| What is it?
In herbal medicine we primarily use the roots of Angelica; a large plant that lives for two years and thrives near water. Angelica only grows leaves in its first year but in its second its stem can reach up to two meters. The whole plant has an unusually strong but pleasant odour.
How has it been used?
Angelica has been known since ancient times as a ‘friend of the aged’. It has a warming, tonic effect that supports and strengthens the heart and stomach and has been seen to improve appetite and assist digestion; no small part of restoring health.
Angelica has also historically been much used in so called ‘cold’ conditions in children and adults. These include such problems as fatigue, failure to thrive, slow healing wounds and simply feeling the cold too acutely.
Rudolph Weiss writes that 'from a clinical and practical point of view, it would be more correct to classify it as an aromatic tonic, because this is the most important part of its medicinal action'.
Thomas Bartram says ' Angelica is for cold conditions where increase in body temperature is required... as a circulatory stimulant and to sustain heart, stomach and bowel'.
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Science on Angelica
Angelica has had little modern research and even its tradition as a tonic has been largely superseded by the more famous and much better investigated tonics from Eastern and Oriental medicine. However some laboratory experiments have been published that support its traditional use for respiratory complaints. One showed that it selectively relaxed muscles in the trachea (wind-pipe) compared to muscles of the ileum (digestive tract). (Reiter M, et al. Relaxant effects from Angelica Archangelica on tracheal and ileal smooth muscles. Arzneimittelforschung . 1985;35:408-414). The oil of Angelica, which will be present in a tea or tincture so long as its characteristic smell is still obvious, has been shown to have significant antibacterial and antifungal actions. (Opdyke D. Angelica root oil. Food Cosmet Toxicol . 1975;13:713.)
Safety of Angelica
Angelica is an extremely safe herb that may be taken by the young and old, in pregnancy and breastfeeding. You will find cautions in some of the online literature about its use in pregnancy etc. this comes about from its reputed action to stimulate a delayed menstruation which if often misconstrued to mean it will interfere with a healthy pregnancy - it won't.
Likewise a determined investigator will find that, as it contains furocoumarins, Angelica may be cited as an agent that might promote photo-sensitivity (excessive sensitivity to UV sunlight) or even to potentially be carcinogenic! The levels you would need to consume of this herb, that is only best taken in low doses in any case, to get a dangerous level of furocoumarins, or even more than you would get from your everyday diet, are so much higher than we would ever use in practice that this is a case of looking for a victim when there has been no crime.
As noted below it is better suited to those of a cool temperament and I would suggest that more will be achieved with a small dose that the body is able to feel in a subtle way than a large dose that overwhelms the senses...
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Angelica is one of the many herbs that really need to be taken by the right person to get the right response. It is not a herb that will suit someone with an already hot constitution but give it to someone with a cool temperament and its benefits can be remarkable.
This is because the 'warmth' of Angelica is extraordinarily penetrating; it seems to travel through the body to exactly where it needs to go. Angelica has none of the punch of Cayenne, Ginger or even Prickly Ash and yet in some ways its effects can go even deeper than these famously heating herbs.
I have found that when it is the right herb for a person that they always seem to feel significantly better after quite a short time frame and I think this 'true tonic' effect is the root of how it developed its great reputation in the past.
I am generally happy to rely on just as little as 1 or 2 mls of the tincture in a day being ample for most people to accrue the benefit from Angelica. In my view this is not a herb to use in high doses unless only for a very short while. I don't think Angelica is best used in isolation but rather it blends its action very willingly with other herbs, augmenting their strength and providing its own.
Especially if you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or have a keen interest in learning more about these great health allies for yourself or your family then I encourage you to get to know Angelica personally by taking a cup of its tea or some drops of its tincture and feeling for yourself what then happens. I think you will find that it reliably produces a rather distinctive 'action' that will give you an appreciation of the herb beyond the limit that an academic understanding can bring you to.
Of course what you feel will be something that only you can know for yourself but the kinds of words that typically get used to describe this feeling are 'Warming, penetrating, stimulating, cleansing... these words symbolise the action that our ancestors equally 'felt' and so revered this great herb's ability to drive out cold, damp, lingering illness.
Angelica combines perfectly with Hawthorn for weakened circulation, with Ginseng for fatigue or depletion, with Fennel for poor digestion and with Licorice to help nourish and heal a weakened system in general.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Angelica is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Angelica shows itself as a warming, stimulating herb that can particularly offer its benefits when activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt on Angelica from M. Grieve's 'A Modern Herbal'
Angelica's virtues are praised by old writers and the name itself testifies to the great antiquity of belief in its merits as a protection against contagion, for purifying the blood, and for curing every conceivable malady.
Angelica is a good remedy for colds, coughs, pleurisy, wind, colic, rheumatism and diseases of the urinary organs.
It is generally used as a stimulating expectorant the action of which is to a large extent diffused through the whole of the pulmonary (lung) region. It is also a useful agent for feverish conditions, acting as a diaphoretic.
It is used much on the Continent for indigestion, general debility and chronic bronchitis.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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