Those Tall Herbs . . .
Who are those tall herbs seen to be lurking at the back of the garden or as a mere shadowy presence in the early morning mist? Their glistening dew-bedecked countenance is truly enchanting as the sun rises, giving a radiance to their statuesque visage. Angelica, guardian of the garden, mighty and strong, defender of the weak, and protector from the plague. Angelica Archangelica is very tall, averaging about six feet and almost as wide, with many branched compound leaves and large clusters of tiny white or greenish flowers. This moisture-loving plant thrives in a partially shaded damp soil and self sows abundantly in the second or third year. The seed needs light to germinate, sprouting readily about a month after dropping to the ground. When small, the seedlings may be safely transplanted to desirable locations or, better yet, helped along by judicious sowing at the ripening time of the seed-heads. When the plant produces seed it then dies, but may be coaxed into perennial growth by cutting off the flowering stalks.
All parts of the plant are wonderfully fragrant, and have been used in medicine. Stalks were traditionally candied; seeds are bruised and infused, and the roots decocted. The leaves may also be added to characteristically tart dishes such as rhubarb to naturally mellow and sweeten, therefore lessening the need for sugar and improving the flavor. If none of these appeal to you, then simply munch on a tender stalk when wandering through the garden on your ever-vigilant search for unwanted weeds.
Angelica plays a major role in the folklore of all Northern European countries. Notably, as a protection against contagious disease and plague, as a blood purifier, and as a sovereign remedy against poisons and all infectious diseases. The peasants of Prussia march through the towns carrying Angelica flower stems chanting an ancient verse whose words have long lost their recognized meaning, and are probably a relic of Pagan ritual of nature worship. Angelica was later incorporated into Christianity, associating it with the springtime festival of the Annunciation and in particular Michael the Archangel. It also was known as the "root of the Holy Ghost."
The medicinal applications of Angelica go back to antiquity and it is used extensively in Chinese therapies. Its energy is warm and affects the circulation, heart, lungs, skin, stomach and intestines, helping to remove any stagnations that may occur in these systems. Because it is warming, it is an excellent herb to use in the winter for treatment of colds, coughs, and all lung problems. As a poultice or liniment it can be helpful in the treatment of rheumatic complaints. Taken internally the one-ounce bruised root may be infused with a pint of boiling water--three tablespoons three times a day. The powdered root can be put into gelatin capsules and taken two at a time. One teaspoon of tinctured root is the usual dose--four ounces root to one pint of alcohol is the standard mix. It is also beneficial in applications concerning the stomach and intestines, helping to relieve spasms, colic and ulcers. The seeds can also be bruised and made into a tea. A cold extraction may be drawn from the root by adding 3/4 cup of water to one teaspoon dried root, letting it stand for eight to ten hours and then straining. Take one to one and a half cups per day. It can also be added to the bath to help sooth aching joints. There are several varieties of Angelica, all used to some extent, although Angelica Archangelica is the European type commonly grown in our gardens. The American "Angelica Atropurpurea" is found growing wild and used much the same, but caution must be taken not to accidentally harvest the poisonous water hemlock. Angelica is not suggested for use by pregnant women due to its effect as a strong emminagogue nor by diabetics because it raises the blood sugar content. If you have the space allow this elegant giant to grace your garden and spread its beneficent seed throughout.
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Article written by our friend in grime, Hildegard of Twin Oaks Community. Click here for information on her annual herb workshop.
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