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Angelica

( Originally Published 1933 )



Umbelliferae

Biennial

The angelica is native to Europe and Asia, mostly in cool northern climates. It is a large, handsome plant with spreading, tropical-looking leaves, and a dome-shaped in-florescence borne on tall stems and is most decorative as an accent or background to other herbs. It is said to remain in the garden for several years if the flowers are cut back, otherwise it dies after bearing seeds.

Root. The roots are white, firm, and fleshy inside, and are sometimes called the "roots of the Holy Ghost."

Stem. The stems are fleshy and strong, with many raised veins. The leaf stem begins as a sheathe and then rounds into a compound leaf. From within the sheathes rise the flower stems. When raw they taste intensely bitter and have no scent and after cooking they taste pleasantly aromatic and a bit like parsley.

Leaf. The leaves rising from these strangely formed stems are divided into five very much compounded leaflets. Each of the five has a stem from which grow toothed leaves, some of them deeply cut and yellow-green in color, smooth above and dull gray-green below. There is no scent to the leaves, even when crushed, and they taste piny and pleasant when raw. They die down at the first autumn frost, but if the plant has not flowered, come up again the following spring.

Flower. The flowers blossom the middle of June and last a long while. The topmost inflorescence is at the tip of a stem four feet high, the largest measuring six inches across, and is made up of stems two and a quarter inches long, each having three-quarter inch long greenish clumps of nobby-looking florets. Others are at the terminations of long stalks rising from where the sheaf of the leaf surrounds them. As they ripen they grow bigger and spread further apart.

Seed. The seeds are brown, long, leaf-shaped, concave on one side and convex on the other with one prominent rib. They are covered with an oblong, flat, straw-colored envelope which looks as if it had been pleated, and are one-quarter of an inch long.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

Angelica was considered a preventive against evil spirits and witchcraft. In Courland and Livonia, and the low lands of Pomerania and East Prussia, where it grows abundantly, when the peasants carry the flowering stems of angelica to market they chant a verse they learnt in childhood, which is so old that it is unintelligible to the singers themselves and is most likely of pre-Christian origin.

The herbalists recommend, "to bite and chaw a root of angelica against the plague."

Angelica was mentioned as being in Adrian van der Donck's garden at Yonkers in 1653. Perhaps he meant the native Angelica atropurpurea which was much used medicinally. It is a smaller and less handsome plant with a purplish tinge and is said to be more fragrant than any other indigenous plant. Angelica seed listed as Angelica purpurea was offered for sale in the advertisement of the Boston Evening Post in 1771, and by Bartram in 1814.

USES

Medicine. The root was used medicinally as a stimulant or tonic and given in an infusion.

Perfume. The oil distilled from the root, leaves, and seeds is an ingredient in the manufacture of perfumes when a special note is desired. Angelica water made from the leaves was formerly highly regarded.

Food. The leaves and stalks were eaten as a salad either roasted or boiled, and the stems were at one time a popular vegetable, blanched as celery is. The roots were eaten by the Lapps and Norwegians, and in England the roots were preserved and the leaves candied.

The oil is a flavoring for liqueurs like Benedictine and Chartreuse, Ratafia d'Angelique, and Vermuth. It is said to give a muscatel flavor to wines and is a flavoring for creams and custards.

The stems of angelica can be purchased already candied. This product is a specialty of Niort and Chateaubriand in France.

CULTURE

Angelica seems to like a fairly moist soil and a cool climate. The seeds do not keep their vitality long and should therefore be sown as they ripen in July and August. The plants can be transplanted in the autumn or the following spring, three feet or more apart. It is quite difficult to procure angelica seed in the United States, but once the plants have been started they are quite hardy.

Harvest. The roots are washed and dried in the open air for a few days before storing. The leaves are harvested in the spring of the second or third season; the seeds in August.



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