Botanical and Common Names
- Family Umbelliferae
- Angelica archangelica (European Angelica, Garden Angelica, Masterwort, Alexanders, Archangel, Angel’s Wort, Spanish: Angélica, Raíz de Angélica)
- Angelica sinensis, A. polymorpha, A. acutiloba (Dang gui / Dong quai, Chinese Angelica)
- Angelica dahurica (Bai Zhi)
- Because the root contains chemicals called psoralens, it can cause serious photosensitivities.
- It can cause contact dermatitis if used externally.
- It is poisonous in large quantities.
- Because angelica and osha are of the same family as the hemlocks, they bear some similarities to them and can be mistaken for a deadly poisonous hemlock plant (Cicuta maculata).
- Do not use during pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant.
- It is contraindicated in diabetes because of its sugar content.
- Overuse can cause diarrhea.
- It should never be taken if breast-feeding.
- It is contraindicated in those with breast cancer.
There are between fifty and sixty varieties that grow worldwide; and each has special healing properties, although all are used for more or less the same purpose.
Angelica looks like its relative, the carrot, except that the angelica plant can reach heights of ten feet. It is generally an aromatic biennial or perennial herb, having ridged, upright, powerful hollow stems, large, bright green leaves, and greenish-white flowers that grow in umbels, common to this family of plants. It always prefers damp locations near running water. The cultivated varieties have extremely thick rhizomes, while the wild angelicas have thin conical roots. After picking, the cut root has a slippery, soaplike feel. The root, and to a lesser extent, the seeds and leaves, have a celery-like smell.
The leaves and stems are harvested in early summer, the seeds are gathered as they ripen in late summer, and the roots are harvested in late autumn after one year’s growth has taken place. The plant is short-lived and dies after it has produced seeds.
Thought to be indigenous to Syria, Holland, or Poland, angelica is now found growing wild along the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas as far north as Lapland, as well as in the region of the Himalayas and Siberia. Although it grows mainly in the northern temperate regions, it also seems to thrive well in New Zealand. Angelica is a protected species in Iceland, and cultivated in many places.
Dang gui is native to China and Japan (A. sinensis) and Japan (A. acutiloba). The best rhizomes are said to be from Gansu Province in China. Chinese medicine uses nine angelica species. Collectively, they are known as “dang gui” (as it is usually written in Chinese medical texts), but Angelica sinensis is preferred.
Bai Zhi grows wild in thickets in China, Japan, Korea, and Russia, and cultivated mainly in central and eastern regions of China.
Angelica has a long-standing, ancient record as a medicinal herb. About twenty different Native American tribes have used angelica species for medicine, including the Creeks who chewed the root and swallowed the juice for stomach disorders.
Many types of angelica were used by Native Americans including A. atropurpurea, A. arguta, A. pinnata, A. lucida, and A. archangelica, to treat colds, stomach disorders, diarrhea, gastritis, gas, and dyspepsia. It was also an effective diuretic and appetite stimulant. Infusions were used by the Iroquois in steam baths to treat headaches and frostbite. Angelica root poultices were applied to broken bones, and the tea served as a topical treatment for ulcers. It was also widely used as a purification herb and added to sacred pipe ceremonies and burned in healing ceremonies.
In America, the whole plant – roots, leaves, and seeds – was used to treat bacterial and viral infections. The natives also used it as a general tonic against such chronic illnesses as cancer or colds.
The British Flora Medica of 1877 stated that Laplanders considered it to be one of the most important medicinal herbs
According to European folklore and by the old calendar, its name was derived from the fact that it would usually bloom around the feast day of the Archangel Michael, the Great Defender, who appeared in a vision to explain its protective powers against evil.
European angelica was used in medieval times to ward off the plague and witches. It is said that, in the mid-1600s, an angel appeared to a monk during a dream with a message that it could protect against the plague. As a result of this experience, the monk renamed the plant angelica (from that of wild celery), and the British Royal College of Physicians used it to formulate the “King’s Excellent Plague Recipe”. Needless to say, it did not stop the plague and soon fell into disfavour.
The use of angelica in China dates to at least 400 BCE, and is still commonly used today.
Bai Zhi was first mentioned in Chinese herbals of the 1st century CE.
A famous military physician, Zhang Congzheng (1150-1228), classified Bai Zhi as a sweat-inducing herb able to counter such harmful external influences on the skin as cold, heat, dampness, and dryness.
Since angelica grew everywhere in Europe and because of its supposed spiritual connections, it became a foremost medicine used for all manner of illnesses, including bronchitis, colds, circulatory problems, muscle spasms, rheumatism, intestinal tract inflammation, indigestion, stomach cancer, water retention, tumors, poorly healing sores, insomnia, lack of energy, and debility. No wonder it earned the nickname of the “immunity plant”.
During the Middle Ages, the liquid extract was dropped into the eyes and ears of soldiers going into battle in the belief that it would improve their sight and hearing. Some modern herbalists still prescribe eye drops.
