize if you have had Chartreuse or Vermouth.

Health benefits of angelica

Along with its culinary value, angelica has a number of nutritional and medicinal benefits. Those benefits arise from the different healthy compounds it contains. Those compounds include:

  • Minerals: Essential minerals in angelica include potassium, zinc, and iron. The body uses potassium to keep the heart functioning and for muscle contraction. Zinc is needed to keep the immune system working effectively and to reduce stress levels.
  • Vitamins: Angelica is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin B12. Vitamin C is important for your immune system and for helping your body to absorb iron, while B12 is important for nerve health and for the health of blood cells.
  • Coumarins: Angelica is a rich source of coumarins, which are a group of natural compounds that plants use to fight against fungi. Coumarins are believed to have powerful antioxidant effects. You should note that they can be toxic if consumed in excess.

Angelica’s properties make it effective for treating and preventing health conditions like:

  • Digestive ailments: Practitioners of herbal medicine often prescribe angelica to treat digestive issues like nausea and acid reflux.
  • Feminine health conditions: Angelica is believed to provide many of the same benefits that ginseng is reputed to provide to men. Many consider it the female equivalent of ginseng. Not only does it work as a feminine libido enhancer and tonic, it also helps to relieve PMS symptoms.
  • Poor blood circulation: Angelica is an anticoagulant, which means that it can improve the flow of blood to the extremities. This also means that it should not be consumed along with drugs that have similar blood-thinning properties such as warfarin.

Common uses of angelica

Angelica is noteworthy for its versatility. All parts of the plant can be used, and they can be used in both sweet or savory dishes. The young leaves can be used in salads or stir-fries or to make tea, while the stalks can be candied and used in cakes and cookies.

Photo by Phill Sellins: Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) | Pebsham Country Park. | Flickr