Thursday, July 12, 2012

My flower garden: Angelica

As I had mentioned before, a flower garden can be a form of organic pest control if you plant the right flowers.  So what are the right kinds of flowers to plant?  Angelica is the first flower I started in my garden.  Initially, I chose this flower because I wanted some perennials that could grow in partial shade and attract beneficial insects, and these were on sale.  It turns out that these were a great choice for me.
Angelica is a biennial plant which means that it will grow for about two seasons.  It likes partial shade and loamy soil (although mine is growing quite well in the clay that I have).  They like cool moist climates and can get from 4-6 feet tall.  The small flowers are white or greenish white and grow in large clusters.  It is part of the Apiaceae family along with dill, caraway, queen anne's lace and chevril.  There are also a couple of poisonous plants that are very similar to these plants, so be careful if you find it wild.  
Angelica can be eaten in many ways.  The leaves have a sort of celery flavor and can be used in place of lovage in many recipes.  The stalks are slightly sweet almost licorice like and are often candied when harvested young.  The stalks are also good to flavor liquor and the leaves go well with rhubarb.  Even the roots can be eaten.  Check out this site for a couple of angelica recipes.  
Angelica is also part of the grouping Dong-quai, second most common herb used in China, second to ginseng.  Angelica contains compounds called coumarins.  Coumarins can be used to reduce swelling, especially in the lymph nodes and associated with arthritis.  Angelica can be used for women to help relieve symptoms of PMS and hot flashes.  You should not take angelica if you are pregnant!  Angelica contains bergapten, which can be used to treat skin conditions and linalool and borneol which are antibacterial and antifungal.  The boiled roots can be used to speed up healing.  It also increases immunity and circulation, stimulates appetite, relaxes muscles and many other things.  
When I bought my first few angelica plants, I did not know any of this.  All I really knew about it was that it was good for attracting beneficial insects.  It's tiny flowers make it easy for small bugs like parasitic wasps to get to the pollen.  Parasitic wasps are good for your garden because they use big bugs like tomato horn worm to grow their babies.  This is turn kills the tomato horn worm, organically protecting your garden from them.  There are also many pollinators that will be attracted to your flower garden and angelica.  I was happy to see that they bloomed in early spring which helps to get the pollinators to your garden right away.  I now need to add some flowers that will bloom right after the angelica to keep the pollinators around.  
Now that I know all I do about angelica, I will be able to take full advantage of the plants next year.  I plan on saving seed (I'll talk about this later) and learning how to use all the parts of the angelica plant to their full potential.  I can't believe I was so lucky to stumble across such a great plant! 

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