While many Western herbalists are familiar with dong quai (Angelica sinensis), many are not familiar with western angelica (A. archangelica). This is unfortunate since Western angelica can be used for many of the same purposes as the Chinese species without having to ship herbs overseas. Angelica is also a versatile herb, which can be used as an herb, flower essence, and essential oil for both physical ailments and emotional problems.
Angelica, like dong quai, is a great female tonic. It can help to regulate the menses, easing cramping and excessive bleeding. It promotes circulation in the pelvis to relieve pelvic congestion. Constitutionally, it’s for women who have lost their yin “juiciness.” Yin is associated with feminine energy, water, and softness. The woman who needs angelica is thin, dry, and pale, but also suffers from stagnation of the blood causing discoloration around the veins. Their extremities tend to be cold because of poor peripheral circulation. There is also a tendency to be nervous and tense, coupled with fatigue. They also have poor digestion, something for which angelica is also useful.
Angelica is a great digestive aid. It works as an aromatic and bitter herb to stimulate digestive secretions and appetite and is often used in digestive bitters formulas. An example is the DOPA formula I learned from David Winston—dandelion, orange peel, and angelica. Angelica can relieve bloating and gas, soothe stomach pain and heartburn, and ease nausea.
It can also be used in cholagogue formulas to stimulate bile flow and aid circulation through the liver. Like dong quai it can also be helpful as a tonic to overcome anemia caused by liver problems.
Angelica is a mild respiratory remedy that can help with congestion in the lungs, especially in those who are thin or elderly. I’ve used it as a mildly stimulating expectorant in formulas for dry cough. The basic formula is marshmallow and mullein as key herbs with smaller amounts of licorice root and angelica as supporting herbs. Angelica root is slightly oily, which means it doesn’t have the harsh drying effects of stronger expectorants.
Angelica typically grows in moist soil near the water, but like other members of the parsley family to which it belongs, it has an airy, delicate appearance, especially the large umbel-type flower heads. The stems of the plant also contain air pockets, so the plant is able to use air and fire to transform water. This is why it is able to ease dryness, while at the same time overcoming stagnation.
Putting this into emotional terms, angelica helps relieve stagnation or congestion in a person’s life, helping them overcome obstacles that inhibit their life’s journey, such as phobias, shyness, and indecision, so they can move forward in life. It promotes strength and courage to change one’s life situation.
The person who needs angelica emotionally may feel emotionally depleted or empty. They are nervous, overstimulated mentally, focused, but lacking imagination. It helps them find spiritual strength and guidance, as well as open their mind and imagination to new possibilities. It also calms their nerves while opening their heart. These actions are seen even more strongly in the essential oil and flower essence.
Angelica Flower Essence
The genus name archangelica stems from the story of a monk who, during the plague in Europe, said the archangel Michael came to him and told him of the plant’s medicinal values. Thus angelica became associated with receiving divine guidance and protection. People who need angelica flower essence feel cut off from the spiritual world. They may have lost their faith and feel unable to pray or even believe that there is a loving God who cares about them.
Angelica helps a person open up to the spiritual world so they can receive the guidance they need and also get the feeling that they can relax because they are protected. It can be especially helpful during threshold experiences in life, such as giving birth or providing comfort to someone who is caring for the dying. It can also be helpful for the person who is dying to prepare for the transition from this world to the next.
Angelica has a very feminine energy and is helpful for women who need to feel that feminine energy and trust in the strength of it, instead of seeing being feminine as being weak. So it’s a very valuable remedy for facing difficult life situations and confronting problems with both compassion and strength.
Angelica Essential Oil
Unlike the herb, which has a moistening effect, the essential oil is warming and drying and helps ease damp conditions. It has a fresh, herbaceous quality, giving it an ethereal and slightly warming energy. Remedies with an ethereal energy open a person to the spiritual realm and wake up the imagination and the creative ability. It is awakening, but not in the dreamy sense. It helps a person find ideas and solutions to problems that are also grounded or practical in the real world. Thus, the essential oil can work much like the flower essence in helping with one’s emotions.
The warming nature of the oil also means that it dispels dampness and stagnation, easing congestion of the lymphatic system and lungs. It is also a tonic for the nervous system, helping overcome nervous fatigue. It can be applied topically in a massage or inhaled, but should not be consumed internally. Topically, it is considered non-toxic, and non-irritating, but it can cause photosensitivity, that is make the skin more sensitive to light and hence sunburn.
Angelica looks similar to poisonous plants found in the same family, such as water hemlock and poison hemlock. These plants also grow in damp areas, so if you’re going to try to gather angelica be extra cautious to make sure you’ve identified it properly and dug up the right roots.
Angelica can be used as a tea or decoction but is most commonly used in tincture form. I’ve also made a glycerite of it. It’s a great ingredient in digestive and respiratory formulas, and can also be used in tonic formulas for regulating menses.
Use the flower essence whenever there is a major life transformation (e.g. births, deaths, job changes, major moves) to aid adjustment to the changing situations. You can also use it when you feel unable to access divine help.
Apply the essential oil topically but avoid exposure to sunlight afterward. You can also inhale or diffuse the essential oil to help ease an overstimulated nervous system or to aid the same indications as the flower essence. The diffused oil can also help prevent the spread of infection.