Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects


Angelica is a genus of plants and herbs that’s often used in traditional medicine, particularly in Asian countries. The roots of many species of Angelica are used to make herbal medicines.

However, angelica root typically refers to the species Angelica archangelica (A. archangelica). It may also refer to Angelica sinensis (A. sinensis).

The roots and other parts of both of these plants have a long history of use in traditional and herbal medicine, although A. sinensis has been more thoroughly researched.

A. sinensis is used in traditional Chinese medicine for various purposes, including hormonal balance, digestive support, and liver detoxification.

On the other hand, A. archangelica is traditionally used in European countries for digestive problems, circulation issues, and anxiety.

Still, there’s little scientific evidence to support many of these uses for either type.

This article reviews what angelica root is, the differences between A. archangelica and A. sinensis, how they’re used, their benefits and downsides, and typical dosage.

Plants in the Angelica genus grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall and have globe-like clusters of green or yellow flowers that blossom into small yellow fruits.

They also tend to have a strong, unique smell due to the aromatic compounds they contain. The scent is often described as musky, earthy, or herbaceous (1).

A. sinensis is known by a variety of names, including dong quai and female ginseng. It’s native to China and other countries in East Asia, where it’s used primarily in traditional medicine to treat female hormonal issues.

On the other hand, A. archangelica is commonly known as wild celery or Norwegian angelica. This type grows mainly in European countries, where it’s used in certain culinary applications or as an herbal medicine.

Although the name angelica root implies that just the root is used, most A. archangelica supplements and herbal medicine products contain the root, seeds, fruits, and/or flowers of the plant. A. sinensis products are typically only made with the root of the plant.

Summary

A. sinensis and A. archangelica are related, but typically only the root of the A. sinensis plant is used in herbal medicine, while the entire A. archangelica plant is used.

Angelica root, particularly A. archangelica, has some culinary uses. It’s sometimes used in the production of gin and other spirits, and the leaves can be candied to use as a garnish or decoration.

However, it’s primarily used as an herbal remedy. It has a long history of use as a traditional medicine in Europe and Russia, where it grows wild.

Similarly, A. sinensis root is used in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily for women’s health purposes (2).

Summary

A. sinensis is used for women’s health issues in traditional Chinese medicine, whereas A. archangelica is utilized in certain parts of Europe as an herbal remedy and for making spirits.

Overall, there’s very little scientific evidence regarding the benefits of angelica root — neither A. sinensis nor A. archangelica.

A. sinensis benefits

It’s thought that most of the potential benefits of A. sinensis come from ligustilide, a powerful compound that comprises approximately 1% of the plant and provides much of its strong fragrance (1, 3, 4).

Anticancer properties

In animal and test-tube studies, A. sinensis extract kills glioblastoma cells, which is a form of aggressive brain cancer (5, 6).

However, this does not mean that taking an angelica root supplement can kill brain cancer in humans. In fact, this is unlikely, and much more research in humans is needed before A. sinensis can be considered a potential cancer treatment.

Although these findings are a promising starting point for future research, you should follow the advice of your healthcare team if you have cancer.

Wound healing

A. sinensis may promote wound healing by encouraging angiogenesis, or the creation of new blood vessels (7, 8).

There’s also some early evidence that it can specifically promote the healing of diabetic foot wounds. These can be more severe and slower to heal than other wounds due to the blood vessel and tissue damage that high blood sugar levels cause (9).

Relief of menopausal hot flashes

One of the most common uses of A. sinensis, especially in traditional Chinese medicine, is the management of menopausal symptoms and other female hormonal issues (10).

Complementary therapies are also growing in popularity, as more people seek out natural options for menopause symptoms like hot flashes or night sweats (11).

Some evidence suggests that decreasing levels of serotonin in the body can contribute to menopausal hot flashes, and angelica root may help maintain or increase circulating levels of serotonin — thereby reducing the severity and frequency of hot flashes (12).

Still, there’s very little high quality evidence to support the use of A. sinensis for menopause symptoms, nor any long-term evidence of its safety in menopausal women (13, 14).

Arthritis relief

A. sinensis may provide protection against both osteoarthritis, or joint “wear and tear,” as well as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory, autoimmune condition of the joints.

Supplementing with A. sinensis may decrease inflammation, prevent further joint damage, and promote cartilage repair in osteoarthritis (15).

Regarding RA, A. sinensis may decrease the inflammatory response, reducing pain and improving some of its other symptoms (16).

However, these studies were conducted in test-tube and animal models, so more research is needed.

A. archangelica benefits

A. archangelica may also offer some benefits, but little research has been done on this herb. Additionally, most of the existing research was conducted in test-tube and animal studies, which can only serve as promising starting points for future human studies.

Anticancer properties

In test-tube and animal studies, A. archangelica — like A. sinensis — shows some promising anticancer and anti-tumor effects.

For example, it has been found to kill breast cancer cells in test tubes and inhibit tumor growth in mice. It may have similar effects on cervical cancer, larynx cancer, and rhabdomyosarcoma cells (17, 18, 19).

These effects are thought to come from angelicin and imperatorin, two powerful phytochemicals found in A. archangelica (17, 18, 19).

However, this research is insufficient to prove that A. archangelica can provide anticancer or anti-tumor benefits in humans. More studies are needed. You should follow the treatment plan recommended by your healthcare team if you have cancer.

Antimicrobial effects

A. archangelica may also kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

In test-tube studies, A. archangelica essential oil can kill disease-causing bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli (20).

A. archangelica extract and some isolated compounds from it, including imperatorin, also exhibit antiviral activity against the herpes simplex (cold sore) virus and coxsackievirus, which causes digestive illness (21).

A. archangelica essential oil also shows promise as a potential food-safe preservative to inhibit mold growth, as it can kill mold that grows on walnuts (22).

Anti-anxiety effects

Finally, there’s some compelling evidence from animal studies that A. archangelica may help reduce anxiety.

Three rat studies noted that A. archangelica extract induced relaxation and decreased anxious behaviors in the animals (23, 24, 25).

However, these studies haven’t been replicated in humans, so it’s difficult to know whether it’d exert the same effects in people. Human studies are needed.

Summary

A. sinensis offers potential benefits for wound healing, menopause, and arthritis. A. archangelica may provide anti-anxiety and antimicrobial benefits. Both types can kill certain cancer cells in test-tube studies, but more research in humans is needed.

Angelica root, particularly A. sinensis, has known side effects and may cause some drug interactions. While A. archangelica may likewise have some potential side effects, it has not been studied as much as A. sinensis.

There have been suspected cases of high dose A. sinensis supplements causing heart problems. A. sinensis may also increase your blood pressure (26, 27).

A. sinensis may likewise interact with blood thinners like warfarin, possibly causing dangerous and potentially fatal bleeding in certain instances. If you’re taking a blood thinner, you should not use A. sinensis without first clearing it with your healthcare provider (28, 29, 30).

Additionally, members of the Angelica genus contain furanocoumarins, which are the same compounds in grapefruit that may interact with many drugs, including certain cholesterol and anti-seizure medications (31).

Talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing with any type of Angelica if you’re taking prescription medications that carry a grapefruit warning.

Furthermore, know that photodermatitis, which is an abnormal skin response to ultraviolet (UV) rays, and contact dermatitis are also a concern when handling the angelica plant (32).

Finally, due to a lack of evidence regarding their safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women, you should avoid taking A. archangelica and A. sinensis if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding (33).

Summary

A. sinensis may increase your blood pressure, cause heart problems, and interact with blood thinners. Additionally, plants in the Angelica genus may interact with drugs that carry a grapefruit warning.

Angelica root supplements are sold in capsule and liquid extract form, as well as dried as a tea.

A standard dosage hasn’t been established, nor is it clear what a safe dose would be to avoid complications and potential side effects. Most angelica root supplements contain 500–2,000 mg of powdered angelica root or angelica root extract per serving.

If you’re taking a blood thinner or have preexisting heart problems or high blood pressure, you should avoid A. sinensis unless your healthcare provider has recommended it to you.

What’s more, avoid self-treating a medical condition with an Angelica-based supplement, as doing so may delay professional care and have serious consequences.

Be sure to consult your healthcare professional before considering it for any health purpose.

Purchasing angelica root

Ensure that the product you purchase contains the type of Angelica that you’re looking for and aligns with your desired effects from supplementation.

Many supplements called angelica root or angelica don’t specify which type they’re made with.

As a general rule of thumb, dong quai supplements are made with A. sinensis, and angelica root supplements are made with A. archangelica.

However, some A. sinensis supplements are also called angelica root. To avoid confusion, only purchase a product that discloses what species of Angelica it contains.

Summary

A standard dosage hasn’t been established. Most angelica root supplements contain 500–2,000 mg of powdered angelica root or angelica root extract per serving. Also, check that the species of Angelica used in the supplement is disclosed on the label.

Angelica root is a popular herbal medicine that has been historically used in parts of Europe and East Asia. Angelica root can refer to either A. archangelica or A. sinensis.

Although each has a wealth of reported uses, there’s very little evidence to support any of them, and most of the existing evidence comes from animal and test-tube studies.

If you’re interested in taking angelica root, check to make sure that the supplement you purchase is the species of angelica root you’re seeking.



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