Updated: Apr 16, 2020
I find Angelica to be a truly remarkable oil, steeped in medieval history, yet not as commonly used today as it could be. In this blog I'll take a look at its uses in the past and how they still prove true today.
WITCHES AND CURSES AND SPELLS, OH MY!
Angelica has a fascinating history of medicinal use. Back in medieval Europe it was used to ward off witches, evil spirits and curses. If you grew Angelica in your garden, it was proof (and protection from accusation) that you were not a witch, as it was said Angelica was the only plant witches did not use - we can see why when we look at how Angelica was named.
In three different, yet similar theories as to how Angelica got its name, each involve angels - one example states the potent magical powers of the herb was revealed by archangel Raphael. Another where a monk had a dream in which an angel proclaimed Angelica would protect against the Bubonic Plague. The third example states that in certain parts of Europe the plant flowered on the day of the archangel Michael (May 8th in the Julian calendar), and is therefore of great use against evil and witchcraft. It is so inherently linked to heaven and the angels that it was called the 'root of the Holy Ghost'. It's not hard to imagine why a 'witch' would steer clear of this herb!
However it was revealed, Angelica became a highly-sought herb for it certainly did become known as the antidote to the plague, Angelica water even becoming part of the official royal prescription, published in a pamphlet in 1665, titled "The King's Majesty's (Charles II) Excellent Recipe for the Plague". The root was also chewed, or burned to ward off the contagion. As can be imagined, this plant was virtually stripped throughout Europe thereafter by its terrified and desperate people - rich and poor alike.
Historically used as a herbal remedy, the reasons it would have been so beneficial become apparent when looking at the action of essential oil, which is even more potent than using whole root tinctures and macerations.
Angelica was regarded as a herb for curing innumerable diseases, and so became a must-have herb for every physician back in medieval Europe. As Suzzanne Catty states, "historically Angelica has been considered one of the most healing and protective of plants in the European tradition". It was used for expelling poisons and infection, its bitter taste purified the blood and detoxified the body, and its warming nature was used for ailments of the lungs, uterine and digestive system. Nicholas Culpeper, the famous botanist, herbalist ad physician, states that "it is an herb of the Sun in Leo", and "eases all pains and torments coming of cold and wind".
THE ESSENTIAL OIL TODAY
The main actions of Angelica Root oil can be attributed to its high alpha-pinene content. The main words associated with Angelica, in my view, are 'warming', 'drying' and 'strengthening'. When you look at the over-all actions of Angelica essential oil, it becomes clear that its uses are specifically related to any condition where cold, dampness, congestion, and weakness (physically and emotionally) are present - such as in the case of rheumatism and arthritis, fluid retention and cellulite, fever, chills, pleurisy, menstrual disorders, muscular pains due to the cold, asthma, bronchitis and other conditions of the lungs, as well as nervous disorders and weakened immune systems. Its warming action makes it an oil preferred for treatment with people who are more 'cold', than for those who are always 'hot'.
It is an anti-spasmodic, therefore its actions on the digestive system are well-known, particularly in cases where anxiety and nervous tension have triggered the physical response. It stimulates the appetite, which in turn renews strength. This fortifying oil is wonderful for people who have weakened immune systems, are recovering after an illness, or who have a nervous disposition. Repeatedly we see in its warming nature its fortifying, stimulating and strengthening actions. It's like a big warm hug, for minds that need it emotionally, and bodies that need it physically.
The flower itself makes me think of a starburst, or fireworks, it looks so pure, confident, proud and joyful. These are certainly qualities it imparts on an emotional level to those that need an 'oomph', and reminding that their place in the world is every bit as important as anyone else. It is an oil for standing your ground, being decisive, and radiating strength. Its deep roots ground the plant, as the oil grounds the psyche. And its pristine white purity is the antithesis to corruption and disease.
Angelica root oil is not to be confused with the seed oil - the actions of Angelica are much more valuable from the root, even though the seed oil yields are higher. It can often be adulterated to make it cheaper, so do be aware if you think you have found a bargain. Angelica Root oil is mainly produced in France, Belgium, Hungary and Germany. The Angelica Root offered by Essential Therapeutics is from France. It is phototoxic due to containing furanocoumarins, so must not be used where sun exposure will follow. There is no official word on use during pregnancy - ingestion of the herb is not advised due to its uterine stimulating action, and in history was used to facilitate childbirth. Some advise not to use it at all, however others such as Tisserand and Guba feels topical use of the oil at low concentrations would present no risk. Schnaulbelt states Angelica should not be used in cases of breast or prostate cancer.
My next blog will be on Basil essential oil - benign Basil, I hear you ask? Not according to some, historically! I promise you will have a laugh when you read a gorgeous quote I have found by a well-known botanist.
Atterby, D. Aromatherapy Today. Vol.53 April 2012. AAT Publishing.
Battaglia, S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 3rd Ed, Vol. 1, 2018. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Catty, S Aromatherapy Today. Vol 53 April 2012. AAT Publishing.
Culpeper, N. Complete Herbal & English Physician, 2006. Applewood Books.
Guba, R. Essential News Vol.6. June 2004. Essential Therapeutics.
Schnaubelt, K. PhD., Advanced Aromatherapy, 1998. Inner Traditions International, Ltd.