Angelica (Angelica archangelica) is a biennial herb belonging to the Apiaceae family believed to be native to Syria. The “Root of the Holy Ghost,” as it is sometimes called, is now a common flavoring agent in gin, aquavit, and various liqueurs, as it lends the liquids an earthy, herbal quality.
Native to temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, angelica is a bit of a nomad. These days, the plant is grown widely throughout Syria, France, Germany, Romania, and some East Asian countries, among others. One of the few aromatic plants that thrives in cold climates, angelica was long considered a life-saving food, often staving off starvation when other nutrients were unavailable. One species of the botanical–Seacoast angelica–was eaten as a wild substitute to celery, while in the 1700s the roots and stems of angelica were candied and enjoyed as sweet treats in England.
The plant’s musk-like aroma has made it well-suited for perfumery, and it is still found today in musky fragrances like Jo Malone’s Tuberose Angelica Cologne Intense. Outside of its culinary and olfactory uses, angelica was used by the Sami people of Lapland in the production of the fadno, a traditional reed instrument akin to a flute. In fact, the instrument derives its name from the botanical, as fadno literally means one-year-old angelica.
Angelica is named after the legend of an angel who appeared to a monk in a dream and told him that the plant could cure the plague. A derivative of the Latin word angelicus meaning angelic, angelica was long held up as a cure-all across cultures. The Missouri tribe of North America smoked the plant to treat colds and respiratory ailments, while the boiled roots were applied to wounds by the Aleut people to speed healing. Today, essential angelica oil is used widely as a rub for joint pain. The botanical is also prized by Wiccans, who use the herb to dispel negative energies and promote healing.
There are over 40 known species of angelica, with some grown to be used as flavoring agents and others for medicinal purposes. Only very advanced plants are perennial, with most dying after seeding just once. The botanical grows abundantly in parks and squares throughout London, although its perception varies. Some view it as a useful form of foliage, while to others it’s treated as more of a bothersome weed. The plant continues to be valued for its taste, and is used as a flavoring agent in Aquavit and various liqueurs, including Chartreuse, Fernet, and some vermouths. Angelica is one of the most important botanicals in gin distillation, falling third only to juniper and coriander. Its roots are most commonly used in gin, although some brands also use the flower and seeds. When distilled, the botanical adds an earthy, bitter, and herbal quality to the spirit.
Found in: AMASS Dry Gin