Angelica root is the Cinderella of the botanical theatre
Yet angelica root is a key botanical in the making of gin
And while juniper and coriander aren’t exactly the Ugly Sisters, they get the invitations to the ball while angelica root is often overlooked. Yet the vast majority of gins include this trio. Joanne Moore of G&J Distillers describes them as the ‘Holy Trinity’.
Angelica as Medicine
Fittingly the name, angelica archangelica comes from the Greek arkangelos or archangel. Perhaps because it blooms on St Michael’s Day, the Archangel. It is said that St Michael prescribed it as a medicine for the plague.
Known since the 12thC for its health benefits, wild angelica contains stimulating properties for the lungs and is used as a relief for lung congestion. It is also used as an aid to digestion. It is also mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas.
Angelica is a member of the Apiaceae family which includes parsley, carrot and celery. Wild angelica is widespread in Northern Europe and is found as far north as Greenland. It prefers to grow in damp soil in the shade near running water and can grow to approximately 8 feet in height. Its inconspicuous flowers form umbellifers, like umbrellas.
Like juniper and coriander, angelica contains alpha-pinene. In fact, it has over 80 different aroma compounds, including cyclopentadecanolide. This compound is present in the roots in tiny amounts: less than 1%. But even this minuscule amount gives the roots a musky aroma.
All of the plant can be used: seeds, the hollow hexagonal stems and the roots. The stems are often candied and used in confectionery and cakes. The roots are fleshy and long and have to be harvested before autumn when they may be eaten by insects. Freshness is key. They are dried soon after harvesting.
Angelica Root in Gin
In the production of gin, the roots are believed to be a fixative for the other botanicals. But this is as yet unproven. Commercially grown in Europe, Saxony angelica is said to be the best.
The dried out root smells like damp cardboard ~ but in a good way. The distilled taste is rather strange. Definitely savoury or umami. Not unpleasant but hard to describe what it resembles. It has been described as mushroom-like. I wouldn’t completely agree with the mushroom thing but for want of a better description, we’ll call it fungi-like.
But I can see how it gives body and weight to juniper and coriander. In fact, it is hard to imagine a gin without this trio of botanical building blocks.