Angelica is native to Northern Europe and will grow freely in the UK and USDA zones 4-7. Well worth a closer look at as it is such a space filling wonder of a plant.
Angelica is a biennial that will enjoy a shady, almost damp spot in your garden border, or close to a pond. Attractive to bees and pollinators in Summer as well as providing seeds for the birds to feast upon in Winter. Angelica can be grown from seed in early Spring or early Autumn and will benefit from partial shade to full shade.
How To Identify Angelica
Angelica Archangelica stands at around 2 meters in height and a spread of 1.2 meters. Angelica is a member of the Apiaceae family along with parsley, fennel and dill. Boasting umbrella like clusters of flowers ranging from yellow to white in color. The stems are hollow and brushed with dark purple to red and pink.
WORD OF WARNING – Angelica can be mistaken for hemlock in the wild. Hemlock is an incredibly poisonous plant and care should be taken to grow angelica at home rather than forage for it.
Angelica can be found growing wild in Russian, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Northern America and the UK. It’s preferred habitat is boggy and close to rivers with little direct sunshine.
Other names for angelica include Angel’s fishing rod, masterwort, European angelica, purple angelica, garden angelica, Alexander’s archangel, wild angelica, archangel, aunt Jericho, ground ash, Holy Ghost, root of the Holy Ghost, St Michael’s flower and wild celery. Which is why it can be tough to always give a positive identification.
In your garden angelica will form the backbone to any wildflower patch and really adds architectural structure to borders and flower beds.
How To Grow Angelica From Seed
There are two types of seed; fresh from the flower head or store bought and therefore dried. Let’s be fair here, to get started using dried seeds is a perfectly fine option.
Dried seeds benefit from stratification for the best chances of germination. So you do not need to wait to sow directly for the fear of frost to have passed. Equally if you are sowing in Autumn it will be a great chance for Winter to do it’s thing. For harvesting fresh seeds, use a paper bag tied around the flower heads as they start to go over.
- You have two chances to sow angelica seeds each year. Spring and early Autumn.
- Sow in modules or directly to the ground where they are to grow angelica is a self seeder as well. If you want to keep this in control harvest the flower heads before they become seed heads.
- Prepare the soil with plenty of well rotted organic matter. You want to choose a spot with plenty of shade, partial shade or dappled sun is also fine. Angelica will struggle in direct sunlight, even with adequate mulch.
- Scatter the seeds and do not cover as angelica seeds do need some sunlight to germinate. If you are growing fresh angelica seeds in modules, water well and leave in a sunny spot, without direct sunlight.
- If you are sowing the dried seed make sure to use a biodegradable peat free pot. Sow several seeds per pot and lay on top of the soil.
- Press the angelica seeds to the soil to ensure contact. Put a plastic bag over your seeds and put them into the fridge for a fortnight.
- Bring them out and take to a sunny spot as you would do with the fresh angelica seeds.
- Angelica seeds will take around 30 days to germination from being brought to the sunshine. Keep them moist during this time.
- If you have had a lot of luck with germination you may get more than one of your seeds growing per pot. Wait until you have true leaves and prick out the weaker one. When the angelica seedlings are about 3-4 inches in height they will be strong enough to plant out.
- Transplant directly to your chosen spot. The ideal location for angelica archangelica is one with plenty of shade and almost damp conditions. Plant young seedlings between 12-24 inches (30-60cm) apart and make sure to keep the area weed free. Mulch well and you will save yourself time watering and weeding.
TOP TIP- staking of your angelica may be required if you are planting in virgin soil with no other plants for stability. This should be lose and with semi-permanence in mind as an older plant will be more established.
Division And Care Of Angelica
Angelica can be propagated by division very easily in the second year.
- Cut back to around a foot (30cm) in height as the stems will put strain on the roots to feed them immediately. You want your angelica to thrive and set up strong root systems quickly. This will also be a practical advantage of not having to lug it all around as you may well snap the stems during moving.
- Dig around your angelica with a fork to loosen the area, there will be a very large root system so loosen as you go.
- Lift it out with a spade and use a clean, sharp blade to cur through the angelica roots.
- Plant on immediately and you can extend your growing area by planting each new division around 24 inches (60cm) apart. Now is as good a time as any to interplant with other similar plants.
TOP TIP – Angelica will self-seed very easily. Make sure to allow a space in the mulch for the seeds to land and let some stay on the flower head for the birds and some will grow naturally. This is just as effective as division. However, the seeds can be unpredictable when self-sowing so feel free to propagate by division and move to new areas.
Angelica can be grown as a perennial if you can stop it from going to seed. So cut back well once the flowers have started to go over.
Growing Angelica In Pots
Your main issue with growing angelica in pots or containers is keeping it moist with water retention. So here are our tips to success.
- Add vermiculite to the compost mix along with plenty of peat-free organic material.
- Use a large enough pot, angelica will grow to be over 2 meters in height if treated correctly and this can cause issues in a smaller pot.
- Make sure to add plenty of drainage to your pots of containers. Angelica like to be moist but sitting in water will not help your younger plants.
- Always keep your potted angelica in a shaded or part shaded space in your garden. If there is little chance on a balcony, you can try to move it to a dappled area to prevent too much moisture loss through the leaves.
- A good mulch is essential to your angelica as it will trap moisture in to the soil.
- A passive watering system is a great time saving device for any potted plants, but angelica responds particularly well to a constant feed.
- It is possible to plant in a larger container and companion plant your angelica with plants who love similar conditions like sweet woodruff, lily-of-the-valley, hellebores or ferns. This way you can add all of those great techniques to reduce water loss as well as watering more regularly.
- Just keep an eye on those taproots trying to break through drainage holes in your pots. Angelica is renown for having robust taproot, so catch it quickly to avoid it becoming root bound to any pot.
Sometimes having limited space in your garden can put you off from growing taller plants, but with the right sized pot angelica can be a great plant for patios or balconies.
TOP TIP- As angelica is a biennial, plant from seed two years in a row. Then just leave to self sow and maintain it a little to ensure that it is mulched and well cared for. Then you will have mature plants each year and you will be able to harvest all parts of the plant each year.
Pests & Other Problems
Angelica is not overly prone to pests and diseases when mature, however in younger plants there can be the usual issues!
Overall Angelica is pretty much self sufficient, however due to the damp conditions that it thrives in there can be a few issues to look out for. Crown rot can turn lower leaves yellow and result in loss of leaves and much reduced growth. Remove the affected plant and do not add to your compost heap. Instead discard in your council garden waste bin. You will need to solarize the area before you plan to plant in this area again.
Aphids can attack the younger plants when the fresh growth is coming through, just when you really don’t want them to! By releasing honeydew, designed to create black sooty mold, aphids are then able to have themselves a little feast. So really they are farming your plants. To avoid this there are plenty of eco-friendly options from using a strong hose to wash them off to encouraging more of their predators to your garden. As ladybirds are so beneficial to your garden I would advise against washing the aphids away as you may inadvertently wash away some ladybird eggs. Instead do a regular patrol of your angelica plant, squeezing the aphids between your fingers when you find them.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails will feast on your angelica leaves, especially on younger plants. Prevention is possible! Set all of your usual precautions up; beer traps, egg shells, copper collars etc If you have the time and patience a little late night attack with torches really helps keep on top of the numbers. We have free range chickens and this is a massive bonus to the snail battle. However a good mulch will help with many things!
They live by burrowing into your leaves and drinking the juices. This looks like black spots on your leaves and can often be mistaken for underwatering as the leaves will curl up and drop off. Sometimes you can actually see cobwebs on the plants. This is easily rectified with a foliar spray and can actually be beneficial for your angelica plant if used with a light solution of Epsom salts.
How To Harvest Angelica
There is a lot of misinformation about the potential risk of taking angelica and side effects. Even it’s potential to be poisonous. Angelica Archangelica has no poisonous effects reported. This means that all of the plant is edible, from the roots to the flowers. So therefore, harvesting is a little more complex.
