Angelica

The secret powers of Angelica

Angelica archangelica is a member of the Apiacaea/ Umbelliferae plant family, which contains many aromatic kitchen plants such as carrots, dill, coriander, celery, parsley and fennel. The large plant can reach up to three metres high when cultivated and grows up to 100cm in the wild, with large leaves, and all parts of the plant are fragrant, the fragrance compared to musk or juniper. It is therefore used as a flavouring in many commercial food items as well as being a medicine, and even appears in perfumes. Even today it is a common component in bitters and liqueurs such as Benedictine, vermouth, chartreuse, absinthe and gin, and can be added to some wines to provide a muscatel grape-like flavour. 

The Sami from Lapland and Iceland have traditionally used angelica, which they call kvanne, both as a food and as a medicine, but its English name is possibly derived from a legend where the Archangel Michael told the monks about its medicinal properties, which then helped prevent and treat the bubonic plague — holding angelica stems in the mouth during the day was considered an excellent preventive technique against the plague. 

Angelica has a long history of use as an expectorant for bronchial illnesses, coughs, colds and flu, and also as a digestive for stomach complaints. From the 15th to the 17th century it was reported to be one of the most important medicinal herbs of these times. 

Active ingredients 

Angelica contains a bitter principle, essential oils (highest in the root), tannins, resins such as angelicin which is stimulating to the lungs and the skin, silica, coumarins, organic acids, sterols, fatty acids including palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids, and terpenes. 

Therapeutic uses 

All parts of the plant can be used. The stems and seeds are candied for confectionery and flavouring and for the production of liqueurs. The leaves are used for the preparation of bitters, and all of the plant, but particularly the root, is used medicinally. 

Respiratory 

Angelica root is a stimulating expectorant for coughs, colds, pleurisy, chronic bronchitis, and taken orally or with the leaves applied as poultices to the chest in lung diseases. It is also useful as a diaphoretic, for feverish conditions. 

Gastrointestinal 

The roots and seeds are carminative, thus relieving colic and flatulence, indigestion, nausea and stomach pain. Rat studies also showed angelica had an anti-ulcerogenic effect, reducing gastritis and stomach ulceration. It also stimulates the appetite when unwell. 

Neurological 

While more clinical research is needed, rat studies have shown that the coumarins from Angelica archangelica have significant anxiolytic effects. In further rodent studies, the essential oil of angelica roots has also shown promise as an anticonvulsant, reducing the incidence and duration of seizures and speeding the recovery time from convulsions. 

Angelica relaxes smooth muscle and therefore spasming in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and vascular smooth muscle, demonstrating calcium-antagonist-like effects. 

Anti-inflammatory 

Research has shown that the roots relieved fibromyalgic pain in mice and improved their motor ability and cognition on maze tests, due to the reduction of oxidative stress mediated inflammation. In vitro studies show significant anti-inflammatory activity of angelica essential oils, which decrease the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL- 6), thereby potentially inducing apoptosis and necrosis in abnormal cells. 

This research was developed further by investigating the impact of angelica root extract on breast adenocarcinoma cells, demonstrating significant cytotoxicity in these cells and protective effects against tumour development. 

 Endocrine and liver 

Abnormal metabolism of blood sugar leads to a range of metabolic disorders, resulting in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, impaired insulin sensitivity, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Ketohexokinase is the key enzyme responsible for the adverse effects of fructose metabolism, a major contributor to these disorders. Research has confirmed that angelica is a significant inhibitor of this enzyme and therefore has potential use to regulate these conditions, along with lowering triglycerides and uric acid in the liver. 

High dietary fructose is also a major contributor to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), so lowering fructose would assist in maintaining healthy liver and kidney function. 

Other studies have shown that angelica reduces liver toxicity caused by chronic excess alcohol ingestion, at least in mice. Angelica root is a common component in gall bladder and liver remedies. With its antimicrobial properties, angelica has also shown promise as a kidney antiseptic. 

 Antimicrobial 

Angelica root oils have been shown antibacterial activity against a range of pathogens, including Staph. aureus and E. coli, and Clostridium difficile, Enterococcus faecalis and Candida albicans, as well as antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus 1 and coxsackievirus. 

 Cautions 

Occasionally the coumarins in angelica root can sensitise the skin to sunlight, so avoid long sun exposure. It is not recommended in pregnancy but is considered safe in lactation. There are no known interactions with other drugs. 

Overall angelica is a strengthening tonic and aromatic stimulant with outstanding health promoting properties for the whole body but particularly the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. 

 References available on request. 

Dr Karen Bridgman

Dr Karen Bridgman

Karen Bridgman is a holistic practitioner at Lotus Health and Lotus Dental in Neutral Bay.

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