Angelica has a long, storied past, even though it isn't grown in most modern gardens. Not only is it an important flavoring for certain alcoholic beverages, but it was once thought to be a cure for the plague and at one time, people wore angelica seeds to protect them from witches. Even if you're not worried about witches, it's still worthwhile to grow an angelica plant or two in your garden.
Angelica Plants at a Glance
Angelica plants (Angelica archangelica) are biennial. They form a small rosette of leaves their first year, not looking all that impressive in general. But in their second year, they develop large bipinnate leaves and thick, crisp stems topped with yellow or green umbel flowers, similar to dill or Queen Anne's lace when they're in bloom. And that makes sense, since angelica is also a member of the carrot family. At full size, angelica can reach over six feet tall and four feet wide.
Every part of the angelica plant is useful. The roots, stems, flowers, and seeds can all be used for various purposes. Angelica has been used traditionally to flavor vermouth and gin, and the flavor has been described as something between anise and juniper berry. The flowers have a sweet, earthy scent with just a slight hint of citrus.
Angelica has many nicknames, including Archangel, angel's herb, holy ghost, and wild celery. It's hardy in Zones 4 through 7.
How and When to Plant Angelica
Like other members of the carrot family, angelica plants form a deep, strong taproot. As a result, they really dislike being transplanted. Your best bet is to directly sow seeds for angelica in the garden. To plant, space the seeds at least three feet apart, and press them firmly into the soil; don't cover them, since they need light to germinate.
As far as when to plant, it's best to follow the plant's lead here. In the wild, angelica drops seeds in late summer or early fall; they germinate and the plants overwinter, continuing their growth cycle the following spring. So late summer or early fall is the best time, but you can also plant right after your last spring frost date.
If you must start the seeds indoors, it's best to sow in newspaper pots, soil blocks, or coir pots so that you can plant the entire thing and won't have to worry about disrupting the roots.
When deciding where to plant angelica, choose a spot with rich, moist soil in full sun to partial shade.
Angelica Pests and Diseases
Angelica isn't really bothered by pests or diseases, though occasionally, aphids can be a problem.
Uses for Angelica
Every part of the angelica plant is useful. The leaves can be harvested during the first year, as long as you don't take too many, and the young leaves during the second year have the best flavor.
- The leaves and flowers can be used in herbal teas, lending their anise flavor to any blends you might add them to.
- The stalks can be cut up and candied.
- Both leaves and stems can be eaten raw in salads when they're young and tender.
- More mature stems can be prepared like asparagus, best steamed, grilled, or sauteed.
The leaves of angelica can be harvested at any stage in the plant's growth, though for raw eating, young, tender leaves are best. The stalks can be harvested at any time during the second year, and the root of the plant is best harvested in the spring of its second year; if it grows for much longer than that, it gets tough and woody.
Of course, flowers can be harvested as well. Harvest the blooms when the individual flowers are still mostly closed, just starting to open. After it finishes blooming, small green fruits will start to form; these can be eaten as well, pickled or sauteed. But if you leave them on the plant, they'll eventually produce seed, so the plant can either self-sow in your garden, or you can collect the seed to plant wherever you wish.
If you'd like to preserve any of the parts of your angelica plants for future use, it's easy to do so. You can preserve any part of the plant, but the methods will be different depending on which part you're preserving.
- To preserve angelica leaves or flowers, the best method is to dry them thoroughly, either by hanging them from their stems, drying on screens, or using a dehydrator, until every part of the flowers or leaves is dry and crispy. Store dried angelica in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
- To preserve angelica stalks, cut them up, blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling water, then shock them in ice water. Drain thoroughly, then place in a container or freezer bag and freeze for up to six months. It won't be useful as a raw vegetable anymore, but can be added to soups or stews.
- To preserve angelica roots, slice them thinly and dry either in a very low oven or in a food dehydrator until they're dry and rubbery. Store dried angelica root in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Angelica: An Uncommon Herb for Your Garden
Not only is angelica a useful plant with a storied past, but it's beautiful as well. This unique plant is also a magnet for pollinators, attracting bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Maybe it's time to bring this old-fashioned plant into more modern gardens.