While the herb Angelica might tower over the rest of your herb garden, she also might be looking out for what ails you, right down to her roots.
Angelica archangelica, known simply as Angelica, is a biennial plant that sometimes is called the angel of the garden because its blooms in year 2 can reach 4 to 6 feet high. It also features a number of medicinal and culinary uses, making it a striking addition to your garden, your dinner table, your medicine cabinet and even your liquor cabinet.
Indigenous to Greenland and Iceland, Angelica performs well in full sun in colder climates but prefers a shadier environment the further south you wish to grow her. Angelica prefers rich, slightly acidic, soil ranging from medium to damp wetness, so it grows well near water features in your garden. Letting the soil go completely dry is harmful. With its northern roots, Angelica is not harmed by frost.
Angelica produces a clump of compound leaves during its first year, with lower leaves capable of growing 2-3 feet long, so you want to give the plants plenty of space.
In the second year, a stout, hollow stem shoots up to produce large, globular flowers (about 6 inches in diameter). The white to yellow to green flowers bloom in early summer and by late summer turn to seed. Once the seeds ripen, the plant will die and must be reseeded the following year.
You can extend the life of the plants by a year or two by removing the flower stems before buds open, but you lose the ornamental effect. You can propagate new plants from root cuttings taken in the second year.
Probably the most famous use for angelica is the candied stems that are used in decorating cakes and other desserts. Finding candied angelica on a store shelf is easier than locating the fresh herb, unless you happen to be growing it in your garden.
Less well known, but maybe more prevalent, is the use of extracts from angelica roots and seeds in liqueurs, gin and vermouth.
The entire plant carries a light licorice flavor. You can use leaves in mixed greens salads, and they cook well in fish dishes. Leaves, stems and roots also can be used in teas. Stems also can be eaten like celery, but most people remove the outer layer before eating raw. Stems also can be cooked with strawberries and apples for pie fillings.
The plant's other nickname, "Herb of the Angels," most likely comes from its long history of medicinal uses. Angelica's track record as a remedy traces back to the Sami and Lapps peoples of the Scandinavian countries and the Inuits of Greenland. In Iceland, it reportedly was protected by law in the early 1000s to avoid over harvesting.
By the 14th century, its use as an herbal medicine was wide-spread across Europe. It was used in the fight against the plague, and in the 17th and 18th century was a common weapon in the battle against intestinal infections such as cholera and dysentery.
The herb remains a popular supplement to battle digestive issues, stimulate appetite and soothe colic. Angelica also has expectorant qualities that inspire its use against bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Angelica roots can be slightly poisonous when fresh, so they should be thoroughly tried before using at home. Angelica also is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women and for children under age 2.
Angelica is a rich source of iron. It also contains vitamins A, B, B12 and E, niacin, magnesium and calcium.
If you're ready to set aside some space for this beautiful and useful herb in your garden, order seeds today and enjoy the benefits in coming years.
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