In the Middle Ages, when Europe was ravaged by the plague, an angel apparently came to a monk in a vision, telling him this herb would effect a cure — and ever since then, it has borne the name angelica.
Angelica, angelica archangelica, is a tall, sweet-scented, biennial herb, the leaves and stems carrying the fragrance and flavour. It is an attractive plant with large, deeply indented leaves and thick heavy stems. The small creamy-white flowers are clustered together at the top of short stems making large round umbels.
In the kitchen the young angelica stems, cleaned and chopped small, can be stewed with fruits such as rhubarb and gooseberries to soften their tart flavours. It improves the flavour of stewed pears, and a fresh leaf placed on the bottom of the dish of a baked custard adds a delicious flavour.
The angelica used in the home has always been a cultivated garden plant, though it does escape and can sometimes be found growing wild in damp meadows and beside streams. Angelica is an easy herb to grow in the garden, where it prefers good soil in a half shady position. In the spring buy in the initial angelica plant. Make sure the soil is deeply dug when planting out, for the roots of such a large herb grow down a long way. Water in well, and always water in dry weather as angelica is a moisture-loving plant. In the second year the herb comes into bloom, and unless the flowers are cut off before the seed is formed the plant will die, but will readily re-seed itself.
All parts of the herb except the flowerheads are used. Throughout the growing season and for so long as the plant does not flower, the leaves can be used fresh or for drying. May and June is the best time to cut the young leaf stalks, when they are soft and full of flavour. When the seed begins to form as the flowerhead dies, tie a piece of muslin or cheesecloth loosely over the flower so the seeds, when ripe, will not be lost. In the autumn, after the plant has flowered, dig up the roots and dry them as rapidly as possible to retain the goodness. The roots are then stored in the usual way.
Angelica tea, made from the dried or fresh leaves, is a good remedy for indigestion and flatulence. It is a tonic herb, stimulating the appetite, and when taken over a number of days has a beneficial effect. It is also helpful for feverish colds.
* To make angelica tea: Use a teaspoon of the fresh or dried leaves and pour over ½ cup of boiling water.
Leave to infuse for 5 minutes, strain and use. It can be sweetened with honey if desired. A small glassful of angelica tea can be taken 3 times a day and is best made fresh each time. Do not take the tea last thing at night as it may be too stimulating and cause sleeplessness.
Angelica tea can also be made from the seeds or .roots of the plant. Crush I teaspoon of seeds, put them into an enamel pan and pour I cup of boiling water on top. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Strain at once and serve hot. The same method is used for the grated roots.
For coughs and sore throats angelica syrup is both soothing and effective, and this can be made from the dried roots.
* To make angelica syrup: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 2 handfuls of dried grated angelica root and add ½ cup of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice. Allow to stand, covered, until quite cold. Strain and bottle. Take 1—3 teaspons for a sore throat or troublesome cough. Store the syrup in the refrigerator or a cold place and use within 3 days.
An infusion (see page I 5) of angelica seeds, when used as a mouthwash, will sweeten the breath and freshen the mouth.
To soothe the skin and to stop itching, a cold compress can be made of fresh angelica leaves, or use angelica ointment made from fresh or dried roots.
* To make angelica ointment: Slowly melt a small jar of white petroleum jelly in the top of a double boiler. Add a handful of crushed fresh angelica leaves and stir well together, using a wooden spoon. Leave to infuse over a very low heat for about I hour. Strain into small pots and leave. Cover when cold.
The delicate fragrance of angelica leaves adds a soothing freshness to the skin when added to the bath water.
* To make a herbal bath sachet: Fill a square piece of muslin or cheesecloth with fresh or dried angelica leaves and tie the corners together with a long piece of string. Hang this bag from the tap (faucet) so that all the benefits of the angelica will be washed into the bath water. When in the bath, the little bag can be used to scrub the skin. Angelica roots cleaned and grated can be used in the same way, but it produces a brown liquid which does not look attractive.
* The dried leaves or dried grated roots give a fresh fragrance to a potpourri, though its scent is not as strong as other herbs.
Cut angelica sterns into 2 in (5 cm) lengths and soak overnight in two cups of water and one tablespoon of salt. Drain, peel and wash them. Make a syrup using equal cups of sugar and water. Bring it slowly to the boil and boil gently for 10 minutes. Add the angelica and simmer until the angelica is clear. Drain the stems and when cold, store in an airtight container. Use the syrup for fruit salad or