Herb gardens attract me, I do not really know why. The plants are often low and uninteresting, but there are towering exceptions to this rule, notably angelica. Angelica Archangelica (yes, that’s the real name) grows to six feet, and is the sort of weedy large plant that is understated in the extreme, but useful. According to Wyman’s Garden Encyclopaedia, you can use the young leaves of this biennial to season fish, and the stems are often blanched and eaten in salads.
The French, of course, go us one better and candy the stems. The recipe for this procedure is in The Joy of Cooking, and involves 2 cups of angelica stems cut up. You marinate them in a crock for a day with 1/3 cup salt and then boil them in a 1 to 1 water and sugar syrup for twenty minutes. Drain them on a rack, cook down the syrup to 234 degrees fahrenheit, and two days later (what do you do with the syrup in the meantime, I wonder?) pour over the dried angelica until they are candied.
I’ve eaten candied angelica in France and doubt that I would go to all this trouble myself. The tall gawky plants are moreover the sort that take the first downpour of high summer as permission to swoon pathetically all over the back border, in my experience, and that is a messy fix involving stakes and string and some cussing.
So why bother?
In a word, the slightly medicinal scent of angelica with the faint tang of aniseed and something green, but it’s hard to say what, is one of the most delicate and ethereal on earth. Angelica, in flower after a rain shower, is a revelation and the smell is absolutely head-clearing. In this sense it is rather like mint, though the scent is nothing like it, perfect for clearing miasmas of thought or mood. Angelica cuts through muzziness leaving a wonderful pale green trail of cogency in its wake. It does for me, anyway.
Angelica also turns up in perfume. The best known instance is Jean Claude Ellena’s Angeliques Sous la Pluie. This is a perfume said to smell like gin or even genever, the Belgian version of the liquor flavored with juniper berries. Never having smelled ASLP , I can’t say if it really recalls angelica. But I do remember the old Creed Angeliques Encens.
That was the best Creed ever composed, I think, better even that their reigning champ Green Irish Tweed. You have to go look and pay to find it, and even small bottles or samples are pricey on Ebay, but it is a fascinating fragrance, because it works in reverse, starting off as an elegant, urbane oriental that over time it loses its elegance and its polish and grows more and more green and herbal until you are left with the flowery, grassy smell of the angelica. It is a Benjamin Button of a perfume, and I personally could kick myself for not buying the last bottle of it at Neiman’s back when one of the SAs offered it to me. It was nostalgic and evocative and romantic, all the things that perfumes too seldom are these days.
But then, don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?