Angelica archangelica is one of the most extraordinary herb found in Iceland and according to old manuscripts it has been used both for medicine and for culinary purposes from the beginning of settlement in Iceland. The roots of the Ætihvönn were used as a currency amongst Icelandic vikings when they did trade in other countries.
It was common for Icelanders to cultivate Angelica archangelica gardens near to their farms so it would be more easily accessible to harvest. Grágás, an old Icelandic lawbook, claims that anyone enters another man’s garden and is caught stealing Angelica archangelica should be sanctioned. The origin of the latin name of the herb derives from an old tale which tells that the herb appeared in an angel’s dream as a cure against black death. Angelica archangelica was considered to give protection against evil spirits and anykind of black magic. It was considered to be so prestige that it was named "the root of the holy spirit".
Angelica archangelica grows all around Iceland and is very common around streams and riverbanks. The herb has very stimulating affect on the immune system and is affective in fighting all kinds of viruses. Research has shown that Angelica archangelica is especially curative. Angelica archangelica has for centuries maintained life and health in the Icelandic nation and still plays a huge part in Icelandic culinary history.
Angelica archangelica has a long culinary history in Iceland and it‘s usage has even been reinvented during the past decade. All parts of the herb can be used: stalks, roots, leaves and seeds. The leaves of Angelica archangelica should be collected early summer and can be used fresh or dried. The stalks of the herb can be peeled and eaten both raw and cooked. The roots were in the old days widely consumed. They were stored in the earth during the winter time but when new eaten with dried fish and butter. It was considered a good remedy to chew the root when epidemics raged because of its medical affect. Nowadays the roots are digged up either in the spring or in the winter and can for example be used in soups, bread, tea and as a condiment in alcohol and beer. The herb has been used as a condiment for liqueurs such as Chartreuse, Benedictine. The seeds are collected and dried and used as spice or for tea. The taste of the seeds suit especially well with the Icelandic lamb meat. Organic sheep farmers in West Iceland have been using the Angelica archangelica in an innovative way in their farming. During one month of the summer, they have been grazing their lambs in fields of Angelica archangelica, resulting in a very unique taste of the lamb meat.
Since the herb is also found in medical supplements, the real danger is linked to the monopoly created by the local pharmaceutical industry. They are excluding and provatizing commons areas where Angelica archangelica grows. Local people are excluded from gastronomic knowledge about this herbs. Changing food habits, particularly among younger generations, also mean less attention is given to traditional herbs.
Image: Slow Food i Reykjavik