When To Harvest Angelica Leaves –
Go carefully here as in the first year your plant will grow close to the ground and not really have an abundance of leaves to be taken. You can harvest as you want to eat and the leaves have an earthy flavor, not too dissimilar from wormwood. The best time of year to harvest these new leaves is between late Spring and early Summer. Only take at most 1/3 of the leaves.
With the root of your angelica it is possible to harvest and save the plant. Do this when you are propagating by division in the Spring of the second year of growth. The best time to do this is when the flowers have yet to be put out. This means that all of the energy and goodness is being diverted to the roots and not flowering and producing seeds.
Dig around the angelica with a fork to loosen the area. You may want to cut the stems to around 30cm in height. This makes it so much easier to work around and the plant will thank you. Then use a sharp spade to cut through the angelica root, or fully lift the plant and use a clean sharp knife to split the root stock. It is soft and not hard to cut through. Take only 1/3 of the root and leave the rest to become new plants, splitting probably once more.
By cutting the stems you have also harvested the leaves and hollow stalk of the angelica that are so characteristic of this herb. These will take a little bit of processing to store properly.
How To Store And Process Angelica
So often you can grow your own herbs and vegetables but not know the correct way to store them. Angelica did use to be an absolute must in cake decoration and we think there is a space for it moving forward too! Be it to flavor alcohol or to make herbal infusions it is a lovely herb to grow and use for flavoring.
Harvesting & Storing Seeds
You can harvest the seeds by placing a paper bag around the seed heads and tying it securely with an elastic band. As the seed mature they will fill up the paper bag. This is a great solution to self-seeding and it will provide you with a manageable stock for next years crop. You can also dry the seeds and use a spice in cooking that tastes a little bit like fennel seeds.
The leaves are tasty and can be dried in a dehydrator and this will give you a year round supply of earthy, herby flavor. Lay out in a single layer on each tray and turn to the lowest setting. Low and slow is the key to retaining and preserving the angelica flavor. Angelica leaves go well with meat, poultry, fish or egg dishes.
Alternatively you can use Angelica leaves to make a compound butter. A great way to store fresh leaves in the freezer and preserve the flavor and aroma for around 6 months.
How To Make Candied Angelica Stem
This is by far the easiest way to store and use angelica.
- Cut your angelica stem into lengths, choose the length based on the size of jar you have available. Roughly we go for the 3 inches and then keep all the slices the same length.
- Angelica stems are sort of like celery and will need to be boiled and have the outer skin removed before you can make up a syrup to turn them into candy. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, turn the heat off, leaving the stalks in the water.
- Meanwhile make up a syrup of equal parts water to sugar. 1 cup of water to one cup of granulated sugar, this will process roughly 1 pound of angelica stalks.
- When cool enough to handle strip the stalks of their outer skin and then leave to steep in cool syrup overnight.
- The next day you will need to bring your syrup and angelica stems to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and jar up again in the syrup overnight.
- Repeat the above step another 2 times and then you can remove the stems from the syrup completely. Leave on a drying rack overnight and then roll in granulated sugar.
- These sugared angelica stems will keep for a few weeks in the larder in a sealed jar, but will do better in the fridge.
The root can be harvested and used fresh or dried in herb infusion and decoctions. There is also a commercial use for the root as a botanical in gin! Said to taste a little like juniper it can be used to add flavor to vodkas or rums.
Where To Buy Angelica In The UK
It turns out to be quite tough to buy angelica from most nurseries. Even our usual online stores, who normally have a wider range struggle. So we head to the smaller much more niche suppliers who only have an online presence via Amazon we bought an Angelica archangelica in a 9cm Pot, available here. There are also reliable sellers of seeds such as Pretty Wild Seeds, sell seeds available here. Amazon is not always bad when it comes to an online store for smaller nurseries.
A History Of Angelica
Like so many herbs we have lots of texts to refer to and learn about the history of medicinal uses and culinary traditions. From the Latin angelicus it translates to mean ‘messenger from God’ as in ‘angel’. There is an oral history of an angel appearing to a monk and delivering angelica to him as a cure for the plague. Whereas it’s cultivation as a crop has been documented further back to the 10th century.
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We hope that you are as keen as us to grow this wonderful border plant. Let us know how you get on and any recipes for this super sweet natural treat!