All parts of angelica are fragrant, from the root to the crown. Each part of the plant has slightly different properties—and many aromatic uses. Its flavour and aroma spans from deep, earthy, spicy tones, to bright green, fresh sweet notes.
Description & Habitat
Angelica archangelica is arguably one of the most beautiful of botanical names. It is also known as ‘wild celery’ and ‘Norwegian angelica’. There are around 60 different species of angelica, and other species are also used as flavouring agents or in herbalism (like traditional Chinese medicine) so it pays to do your research and ensure correct identification. Angelica archangelica was popular in the middle ages for its therapeutic and ritual virtues—you can find it recorded and praised throughout common European folklore as the ‘medicine of angels’. Angelica is a perennial, herbaceous plant with bold and attractive foliage—the leaves and stalks are reddish-purple and bright green in colour—and its yellow flowers are petite but numerous and grouped in round umbels, like delicate parasols. The plant can soar up to six feet tall, arching high over the other plants in the garden.
Parts used: Root, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds.
Dried angelica root
Growth and harvesting: Angelica is described as a biennial—which means it flowers in its second year of growth—though we find it often takes three years to flower and set seeds in our garden on Waiheke Island. Like other members of the Apiaceae (carrot) family, it has a long, tapering taproot that is established in the first year of growth. To harvest angelica root, it’s best to dig it up in the autumn of this first year (on the waning moon, if you’re feeling poetic). At this stage, it will come up as white as alabaster and fragrant as an angel. Wash it well, slice while fresh, and dry in a warm place protected from insects. If using the root fresh, grate and use immediately, before oxidation starts to degrade that fresh nature.
It is useful to leave some plants to flower and set seed in that second year, to continue your crop. If you were to dig up the root of these older plants, you’re likely to find that the bugs have set in, and it’s lost that clean, strong, angelic quality of your first year harvest. That’s because this second half of the life-cycle is where the plant directs its energy into reproduction—the volatile organic compounds behind its chemical signals and protections are all geared towards the flowers and seeds, and not the root.
Aroma & Flavour Profile
In its raw dried state, angelica root has a vibrant, refreshing and unmistakably green celery-like flavour. Distilled angelica root has a delicious earthy flavour with a pleasing bitterness, and strong woody-herbaceous quality, some describe as similar to wormwood. Herbal tones carry through to the nose, imparting a soft, grassy aroma.
Because angelica is often the third major ingredient in gin recipes (following juniper and coriander seeds) some people find it hard to untwine the flavour and aroma from the piney juniper, but it’s quite distinct, and why it’s a good reason to taste the botanical on its own.
• Hydro distillation • Steam distillation (EO) • spirit distilling (gin/liqueurs) • Tincture • CO2 extraction •
All parts of the plant can be used to produce essential oil, the plant material, seeds and roots. Angelica essential oil has a history of use in aromatherapy, mostly for combating stress and anxiety.
For perfumery, both CO2 extraction of angelica root, and angelica essential oil are widely-used. Our preference (and one of our favourites) is the angelica CO2. It’s strong and rich with an intriguing combination of floral, earth and musk. Sometimes angelica can be the main note in a perfume, but more often it’s used to add depth and complexity to blends. It can add a green touch and soften sharp citrus notes, but depending on what it’s combined with it can add sweetness, spice, woodiness or florality. It’s very versatile. As in gin it’s also used as a fixative or synergist (what a great term!) meaning it brings and holds a scent together. Famous commercial examples are Jo Malone’s Rain and Angelica, Angélique Noir by Guerlain and Creed’s Royal Oud.
Angelica root has been tinctured and used for herbal medicine preparations for centuries. The tincture tastes intensely astringent with all the tannins that the alcohol extracts. But if you were to run this tincture through your still (turning it into what we call a quintessence) that distilled tincture becomes much more ethereal, with all the beautiful earthy and herbaceous notes that angelica is famous for. And it’s a great approximation of what flavour notes will come through in your gin-making, which is why we use quintessences to teach us how to blend in our Gin Immersion course.