Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Contagious air engendering pestilence,
Infects not those who in their mouth have taken
Angelica, that happy Counterbane.
Sent down from heaven by some Celestial scout
As well the name and nature both avowed.
The plant for the day in the French Republican Calendar is the lovely haricot (or green bean) and I certainly applaud you if you decide to celebrate the bean. But I have chosen to focus on the flower of the day from Flora’s Dial, angelica, inspired by Stephen Harrod Buhner’s description of his relationship with this herb.
In his wonderful book, Sacred Plant Medicine, Buhner describes how he became acquainted with the herbs, by spending time with them, listening to them, and studying the way indigenous healers learned about plants. Angelica was one of the first herbs that really made a strong impression on him and is one of his major plant healers. He writes: “Coming upon angelica, I am always struck by the feeling of femaleness and strong purity of spirit that the plant emanates….In sitting meditation with the spirit of angelica is it clear that the plant sits in balance between Heaven and Earth….Many shamans have carried the stem of angelica as a staff to help them maintain balance when traveling in spirit worlds. ….The spirit of angelica is strong and may offer help to women who have an empty place within them (like angelica’s stem). Go and sit with the plant and after making relationship with it ask (with the part of you that is empty) that it come into that place and reside there as an ally.”
I was particularly moved by Buhner’s devotion to angelica because there used to be an angelica plant in my garden. It was a magnificent plant, taller than most people and situated along the main garden path. Everyone who came into the garden remarked on it or asked about it. It has been gone for almost two years but I still think of it every time I pass that spot so I know how strong the spirit of the plant is.
Now that I've learned more about the plant I realize it disappeared after two years because it is a bienniel. The first year it puts up an amzaing stalk (up to six feet high) and it has a wonderful aroma (frequently described as complex) which is quite noticeable. The second year it will produce white flowers on umbels, then go to seed and die. If you cut down the blooming stems, you can keep it going for much longer.
The common names of angelica include high angel, archangel and masterwort, all indicating its powerful spiritual qualities. Its botanical name is Angelica archangelica and several experts claim this is because it blooms on May 8, the feast day of St Michael the Archangel, but that seems unlikely as most of my sources say it blooms in June and July. It is a herb of the Umbelliferae family which includes fennel, parsley, carrots, caraway, and chervil. It resemble the very poisonous water hemlock so be certain of identification before using any part of the plant.
It has many medicinal and culinary uses. Check out this website for some fascinating recipes, including one that requires a broth made of reindeer bones:
I also found this recipe for Niort angelica a la sybarite in The New Larousse Gastronomique:
Have ready a dozen or so best quality butter brioches (kept hot), a fruit dish filled with sticks of candied angelica, a bottle of angelica cream, a carafe of iced water, a packet of Egyptian cigarettes. Light a cigarette, sip the ice water, crunch a piece of angelica with a bite of hot brioche, sip, breathe and savor a few drops of angelica liqueur and then repeat the whole process.
Austin de Croze who created this recipe also recommends spraying the room with a fresh light perfume of verbena or southernwood. I think I published it because I still miss my clove cigarettes (it's been over 14 years since I smoked). Id' substitute croissants for the brioche. And I was never one to smoke and eat at the same time, but still it sounds quite sybaritic. The angelica liqueur seems easiest to produce. Simply put some angelica stems in brandy and let it sit for a month.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod, Sacred Plant Medicine, Treasure Chest Books 1996
Montagné, Prosper, The New Larousse Gastronomique, Crown 1960
Preus, Mary, The Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook, Sasquatch Books 2000
Simmons, Adelma Grenier, Herb Gardening in Five Seasons, Penguin 1990
Illustration is from Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal at