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Angelica toxic?

Photo: Angelica archangelica 6.


Date: Tue, 2 Apr 1996 11:24:20 -0600
To: The Culinary Herbs & Spices List <HERBS.HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM>
From: James Eason <jeason.MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU>
Subject: Angelicas can be poisonous

Gentle herb-listers:

Last night I posted a message about angelica which pointed out that it's possible to find "naturalized" angelica. In particular, Angelica atropurpurea. What I seem to have neglected to point out is that some angelicas are moderately to extremely poisonous! A. atropurpurea is, I believe, one of these. Fortunately, it's unlikely that there's much angelica above ground in the U.S. right now. Anyway, be careful. Don't eat it unless you know it. [And thank you, alert reader!]


Photo: Angelica sylvestris 4.From: Henriette Kress <HeK.HETTA.PP.FI>

>Last night I posted a message about angelica which pointed out that it's

I'd really like to know your source for this statement. I haven't seen any statement even hinting at angelica toxicity before yours.

The angelicas that grow over here (A.sylvestris, A.archangelica) certainly aren't toxic, any more than are the ones that Michael Moore mentions in his Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, or MP of the Mountain West: A.tomentosa, A.pinnata, A.grayi, A.hendersonii, A.genuflexa, A.polymorpha, A.lineariloba, A.arguta...

Some folks can be allergic to the angelicas because of the furocoumarins they contain (symptoms: photosensitivity, skin rashes, nausea). But that doesn't mean that these plants are toxic, because if they are then you can count parsnip, celery, celeriac, parsley, dill and carrot to the toxic plants too - they too do contain furocoumarins.


From: James Eason <jeason.MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU>

>I'd REALLY like to know your source for this statement. I haven't seen ANY statement even hinting at angelica toxicity before yours.

Several herb books (including Mrs. Grieve's) and a botanical expert from Cornell have pointed out the toxicity of various angelica plants. I'm not at home, so I do not have my herb books at hand. I've done my part, however, and anyone who chooses not to believe what I say is welcome to die. Just don't sue me!


From: Henriette Kress <HeK.HETTA.PP.FI>

>Several herb books (including Mrs. Grieve's) and a botanical expert from Cornell have pointed out the toxicity of various angelica plants.

Maude Grieve says about A.atropurpurea: 'the juice of the fresh root is acrid and said to be poisonous, but the acridity is dissipated by drying.'

I've got an extraordinary book on toxic plants, 'Giftpflanzen in Natur und Garten', by Wolfram Buff and Klaus von der Dunk, 1988. The authors went thru the hospital files (in Germany) to see which plants had caused poisonings. The only angelica mentioned is Angelica archangelica; they say (free translation): Plants that might cause skin rashes: angelica - photosensitivity - due to furocoumarins.

Under the same header you see celeriac and celery... and citrus fruits, the only difference from angelica / celeriac being 'due to: volatile oils', not furocoumarins.

Not very convincingly 'extremely poisonous' to me. I'd very much like you to ask the botanical expert for more details on this.


Photo: Cicuta virosa.From: Laurie Otto <lotto.PTIALASKA.NET>

A very interesting discussion about whether Angelicas are poisonous. I dutifully started cruising my books to see what I could discover, and the answer was - a whole lot of conflicting information. After reviewing the books that identify constituent parts, I doubt whether angelica is poisonous, although there is some contrary advice given. Even if there are some angelicas that are deleterious, I don't assess Angelica archangelica as falling into that category. Besides, for me, angelica is one of those plants that I don't gather in the wild, not because it is poisonous, but because it looks so much like poison water hemlock that I'd rather not mess with it (poison water hemlock is VERY poisonous). Although many books discuss angelica, I thought it might be interesting to set out some of the Alaska-specific discussions of angelica, since these are probably difficult for others to obtain:

Dena'ina K'et'una (Tanaina Plantlore) compiled by Priscilla Russell Kari discusses Angelica lucida which is known by Dena'inas (an Alaskan Athapaskan tribe) as Aleut celery both in English and in their own language. "Aleut celery looks very much like some poisonous plants and should not be eaten at all. Dena'inas use it as a medicine on the outside of their body."

English Bay and Port Graham Alutiiq Plantlore by Priscilla N. Russell (the Alutiiqs are another Alaska native people): This book discusses Angelica lucida and Angelica genuflexa. "Great cautiion should be taken in using angelica internally. Although Hulten (Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories 1974) does not consider it poisonous, specimens intermediate between angelica and poisonous water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) apparently occur in some areas" This book also says that the Alutiiq "have traditionally used angelica roots for food. Some people say that they are only edible when collected on a certain island because a person who consumes angelica roots harvested on the mainland will become cross-eyed. Others say they can be harvested anywhere."

Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska by Univ. of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service says of Angelica lucida "Early summer the natives of Kodiak, Bristol Bay, the Aleutians and Seward Peninsula gather the young stems and tender stalks of young leaves. They are peeled and the juicy inside is eaten raw. Its strong flavor and odor resembles that of unbleached celery. The leaves are also cooked as green vegetables or boiled with fish." This book also cautions in bold letters about not confusing angelica with poison water hemlock.

Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island by Frances Kelso Graham and the Ouzinkie Botanical Society mentions Angelica lucida and Angelica genuflexa only in the discussion of poison water hemlock, a plant which can cause death in a few hours, and says "If you are at all unsure which plant you have, don't even touch it!"

Discovering Wild Plants - Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest by Janice J. Schofield has a very lengthy discussion of the angelica species including Angelica genuflexa and Angelica lucida also known as Angelica archangelica Gmelinii. She cites the use of angelica for food and its similarity to poison water hemlock. She then notes "Complicating matters of harvesting angelica, is the claim of Soldotna, Alaska botany instructor, Boyd Shaffer, that Cicuta and Angelica have been found hybridizing. Shaffer says laboratory analysis at Kenai Peninsula Community College laboratory on angelica roots have substantiated these findings. Hybridized plants exhibit the chambered roots of Cicuta, says Shaffer; he strongly recommends foragers slice and examine each root before using, discarding any plant that exhibits a chambering effect." At another point Schofield writes "Though wild angelica is still eaten extensively in many areas of Alaska, one source reported that the herb is harvested around Wales but avoided near Nome. In a St. Marys interview, I was told angelica is avoided becasue 'the difference can no longer be told between wild celery and poison hemlock.' The problem is not yet clearly attributable to hybridization, peculiar soil conditions causing toxicity, or identification difficulties. Until further documentation is available concerning safety of northwestern species, I do not recommend the plant for internal use (unless cultivated in home gardens). Finally Schofield notes the following: "Earth Medicine, Earth Foods (Michael A. Weiner, Collier Books, 1972) reports that fresh angelica root is toxic and was used by Canadian Indians to commit suicide. Dried roots lose this poisonous property. Even dried roots, however, can adversely affect the heart and blood pressure and paralyze the cental nervous system if taken immoderately."


Newsgroups: bionet.plants
From: Henriette Kress <HeK.hetta.pp.fi>
Subject: Angelica/Cicuta hybridization possible?

'lo bionet.planters,

we have a very interesting discussion about Angelica toxicity on the culinary herblist, and this came up. Can any of you verify if indeed it is possible for an Angelica to crossbreed with a Cicuta? And if it's possible, has it been observed in the wild?

> Discovering Wild Plants - Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest by Janice J. Schofield has a very lengthy discussion of the angelica species ...

(the rest snipped for this summary)


To: phytopharmacognosy.mailbase.ac.uk
From: Robyn Klein

I would love to get to the bottom of this! I've spent some time with Janice in Alaska and have collected some of the Angelica genuflexa up there and seen the similar-looking Cicuta mackenziana.

A long time ago, when Janice wrote "Discovering Wild Plants", she was quite cautious about this family and these two plants in particular because she did not know how to key out plants. She became doubly cautious when a botany instructor at a college claimed the two genera could hybridize. Hence the warnings in her book. But, is it true that the two hybridize?

I would love to see the literature on this! I really, really doubt if this is possible. I have seen both Angelica genuflexa and Cicuta mackenziana growing together (Turnagain Arm area) where it was difficult to immediately tell them apart. But, it WAS possible, you just have to be very careful and take your time. The leaves are a MAJOR difference (see last paragraph). As for the root - many plants in the parsley family have "chamber-like" roots. You have to look at a lot of roots before you start being able to tell them apart - but it is possible. The only folks I know of who really know their roots are herbalists and a handful of scientists who are working on a special project or thesis with specific plants. The rest of us only see these roots once in a great while and can't delineate the small differences.

Cicuta has been mistaken for Angelica, Pastinaca (wild parsnip), Perideridia (yampah) and many other plants - with deadly results. I hear of poisonings almost every year. This is because people don't know their plants - not because these plants are hybridizing.

I don't know much about systematics, but I believe that it is impossible for pollen from one genera to cross over to another genera. What are the chromosome numbers for these two plants? (Anyone have this info?)

Has anyone been poisoned by a POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED Angelica? I have never heard of this.

One other possibility is that since these two plants grow almost side by side the roots of Cicuta may be being collected along with Angelica - seems ridiculous - BUT people DO make simple mistakes.

So until I see some hard data (cicutoxin found in Angelica spp.) I have to consider this story a result of poor science and continued bad rumors.

By the way, Alaskan Cicuta douglasii (which I've only seen in photos and has VERY different leaves from Montana C. douglasii) has leaves which look EXTREMELY similar to several Angelicas (A. lucida and A. arguta). But, I've never been able to verify the leaves for the "vein to the cut" test.

Which is: "Vein to the cut -- pain in the gut"

Wish I could draw picture here... side vein off of midvein in leaf ends at the cleft or incised "cut" of the jagged leaf margin; whereas in Angelica this side vein ends at the tip - hence "vein to the tip -- pretty hip!" Robyn Klein, Herbalist AHG rklein.sunrise.alpinet.net


To: phytopharmacognosy.mailbase.ac.uk
From: Tom Zennie

>But, I've never been able to verify the leaves for the "vein to the cut" test. Which is: "Vein to the cut -- pain in the gut" Wish I could draw picture here... side vein off of midvein in leaf ends at the cleft or incised "cut" of the jagged leaf margin; whereas in Angelica this side vein ends at the tip - hence "vein to the tip -- pretty hip!"

I've always been a little leary about this supposed morphological leaf characteristic. I've seen both western and eastern water hemlock sps. In my experience, the leaf vein in poison water hemlock extending out to the leaf cleft is not always true. You can find some poison water hemlock leaves that have the leaf veins terminating at the tips. Kingbury's book has a good photo showing this leaf character as ending in the leaf notches. I have photos showing both.


To: phytopharmacognosy.mailbase.ac.uk
From: Robyn Klein

>I've seen both western and eastern water hemlock sps. In my experience, the leaf vein in poison water hemlock extending out to the leaf cleft is not always true. I have photos showing both.

Thanks for your input. I wonder, in the plants which have side veins going to both the cleft and the tip, which is the more predominate characteristic?

I haven't wanted to trust this characteristic alone - mostly because I've only seen a few species. Though I did catch one down in Oklahoma which DID have the side vein ending at the cleft or cut.


To: phytopharmacognosy.mailbase.ac.uk
From: Howie Brounstein

>I have seen both Angelica genuflexa and Cicuta mackenziana growing together (Turnagain Arm area) where it was difficult to immediately tell them apart. But, it WAS possible, you just have to be very careful and take your time. The leaves are a MAJOR differencen (see last paragraph).

I agree with the other posts that the leaf veination is not a good characteristic with Cicuta to base your life on. With our Cicuta douglasii, I've seen both to the cut and to the tip.

>As for the root - many plants in the parsley family have "chamber-like" roots. You have to look at a lot of roots before you start being able to tell them apart - but it is possible. The only folks I know of who really know their roots are herbalists and a handful of scientists who are working on a special project or thesis with specific plants. The rest of us only see these roots once in a great while and can't delineate the small differences.

As I've openly spoken before, I think it is insane to bet your life on Umbelliferae roots. Many appear easily identifiable to the trained eye. Many appear different only to an expert. This is ok for identification purposes only. I wouldn't eat anything or buy anything from this family that wasn't identified by seed. Too many people have died who KNEW their botany.

> Cicuta has been mistaken for Angelica, Pastinaca (wild parsnip), Perideridia (yampah) and many other plants - with deadly results. I hear of poisonings almost every year. This is because people don't know their plants - not because these plants are hybridizing.

I agree with you.

>I don't know much about systematics, but I believe that it is impossible for pollen from one genera to cross over to another genera. What are the chromosome numbers for these two plants? (Anyone have this info?)

Technically, two species can't hybridize by the definition of a species, but taxonomy is constantly changing the species and subspecies, to keep up with current scientific information. There is a chromosome database somewhere on the net, I can't remember where.

>Has anyone been poisoned by a POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED Angelica? I have never heard of this.

Years ago, I thought that anything picked as an Angelica that had root chambers was mistakenly identified. On my classes, I have students pick plants with identifiable seeds attached only. Later during cleaning I double-check all of them. We still come out with chambered Angelica. No one has ever been poisoned on my class with positively identified chambered Angelica. In fact the description of Angelica genuflexa includes occasionally chambered root systems in Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon.

>One other possibility is that since these two plants grow almost side by side the roots of Cicuta may be being collected along with Angelica - seems ridiculous - BUT people DO make simple mistakes.

You could accidentally harvest a piece of Cicuta root with the Angelica and poison yourself. You could also damage a Cicuta root during the harvest which might spread Cicuta juice onto the outside of the Angelica root.


I have since asked Janice Schofield, author of the delightful book "Discovering Wild Plants", about this. She said:

I'm personally less convinced than ever that Angelica and Cicuta hybridize and suspect that misidentification is the major culprit. Though Cicuta roots tend to have broader chambers than Angelica, I don't consider this totally reliable. The leaf tip ditty of Robyn is another "help" but again, plants have such delightful ways of varying.

The botanist who gave me the original warning on hybridization (Boyd Shaffer) can be reached via email ... in case you want to contact him. I've never seen the lab tests, and don't know specifically how he reached his conclusion.

I've emailed Boyd Shaffer, but he hasn't replied to my emails.


Please also check Howie's warning on wildcrafting Umbelliferae: http://www.teleport.com/~howieb/treats/umbel.txt



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