Monday, April 2, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Wild Angelica

Wild Angelica fills a great niche in the Forest Garden.

Common Name: Wild Angelica
Other Names: Wood Angelica, Woodland Angelica
Scientific Name: Angelica sylvestris
Family: Apiaceae or Umbrelliferae (the Carrot or Parsley family)



Description:
Wild Angelica is a fast-growing, clump-forming, tall-groundcover biennial plant. In its natural setting, it is often found in damp areas beside lakes and streams, ditches, and wet woodlands. With its flowers that attract beneficial insects, its ability to grow in wet soil, and edible leaves, stems, and roots, Wild Angelica is a great addition to the Forest Garden. This plant is native to Europe, Britain, and Asia and is not common in North America at all. In fact, many see Wild Angelica as an invasive plant in the U.S. and Canada. I'll let you decide if you want to introduce this plant to your area (if it is not already there), but many of those in Permaculture see all plants as native to Earth - there are no native or invasive plants. Interesting way to look at things...

History:
  • Native to Europe (including Britain) and Western Asia.
  • No improvement has been conducted on this plant.
  • It is now commonly viewed as either a wildflower or a weed in its native range.

Trivia:
  • Wild Angelica was a common vegetable until the 20th century
  • Used in the past to prevent scurvy (means it contains Vitamin C) - the leaves were boiled into a stew for storage
The flower stalk can shoot up 2-3 times the height of the plant.

USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Fresh eating – leaves, young shoots, and stems used in salads, most commonly as a flavorful addition and not base ingredient
  • Cooked - leaves, young shoots, stems, and roots - either as a main vegetable component or just as a flavoring
  • Candied - stems

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Groundcover - pairs very well with Mentha (mint) species
  • Seeds can be used as an aromatic flavoring
  • Dye - reported yellow dye, but no reference to where this is from, but likely from flowers, maybe leaves, as the stalk is purple
  • Hollow stem has been used for blowpipse and flutes 

Harvesting: Sping through late Summer (April - October)
Storage: Best used fresh
The leaf structure of Wild Angelica... yeah, it's the entire thing.
There are many leaflets per true leaf, and the leaf stem resembles a stalk of celery.


DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
AHS Heat Zone: No good information available
Chill Requirement: No good information available, although since this is a biennial plant, it likely requires some winter chill to produce a good flowerhead in its second year

Plant Type: Herbaceous Biennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: No improved varieties 

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
Flowering: July - September. Remember this is a biennial plant; flowering only occurs on 2-year old plants. 

Life Span: If not dead-headed, Wild Angelica will live 2 years as it is a biennial, but this plant self-seeds rather easily so this issue is rather moot.

Wild Angelica's flowers are magnets for beneficial insects.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 2-3 feet (60-100 centimeters) tall, but the flowerheads can shoot up to three times this height
Roots: Shallow
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast


Note the characteristic "sheath" at the base of the lower leaves and the purple hue of the stem.
Stems have no hairs and are not ridged (like Cow Parsnip).

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates full, but not deep, shade (woodland cover)
Moisture: Prefers medium moisture, but can easily tolerate very wet soil
pH: Can tolerate a wide range of soil pH

Special Considerations for Growing:
Take advantage of its moisture tolerance and plant in wet areas that other plants cannot grow.

Propagation: Usually from seed. Wild Angelica readily self-seeds in August through October.

Maintenance: Minimal. 

Concerns:
All plants in the genus Angelica contain the chemical furocoumarin which can cause a phytophotodermatitis (phyto = plant; photo = light; dermatitis = skin irritation)... there is a potential if the juice from this plant gets on your skin, your skin may become sensitive to light. This compound (if the plant is eaten in large quantities) may alter the metabolism of medications a person may be taking.

18 comments:

  1. I just found wild Angelica growing in a wet area next to my garden here in Maine. Thanks for the useful information on this great plant! I can't wait to harvest some after it produces some seed.

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  2. This plant is highly invasive (meaning VERY fast moving, and DIFFICULT to remove once introduced) in Cape Breton. It is destroying wetlands and forest margins. It is NOT a biennial, but a hapaxanthic perennial, meaning it will not die until it sets seeds...it will simply come back as a bigger plant next year. It is a hybridized "superplant" that not only takes up space in the landscape, but out-competes many more delicate plants for pollinators (the "MacDonald's of the plant world). If you only want one plant to eat, and to spend your time pulling this plant instead of promoting diversity and a balance of well-behaved edibles, by all means, go ahead. Your neighbors will remember you forever, as the wind-borne float-able seeds from one plant can populate a large area. It is not tasty, and furocoumarins can alter the DNA in your skin, making sensitive people (a small minority of the population) painfully susceptible to the sun for many years. Our advice is to pull it out wherever possible and try to plant plants that native Americans ate. I am not a purist, I have hundreds of species on my property, but spend a lot of my time fighting this one, which is obliterating many species along my brook, which is a breeding area for wild trout.

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