The plant, which is related to parsley and celery, is an energetic one, pushing up to 2 to 2 ½ metres (6 or 8 feet) tall. It has bright green toothy leaves on ribbed, hollow stems that are purple at the base of the plant and turn light green towards the top. A biennial, it generally blooms in the second year of its life, producing yellow or white flowers that in turn produce small, oval seeds. Every part of the plant is used; if it is being harvested for the root, the plant is harvested in the first year. If it is being harvested for the stems and leaves, that is done in the second year; if you are after the seeds, you wait (obviously) till it has finished flowering and has produced the seeds.
It tastes a bit like celery. In Finland, where it is treated like a vegetable, the stems are eaten raw. The stems can also be added to an assortment of other vegetables being roasted. The leaves can be used as a herb in salads and soups.
The roots are ground into a powder for baking, and sometimes sold dried whole. The seeds are used for flavouring. The stems are candied (they become a bright emerald green) and coloured for use in baked goods, either as an ingredient or as a decoration.
Candied Angelica is increasingly hard to find, as demand for it has fallen off greatly. A famous kind of candied Angelica is “Angelique de Niort”; it has been made in the village of Niort, France (in the Poitou-Charentes region on the west coast) since the 1700s. The Niort area, and north of Clermont-Ferrand in the Limagne plain, are two of the few areas left in France where it is grown for candying.
Whether it is being used in savoury or sweet dishes, Angelica, while not sweet itself, somehow brings out the natural sweetness in other ingredients.
Some gin is distilled using Angelica seed; as is Vermouth, Benedictine, Absinthe and the liqueur Chartreuse.
Angelica grows wild in many parts of Europe. In France, there are two types of wild Angelica: Angelica sylvestris, and Angelica razulii.
On top of baked goods, candied Angelica is used for making decorations, anything from leaves to hedgehog eyes.
Some recipes will have you soak candied Angelica first before using it inside a baked good.
If a recipe calls for Angelica leaves and you don’t have any (as is likely if you’re in North America), trying using celery or lovage leaves.
Angelica is thought to have originated in the Middle East, but it spread to northern areas where it did so well that it became naturalized. In many areas of London, such as Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Tower, it grew wild. French settlers brought Angelica with them to Fort Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where it has escaped cultivation and has prospered wild on the island for the past two hundred and fifty years, to the point that it is now considered an annoying weed despite the potential foodie demand for it.
Literature & Lore
In the old style Gregorian calendar, Angelica bloomed around 8 May, which also was the feast of the Archangel Michael, which may account for its Angel-related English name. It became thought of as a ward against spells and enchantments. It was also heavily used as a medicine. A vision was reported in which Michael advised the person that Angelica was a cure for the plague. It would appear that Michael was misinformed.
Angelica is also a girl’s name in Italian.
Chinese herbal medicine uses the root of Don Quai (Angelica sinesis), an Asian variety of Angelica.
“To candy Angelica: — Take angelica that is young, and cut it in fit lengths, and boil it till it is pretty tender, keeping it close covered; then take it up and peel off all the strings; then put it in again, and let it simmer and scald till ’tis very green; then take it up and dry it in a cloth, and weigh it, and to every pound of angelica take a pound of double-refin’d sugar beaten and sifted; put your angelica in an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over it, and let it stand two days; then boil it till it looks very clear, put it in a colander to drain the syrup from it, and take a little double-refin’d sugar and boil it to sugar again; then throw in your angelica, and take it out in a little time, and put it on glass plates. It will dry in your stove, or in an oven after pyes are drawn.” — William Carew Hazlitt (1834 to 1913). Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine. London: The Book-Lover’s Library. 1902.
Woods, Vicki? Am I the last person on earth to use angelica? London: Daily Telegraph. 18 November 2011.