A biennial herb of robust habit with a dark turnip-like rhizome and stout roots, which bear, in the first year, a basal rosette of leaves and, in the second year, a tall, much-branched, furrowed, hollow, leafy, green stem. The large leaves are alternate, serrate and finely divided (two or three times pinnate), and have inflated sheathing petioles. The greenish flowers are arranged in compound terminal umbels. The fruit, a double achene, is oval, flattened with thin wings at the edges, and ribbed. All parts of the plant are aromatic. It is an excellent source of food for bees.
The roots and fruits are used medicinally. They contain an essential oil with phellandrene and limonene as the main components, also coumarin glycosides, organic acids, bitter compounds, tannins and sugars. These constituents give Garden Angelica tonic, carminative, stomachic and antispasmodic actions. It is used internally in particular for loss of appetite, flatulence and bronchial catarrh. Externally it is used in bath preparations for exhaustion and rheumatic pain, and in gargles. The distilled oil (angelica seed oil) is used in perfumery.
Garden Angelica is widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia, especially in more northerly regions and at higher altitudes. It is a common garden plant and is cultivated commercially in several countries for medicinal and perfumery purposes and for the leaf stalks, which are preserved in sugar and used in confectionery or as a flavouring for herbal liqueurs. Garden Angelica is not native to the British Isles but it has become naturalised on river banks and waste ground and can be locally abundant. Wild Angelica (A. sylvestris), which is a native British plant, is much commoner. Its leaf stalks can also be candied. These plants used to be called herba angelica (angel's plant) because they were thought to have heavenly powers against diseases. The Latin word angelica came originally from the Greek angelos (= a messenger).