‘Vossakvann’ is a cultivated form of wild mountain angelica (Angelica archangelica ssp. archangelica), known only from Voss in Hordaland county. Wild angelica is bitter, and has hollow, tubular leaf stalks. Vossakvann is sweeter, tastier, and has a fine aroma. Its leaf stalks have thicker walls, and are occasionally solid. Vossakvann has been shown to have a 50% higher sugar content than its wild relative. The angelica garden, kvanngard, was a small enclosure, usually by the south wall of the house. A layer of ashes and charcoal was used to fertilize the plants and keep weeds away. The use of the cultivated plant was different from that of the wild. The flower stem was cut from the wild plant and eaten. This is not very economical, as each plant produces one flower stem, and the plant will then die without setting seed. Harvesting the leaves of the cultivated plants may actually prolong the life of the plants, as they will need more time to grow strong enough to flower and set seed. Four of the original strains, from farms at Elgje, Mestad in Teigdalen, Markhusteigen and Olde in Bordalen, have been saved. To maintain the qualities of the Vossakvann, an active selection will be necessary, as it tends to revert towards the wild form. The variety has been on the brink of extinction for most of the 20th century, but there is hope that it will survive. Some of the first sources of information about gardening in Norway can be found in the old laws, for example the Gulathing’s law, written in the 11th century AD. The paragraphs on tenant farming defined the rights of a tenant farmer to take his angelica plants with him. The theft paragraphs set penalties for entering another man’s garden, and stealing from it. If a man was caught with stolen angelica, he was deemed without legal rights, and could be punished as the owner of the garden saw fit. The oldest law texts knew only two kinds of gardens, namely angelica and leek gardens. As the laws evolved, kale gardens were added to the law texts, then gardens for apples, turnips, peas and fava beans, until finally including ‘all that can be enclosed by fences and walls’. Based on these and other old sources, it is likely that angelica has been cultivated over much of Norway. When, and where, these cultivated plants evolved into the specific cultivar we now call as ‘Vossakvann’ is not known. When it was first described, in 1928, it was already disappearing, and it was found only on a few farms in the municipality of Voss, in Hordaland county.
Image: Ove Fossa