The alchemy of angelica

Second in a series

If you read my previous post on angelica, you already know I’ve been entranced by this magestic plant in the Parsley family.

So far this year I’ve consulted botanists and herbalists in Alaska and the Lower 48, experimented with dried angelica root infusions, given a presentation to our local Herb Study Group, submitted an article for the Anchorage Master Gardeners newsletter, and agreed to give a presentation to another local group next year.

Much of my research has focused on native species of angelica in Alaska. In this post I’m circling back to my original plan to study garden angelica (Angelica archangelica), a Nordic subspecies with a rich history in folklore, magic, healing and my favorite – food. (Note: I highly recommend clicking on the link above to see garden angelica growing in its native habitat and learn its fascinating history.)

The Herb Study Group – volunteer caretakers of the herb garden at the Alaska Botanical Garden – hold monthly meetings in the “off season” that include discussions on various herbal plants. Many of us in the group are intrigued by angelica, whose giant, flowering stems are one of the herb garden’s most striking features.

The group’s decision to discuss angelica this spring was timely for me because I wanted to learn about harvesting its roots. Last year, I purchased a tiny bag of A. archangelica root, of unknown origins, to make rhubarb bitters for flavoring desserts and beverages. With time and opportunity, I wanted to produce my own supply of dried root.

Culinary uses of garden angelica have evolved dramatically over thousands of years – from cooked vegetable to tart candy, from medieval plague fighter to monastic liqueur flavoring. Depending on the preparation, angelica’s flavor can resemble celery, mild licorice or juniper berries.

In modern Europe, angelica stems are boiled to make candy, and essential oils distilled from the root and seed are used to make herbal infusions and flavor alcoholic beverages such as gin, Chartreuse, and Galliano.

I gravitate toward simpler recipes. I remembered a writer friend’s article about an old-school cocktail recipe called The Alaskan, which she adapted with locally-distilled gin and Chartreuse. I thought it would be fun to make a “do-it-yourself” version of Chartreuse, making The Alaskan recipe even more Alaskan. In the future, I hope to cook angelica leaves and stems as a vegetable dish or dessert. Jekka’s Herb Cookbook includes some appetizing recipes for angelica – including Braised Lettuce and Angelica Flowers. Online I’ve found recipes for jam and a lazy method to make candied angelica with honey.

For my faux Chartreuse infusion, I used a recipe from Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits featuring eight herbs and spices, much fewer than the alleged secret blend of 132 in Chartreuse. The homemade version was delicious but didn’t look like the real thing due to my omission of artificial or natural dyes. It doesn’t need to be used as an alcoholic beverage – it makes a good drizzle for fish and poultry or an herbal marinade.

Garden angelica produces a huge root – up to three pounds – in the fall of its first year of growth. That’s the best time to harvest and dry the roots. It should be possible for an Alaska gardener to develop a personal supply of A. archangelica root lasting many years.

Find out more: You are welcome to download the angelica fact sheet I created for the Herb Study Group, which includes information on various angelica species, their uses, and cultivation and harvest notes.

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