The Breath of Angelica

Angelica is a plant that I have been very intimate with for many years. In this article, I am going to share my journey with the plant and then the essential oil, showing how I have deepened my understanding of its inherent message and how we use it in AromaGnosis.

Angelica archangelica is the Latin name of the plant that is now used all over the world in herbalism and as an essential oil. There are many other species of angelica throughout the world. You could research the ones that grow wild in your area and they may be interchangeable with Angelica archangelica.

Angelica is a member of the Apiaceae family, commonly referred to as the Parsley family. It grows wild in Northern and Central Europe, going as far north as Iceland. It has been cultivated since ancient times so although its wild habitat is reduced to certain areas of Europe, it has made its way into gardens and herb farms worldwide.  It enjoys a damp soil and does not need full sunlight. In the wild it grows along streams and rivers.

Angelica has a reputation for being difficult to sow from seed. Many people buy young plants but if you do want to sow the seeds, it is recommended to sow them on well tilled, cool soils without manure. To ensure that the seeds sprout, you could put the seeds in a temperature of 7 degrees centigrade for a week before sowing them at a temperature of 20 degrees C. They usually take about three weeks to come up. Transplant them in the spring time leaving a meter between each plant.

The plants are biannual, in the first year they form a large rosette of basal leaves followed in the second year by a strong, long (1-2m) hollow stalk with a large, round umbel of white flowers.

The whole plant is aromatic, although the seeds and roots are the most powerfully aromatic and it is these that are distilled.

Angelica has been considered a panacea for centuries. It was thought of as the plant that could ward off all diseases and even evil spirits, which is how it got its nick name, ‘the herb of the holy ghost’. The story goes that a monk had a dream that an angel came to him and advised the use of angelica for the plague that was spreading like wildfire throughout Europe in 1665 and that has how it got its name. The other version is that according to the old calendar, angelica would flower at the feast day of Archangel Michael thus giving it its name. Whatever the truth may be, I have been working with this plant for a long time and I feel that its name really suits it.

In herbalism it is used for many physical problems including respiratory, digestive and menstrual problems. I will not go into this here as there is much written about it already and I want to concentrate on its subtle uses for the psyche.

My first personal experience with the healing properties of angelica was when I was an herbal student in France. My teacher taught us about its grounding capacities and advised those who needed grounding to put a drop of the essential oil on the sole of the feet every morning. Due to trauma, I had battled most of my life with dissociation, so I decided to give it a try. It was incredible, from the very first day, I felt that I was here on earth and more present than I had ever been. I described it as the plug being put back in the socket. I believe that feeling to be the electrical charge of me getting grounded.

Later on, when I was teaching herbalism myself in France, I remember when we would take the students on botany field trips, the first-year students, who knew very few of the plants yet, were always dying to see angelica. Even though they knew nothing about her, there was something about her archetypal energy that spoke to them. And it’s true, she is beautiful, noble, mysterious and enticing.

As our work has developed with Aromagnosis and Aromatic Shamanism, so too has my relationship with angelica.  I began to notice how she was able to touch all aspects of the psyche from the densest to the lightest and most expansive. It reaches across the realms seen and unseen and connects matter and spirit like a vast spiritual ladder. It has a powerful presence and its hollow stem symbolizes this ladder. It fills the spiritual body with a golden light and hugs the heart. It has a deeply calming resonance that helps relieve anxious states and supports people struggling with PTSD. Gently reminding us that we are loved, and that negative thought patterns, emotions and self-doubt aren’t who we truly are.

It does all this while helping us to ground and center at the same time. When trauma has cut us off from ourselves and our souls, angelica helps to connect us to source. We feel that we are gaining control over how we turn up to life. We begin to have a better idea of who we are, what we are thinking, feeling and desiring.

We are also able to see the parts of ourselves that are obstacles in our lives and that are holding us back. With this inner view coupled with a sense of being anchored within oneself and to the earth, creativity increases. As I mentioned above it also helps us to overcome dissociative states, which has positive results on our relationship to ourselves and others. There is finally someone at home.

I use both essential oils from both the root and the seed. They are similar but have different vibrations and notes. The root is more about centering and alignment from deep within, it highlights the center core that goes through all the chakras. I am smelling it as I write this and noticing how it is pushing against my throat chakra letting me know that I need to express my truth more. I love the ways when we work subtly with plants, they quickly show us where our blockages are or where energy is stagnant or blocked in some way. Thinking about this, as I take a second sniff and feel the pressure really building up in my throat, I am really embracing myself and my work at another level presently and so maybe the angelica is telling me to ‘go for it’, not to hold back.

When you smell this oil and tune into the different parts of yourself, you cannot but help feel this oil strengthening the subtle bodies. Its protective strength can be very useful when working on our shadow aspects or dealing with others’ shadow both in material life and in ancestral work.

The essential oil of angelica seed is more expansive, rather than taking us to the center of our being, it pushes on the crown chakra opening our awareness to the subtler levels of the psyche. It reminds us of our connection to that, which lies beyond the smaller self and touches the collective levels of existence. The grounding resonance of angelica is still there however (echoed by the fact that both the seeds and root have similar aromatic constituents), which prevents us from losing touch with the ground.

I have to say though that the best and most amazing combination is smelling both angelica oils together – what power and vibrational force! I feel like I am expanding and becoming much bigger. It is really that I am able to feel more of myself, the parts of my psyche that have always been part of me but that I am more aware of with the help of angelica. The emotional harmony and balance the two oils together create helps us to open up the doorways to our unconscious and allow the imagination to express itself and visions to come forward.

It is not surprising that angelica has been used as a powerful and magical herb for at least the last thousand years.

Peasants made angelica leaf necklaces to protect their children from illness and witchcraft. Witches were reported never to use angelica and if it was in a woman’s garden or home it was her defense against witchcraft charges.” (1)

The Sami people of Lapland used angelica not only as food and medicine but as a shamanic ally. They used the hollow ribbed stems to make a flute.

“…the hollow, ribbed stems of angelica are also used by the Saami to make a flutelike instrument, called a fatnu. This flute, with its several notes, can be made on the spot and sometimes accompanies yoiking, producing a “range of gentle, melancholy tones. This tone range can be used in a way reminiscent of yoiks. The pipe is serviceable as long as the stem is fresh; as soon as it dries out, it is useless and has to be thrown away.” (2)

I would like to finish with this flute analogy as it really highlights way I feel angelica works on the psyche. Like the breath that we blow through the hollow stem of the flute to obtain different resonances, the angelica blows through our central core bringing its breath, its being into all the levels of our psyche reminding us of how whole and how much more expansive we really are.

Please do not apply angelica to the skin and go out into the sun as it can cause photosensitivity. Please do not ingest or use these essential oils with pregnant women. At Aromagnosis we are using aroma to access our subtle bodies and see no need to apply more than a drop. In most cases we only advise smelling the oils.

Clink on the names to purchase essential oil of angelica seed or angelica root.


  2. Aillohas The Shaman-Poet and his Goivadas -image drum by Kathleen Osgood Dana