Chapter 65 Angelica Species
Angelica spp. are biennial or perennial plants with hollow fluted stems that rise to a height of 3 to 7 feet. The umbels, or clusters, of greenish-white flowers bloom from May to August. The plants are found in damp mountain ravines and meadows, on river banks, and in coastal areas; angelica is also a widely cultivated species. In Asia it is grown primarily for its medicinal action, whereas in the United States and Europe, it is cultivated for use as a flavoring agent in most major categories of food products, including alcohol (e.g., bitters, liqueurs, vermouths) and nonalcoholic beverages, ice cream, candy, gelatins, and puddings. With all species, the roots and rhizomes are the most extensively used portions of the plant.
In Asia, the authentic and original medicinal angelica is Angelica sinensis (dong quai), native to China. Although at least nine other angelica species are used in China, dong quai is by far the most highly regarded. For several thousand years, dong quai has been cultivated for medicinal use in the treatment of a wide variety of disorders, particularly “female” disorders. Several hundred years ago, when the supply of Chinese angelica was scarce, the Japanese began to cultivate A. acutiloba, an angelica species indigenous to Japan, as a substitute.1 The two species appear to have similar therapeutic effects despite the following opinions: in China the Japanese angelica is thought to have no therapeutic value, whereas in Japan, Chinese angelica is thought to have no effect. Experimentally, both species exhibit similar therapeutic effects, so each country’s claim to produce a superior dong quai is apparently based more on emotion than scientific investigation.
Although it has been assumed that Chinese and Japanese angelica are similarly composed of various coumarins and flavonoids that are responsible for their medicinal actions, a recent analysis showed that A. sinensis contained approximately ten fold higher levels of the key components ferulic acid and Z-ligustilide compared with roots of A. acutiloba.2
A. archangelica is also rich in coumarins and is particularly phototoxic. Coumarins including osthole, angelicin, osthenol, umbelliferone, archangelicine, bergapten, and ostruthol are found in significant concentrations, with osthole composing nearly 0.2% of the root. The root is also a good source of flavonoids, including archan-gelenone and caffeic acids. The root contains 0.3% to 1% volatile oil composed mainly of β-phellandrene, α-pinene, borneol, limonene, and four macrocyclic lactones.3,4
In Asia angelica’s reputation is perhaps second only to ginseng. Predominantly regarded as a “female” remedy, angelica has been used to treat dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, metrorrhagia, and menopausal symptoms, and to assure a healthy pregnancy and easy delivery. Angelica is also used in the treatment of abdominal pain, anemia, injuries, arthritis, migraine headache, and many other conditions.3,5
One of the most highly praised herbs in old herbal texts, A. archangelica was used by all Northern European countries as a protection against contagion, for purifying the blood, and for curing every conceivable malady; it was considered a sovereign remedy for poisons, agues, and all infectious maladies. According to one legend, A. archangelica was revealed in a dream as a cure for the plague. One explanation for the name is related to its blooming near May 8, the feast day of Michael the Archangel. It was therefore seen as a “protector against evil spirits and witchcraft.”6
A. archangelica has been used for a wide variety of conditions, including flatulent dyspepsia, pleurisy, respiratory catarrh, and bronchitis. The plant was believed to possess carminative, spasmolytic, diaphoretic, expectorant, and diuretic activity.6
The pharmacology of Angelica spp. primarily relates to high coumarin content. However, unlike other scientific investigations of botanical medicines, most research on Angelica spp. has been done on plant extracts, rather than isolated constituents. The overwhelming majority of studies have been done on the Asian species. Some of the pharmacologic activities demonstrated include the following: