Angelica - Plant from the North

Angelica (Angelica archangelica L.), an herbaceous, aromatic herb that can reach a height of 6 feet, has a long history as a food and medicinal plant in northern Europe and Asia, lands to which the species is native. Supposedly revealed to people by the archangel Raphael as a gift with potent, magical powers, this plant has been a popular herb for many years. Historical documents indicate farmers in Norway have been encouraged to grow angelica in gardens since as early as 1164 ( 5). In the 17th century angelica was used to fight the plague in London ( 7). Today, angelica is commercially cultivated in Belgium, Germany, Hungary, and several other Northern European countries.

The angelica plant is a biennial (or short-lived perennial) with compound leaves, a long, thick, flesh root, greenish-white flowers in an umbel, and a long, hollow stem. Plant tissue and extracts have been used as a treatment for nervous diseases, stomach ills, fever, respiratory infections, and, in America, tobacco addiction ( 7). Fresh, young leaves and stems are frequently used in European countries as a flavoring in meal preparation and in candies and jellies. Dry seeds and roots are used commercially in cosmetics and as a flavoring agent in beverages and liqueurs such as Benedictine and Chartreuse. The essential oil is used as a aromatic agent in perfumes, creams, soaps, salves, oils, shampoos, and cigarettes. Fruit from the angelica plant is used in some herbal teas. People in Lapland have traditionally picked stems and flower stalks to eat fresh and for use as a supplement with butter or milk and to cook in milk with Rumex spp. for a coagulated dish that could be stored for winter use ( 2).


Angelica grows best in moist, fertile soils. The plant can tolerate cold, making cultivation possible in colder, northern climates. Seeds, available from many commercial sources, are usually sown in beds in the fall for germination and subsequent transplanting to the field in early spring. Direct seeding can be done in the field, but the stand should be overplanted for subsequent thinning. In Finland, a layer of fine sand is frequently spread over the seeds planted in beds to maintain moist conditions and prevent birds from feeding. Since germination of angelica seed is enhanced by light, the sand layer should be kept thin.

Young seedlings should be transplanted into the field when 3 to 4 inches high (4 to 6 weeks after seeding) and spaced at 12 inches between plants in rows 2 to 3 feet apart for a population 20,000 plants per acre. Soil in the angelica field should be neutral to slightly acidic and fertilized with compost or a complete balanced fertilizer. Boron and other micronutrients may need to be added to the field before planting, depending upon the soil type ( 3). Additional applications of fertilizer should be made in mid-summer of the first year and during the second year of growth. Angelica is naturally adapted to wet areas and the field should be watered frequently.


While leaves and stalks can be harvested for use from the plants in early summer of the second year of growth, flowering stems are generally removed as soon as development begins to prevent any loss in root growth or quality. Plants usually begin flowering in the late spring of the second year of growth, except in the cooler, northern areas where the growth of angelica is slow and flowering may be delayed until the third or fourth year ( 3, 8). Cutting the flowering stems from the plant is a labor intensive process that lasts from early summer to fall. Farmers typically allow some plants to form flowers and seed for use in future plantings. Seeds stored from one season to the next should be kept at approximately 5 øC ( 1, 3). Viral and fungal diseases frequently attack plants in late summer, making the leaves unappealing.

Commercially, angelica is produced for the aromatic roots. The roots are generally harvested in the fall of the second year of growth, although harvest may be left until early the following spring. While mechanical harvesting is necessary for large fields, on small plots digging can be done with a pitchfork. The thin roots contain high concentrations of essential oils and these roots must be carefully loosened from the soil to prevent breakage and loss. After digging, the roots should be washed to remove any attached soil particles.

Washed roots should be dried for long term storage in clean room with good air circulation. Fast drying in ovens (temperatures above 40 øC) should be avoided to prevent evaporation of the volatile compounds. The average yield of fresh roots is approximately 12,000 pounds per acre (13,500kg/ha). Single roots can reach a weight of one half to almost one pound and contain 0.4 to 0.8 percent oil ( 3, 4).

Essential Oils

The aroma of angelica comes from the essential oils and more than 60 chemical compounds have been identified in the oil. Now if you're wondeirng if this is something you can vape - we think you can(Learn more about aromatherapy of essential oils and herbs here -

Most the compounds are terpenes such as phellandrenes, pinenes, and limonene. The best angelica oil has a high concentration of phellandrene. Studies with wild-growing species of angelica in Finland have indicated little difference in content of oil among different strains of the plant, but significant differences in composition of the oil ( 4).

Angelica contains coumarins, chemical compounds known to thin the blood. In small proportions, the coumarins may account for some traditional medicinal uses of the plant in the treatment of loss of appetite, flatulence, rheumatism, and exhaustion. In larger quantities, however, the blood thinning properties of the coumarins make the plant very dangerous, easily resulting in excessive internal bleeding as blood leaks from capillaries and vessels. Angelica also contains psoralene, a compound that increases skin sensitivity to sunlight, leading to phtodermatitis ( 6). For safety reasons, only moderate amounts of angelica plants and plant products should be consumed.

1. Boros, R. and J. Domokos. 1982. Experimental results on seed storage, germination, and growing of angelica (Angelica archangelica L.). Herba Hung. 21:111-118.

2. Fjellström, P. 1964. Angelica archangelica in the diet of the Lapps and the Nordic peoples. Studia Ethnographica Upsaliensia 21:99-113.

3. Hälvä, S. 1986. Mausteita omasta maasta. Kirjayhtymä. Helsinki, Finland. 117 p.

4. Hälvä, S. and L. Seppänen. 1987. Eteriska oljan i rötter av Angelica archangelica L. NJF 69(2):428.

5. Kallio, P., R. Parviainen, and H. Yliaho. 1978. Väinönputki - perinteninen Lapin vihannes. Acta Lapponica Fenn. 10:96-100.

6. Knudson, E.A. and S. Kroons. 1988. In-vitro and in-vivo phototoxicity of furocoumarin containing plants. Clin. Exp. Dermatol. 13:92-98.

7. Rautavaara, T. 1976. Mihin kasvimme kelpaavat. Otava. Porvoo, Finland. 229 p.

8. Ojala, A. 1986. Variation, reproduction and life history strategy of Angelica archangelica supsp. archangelica in Northern Fennoscandia. Academic Diss. Rep. Department of Biology 13. University of Turku, Turku, Finland.

The Herb, Spice, and Medicinal Plant Digest.


By Seija Halva

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