The Herb of the Angel
Angelica Archangelica has a diverse and colorful history. Named for the Archangel Michael, this herb was revealed to a Benedictine monk who was praying for a cure for the plague. Though it did not manage to curb the high death toll of bubonic plague, its strong antimicrobial and antiseptic properties may have aided some patients. This herb is also known as “the root of the Holy Ghost” and is associated with St. Michael, to whom it appeared in a dream. It was once considered valuable for warding off evil spirits.
Angelica is a warming, decongesting herb that promotes circulation. It has a large concentration of bitter principles, which are helpful for poor digestion, and/or a sluggish liver. For this reason, Angelica is one of the main ingredients in Swedish Bitters–a long celebrated tonic–famed for its use in easing indigestion and headaches, among other general maladies. First American tribes used the herb to treat respiratory congestion. The herb is still used for this purpose today, due to its expectorant and diaphoretic properties. Historically, this plant has also been used to treat fevers, skin rashes, wounds, rheumatism and toothaches. Both the root and leaves are used in medicinal preparations.
Angelica has also been used to treat conditions of the female reproductive system. It has been used to relieve congestion of the pelvis, and to ease painful cramping associated with menstruation, as well as irregular cycles. It is sometimes used by midwives to aid in the expulsion of the placenta after childbirth. Because of its emmenagogic properties, in other words, its ability to stimulate menstruation, this herb is NOT safe to take during pregnancy.
Angelica is closely related to the Chinese herb “Dong Quai,” sometimes called “the female ginseng.” Though the two herbs are botanically similar, they have different applications. Dong Quai is often used over a long period of time to tone and build the female reproductive system, while Angelica has a stronger, stimulating action, better suited to short term use. As always, consult with a certified health professional who is well versed in herbs before ingesting this plant.
Apart from its internal applications, Angelica can safely be used around the house. It has a very pleasant, licorice like fragrance and can be added to potpourris and herb pillows. The seeds and roots can also be burned as an incense to clear out a stagnant smelling room. Water that is infused with Angelica leaves makes for a soothing bath, which is said to be calming to the nerves. The essential oil of this plant can be found in many perfumes, soaps, ointments and shampoos. When used as a fabric dye on wool that has been mordanted with iron, Angelica produces a dark green hue.