Angelica is one of four sacred plants of the Rocky Mountain Region. Each was given a gender characteristic that indicated for which sex it would be best used. These four plants were also believed to be directional specific. Therefore, the Pasque Flower became an herb of the south and a small female child; Usnea, an herb of the north and an ageless young man; Osha, an herb of the west and a strong male (often associated with the bear); and Angelica, an herb of the east and a quiet, but strong, mature woman.
(a) European Angelica
- promotes sweating
- stimulates gastric secretions
- topical anti-inflammatory (root extract)
- uterine stimulant
(b) Chinese Angelica
- blood tonic
- circulatory stimulant
- promotes menstrual flow
- regulates uterine contractions
- strengthens liver function
(a) European Angelica
- caffeic acid derivatives
- fatty oil
- furanocoumarins (angelicin, bergaptene, imperatorin, oxypeucedanin, xantholtoxin)
- volatile oil (mainly betaphellandrene)
(b) Chinese Angelica
- vitamin B12
- volatile oil [butylidine phthalide, ligustilide, sesquiterpenes, carvacrol])
(c) Bai Zhi
- coumarins (imperatorin, marmesin, and phellopterin)
- volatile oil
- Seeds, leaves, stems, root.
- The root is a rich source of vitamin B12, folic acid, and niacin, which may explain its blood-building attributes because these B vitamins are instrumental in making blood cells.
- The coumarins increase blood flow, relieve inflammation, stimulate the CNS (central nervous system), and have antispasmodic effects.
- Although experts disagree as to whether dang gui contains any plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) or has any direct hormonal action, reseach done in China has shown that it directly affects the uterus, causing both contracting and relaxing effects. In addition, its active ingredients appear to affect nearly every part of the body, including the CNS, immune system, muscles, digestive tract, kidneys, blood vessels and cells.
- infusions of leaves to treat indigestion
- decoctions from dried roots (sinensis) to treat menstrual irregularities or pains, to stimulate the liver, weakness after childbirth, and to relieve constipation, especially in the elderly
- tinctures made from the leaves to treat bronchitis or flatulence
- tinctures made from the roots (archangelica) to treat bronchial phlegm, coughs, digestive disorders, or to stimulate the liver
- compresses from the hot, diluted tincture or decoction applied to painful rheumatic or arthritic joints
- creams made from the leaves and applied to skin irritations
- massage oil made from diluted oil and combined with a neutral oil for painful arthritis or rheumatism
- seeds used to perfume and cleanse a room
- fresh roots cut to yield an aromatic gum used as a fixative in potpourri
- young, fresh, green stems of pencil thickness for crystallizing and as a tonic to combat infections and improve energy levels
Although all parts of the plant are said to help a wide range of illnesses, the main medicinal part is the root. The stems and leaves have a weaker action. The root, stems, and leaves can be used for tonic purposes. The seeds work well for nausea. The root can be eaten in its raw, whole form and simply nibbled on from time to time. Its wide range of use includes for indigestion, gas, and colic.
It is also commonly used as a reproductive normalizer, to stimulate delayed menstruation, for reproductive or intestinal cramps, to normalize digestion and relieve flatulence, as an expectorant, a diaphoretic, and as a diuretic and antiseptic to cure urinary tract infections. It also has some use in relieving joint inflammations.
It improves blood flow to peripheral parts of the body, thereby increasing circulation. It is used specifically to treat Buerger’s disease, a condition that narrows the arteries of the hands and feet.
Used as an expectorant, it helps to relieve bronchitis and other upper respiratory conditions
Dang gui is commonly used today in many over-the-counter preparations available in the West.
Ginseng is considered the main herb in China as a male tonic, while angelica is considered the female counterpart. The Chinese long ago saw that regular use of angelica by women was credited with easy conception, no miscarriages, safe deliveries, and no menopausal complaints. It is noted, however, that the herb should not be taken during pregnancy.
Dang gui is often taken with other herbs to treat a multitude of female complaints. As a result, it is referred to as the “woman’s ginseng”. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, blood dominates women’s health, and dong quai is said to nourish and invigorate the blood, and is sometimes prescribed as a blood builder or blood tonic. It also acts as an antispasmodic and mild sedative. Despite its reputation as a female remedy, herbalists sometimes use it for men, especially if they are suffering from such blood-related or circulatory problems as fatigue or high blood pressure.
The Chinese also believed that women who took angelica maintained their youth far beyond its usual term. Consequently, they include it in all their major beauty creams.
Since the herb is mildly sedating, Chinese medicine uses it to treat people with overwrought nervous systems.
It is also used to treat allergies and their annoying symptoms, as well as for stiffened joints.
In addition to female complaints, dong quai is also used for liver disorders, inflammation, sciatica and rheumatism, digestive problems, and high blood pressure.
In Morelos, Mexico, a tea is made from the root for digestive problems, intestinal inflammations, menstrual cramps, bronchial congestion, and to promote milk-flow in nursing mothers.
Bai Zhi is used to treat headaches, aching eyes, nasal congestion, toothaches, sores, boils, and ulcers affecting the skin, tigeminal neuralgia, and as a warm tonic to alleviate the cold.
One way to take the root is by boiling one cup of angelica root in a quart of water for five minutes. Cool and refrigerate or take on hikes or bike rides and use instead of, or in addition to, water refills.