Essential Oil Profile: Angelica Root



Jeffrey S. Hoard

Common Name: Angelica


Latin Binomial: Angelica archangelica L.


Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)


Other Common Names: Angel’s Herb, Root of the Holy Spirit, Garden Angelica,Archangelica officinalis


Part Used: Root (An oil is also distilled from the seed – see below.)


Production Method: Steam Distillation


Countries of Origin: Angelica archangelica is considered to be native to Europe, although it was possibly introduced from Syria. It is cultivated in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, the United States and Canada.


Typical Constituents: a-pinene (21.12-25.24%), camphene (1.42-1.43%), b-pinene (1.28-1.48%), d-3-carene (7.94-10.38%), a-phellandrene (2.38-9.58%), myrcene (4.00-4.62%), limonene (8.54-11.53%), b-phellandrene (14.04-16.03 %), cis-ocimene (0.24-0.28%), trans-ocimene (0.9-2.12%), p-cymene (6.25-11.3%), terpinolene (0.28-0.39%), copaene (0.93-1.29%), bornyl acetate (1.5-1.55%), terpinen-4-ol (0.12-0.12%), cryptone (0.44-0.99%), b-bisabolene (0.09-0.19%), rho-cymen-8-ol (0.14-0.35%), humulene monoxide (0.18-0.21%), tridecanolide (0.58-0.81%), pentadecanolide (0.87%).


Description of Oil: Fresher roots yield oils of lighter color and a more pronounced terpene note. Oils distilled from older roots are darker, more viscous and have a characteristic musk-like odor. Generally expect to see a water-white or pale yellow to orange-brown colored liquid. Oils from young roots (or from the seed!) exhibit a light somewhat peppery topnote missing in oils from older (2 – 3 years) roots. The main body note has a rich, earthy-herby, woody characteristic with a musky, animal-like undertone.


Description of Plant: A tall – up to 2 meters – perenial (the seeds take two to three years to mature) plant with thick, fleshy, often twisted or braided gray-brown, reddish or purple-brown taproots up to 3 pounds with many rootlets attached. The plant grows a stout, fluted purplish stem which is divided into numerous branches with greenish-white flowers borne in compound umbels. Angelica is unique among the Umbelliferæ for its pervading aromatic odor. All parts of the plant are aromatic and the flowers have a honey-like scent.


History, Folklore and Myth: Medieval and Renaissance herbals noted the blood purifying powers of angelica. It was used as a remedy for “poisons, agues and all infectious maladies.” Writers from Paracelsus to Gerard credited Angelica with the ability to give protection from the plague. Gerard went so far as to say “it cureth the bitings of mad dogs and all other venomous beasts.” All parts of the plant were thought to be efficacious against spells and enchantment.


Properties and Uses: There are no traditional aromatherapy uses of angelica essential oil documented. It is highly esteemed in the perfume and flavor industries. Properties of the herb (and herbal extract) are: antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, anticoagulant, bactericidal, carminative, depurative, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, hepatic, nervine, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. The oil has been recommended for treating a weak stomach or digestive system, lack of appitite, anorexia, flatulance, chronic gastritis and chronic enteritis. It is also used to reduce accumulation of toxins, arthritis, gout, rheumatism and water retention. In the Traditional Chinese model, Angelica is used for damp, cold intestinal conditions with underlying Spleen Qi deficiency, as well as chronic lung, phlegm, cold syndromes with painful wheezing.


Precautions and Contraindications: The oil is non-toxic and non-irritant at low levels but is phototoxic and a possible irritant and sentsitizer at higher levels. Use on the skin should be avoided for at least 12 hours before exposure to sunlight. Overuse may cause insomnia. It should be avoided during pregnancy and with diabetes.


Other Interesting Information:

An oil is also produced from the seed of Angelica archangelica L. The seed oil is a water-white or very pale yellow oil with a strong, fresh, light peppery odor. It is sometimes used to adulterate the root oil and can be difficult to detect. The seed oil typically is quite a bit higher in beta-phellandrene (35 – 65%) and lower in the musk components (pentadecanolide and tridecanolide) than the root oil. The root oil can range between 10 and 30% beta-phellandrene.


After Juniper Berries, Angelica root is the main flavoring ingredient of gin. It is widely used in liqueurs like Benedictine, Chartreuse, Cointreau and Vermouth.


The yield by steam distillation is very low. The average content of volatile oil in the distillate of dried angelica root can be expected to be in the range of 0.04 to 0.05%.


Certain oils, angelica root, for instance, contain their most valuable constituents in the last runs (highest boiling fractions), and in these cases must be prolonged for hours even though almost no oil seems to distill over toward the end of the operation. It takes 12 – 24 hours to exhaust the root material.


There are thirty or more varieties of Angelica growing around the world. China alone boasts at least ten varieties which are all used for various medicinal purposes. One variety, Dong Quai, is used as an alternative to artificial hormones during menopause.


The dried roots are subject to worm and insect infestation. Interestingly, the plant’s insect attracting characteristics are being explored, especially in regard to the dreaded Mediterranean fruit fly. The oil should not be used by those who are allergic or especially sensitive to insect bites and stings.



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