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Angelica (Angelica archangelica, A. atropurpurea, A. sinensis [Latin]), also known as masterwort, wild parsnip, and wild celery, has been used as an herbal medicine for thousands of years. Angelica is an effective treatment for gas, indigestion, and stomach cramps; it may also be used to improve circulation, help treat some bronchial and cardiovascular disorders, and ease menopausal symptoms.

Angelica is a close relative of the carrot, parsley, celery, fennel, and dill; and there are several different species of this herb. European angelica (Angelica archangelica) and American angelica (A. atropurpurea) have traditionally been used to treat headache, colds, and bronchial and lung disease. Chinese angelica (A. sinensis), commonly called Dong quai or Dang gui, is used in traditional Asian medicine to treat gynecologic disorders such as painful menstruation, as well as a host of menopausal symptoms.

Angelica has also been said to induce uterine cramping and menstruation—American colonists sometimes used angelica for abortion. Today Dong quai is an active ingredient in many herbal formulations designed to balance women’s hormones and to promote breast growth or enhancement.

Angelica improves circulation and spreads a warm feeling throughout the body; its effect on the body has been compared to that of a calcium channel blocker, and it is therefore sometimes used to treat high blood pressure and angina. However, preliminary research suggests that angelica may cause increased blood clotting, so anyone with a history of heart ailments should not take angelica without first consulting a physician.

Commission E, the panel of experts in Germany that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbal treatments, recommends angelica for treatment of indigestion and flatulence. German studies also found that angelica does indeed relax the windpipe, and may be effective for treating colds, flu, bronchitis, and asthma.

Angelica supplements and tinctures are available at most health stores. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the package, because this herb can be toxic. You could also try one of the “hormone balancing” teas or capsules sold in many pharmacies and health food stores—these usually contain some form of angelica.

Angelica is though to induce menstruation, and should not be taken by pregnant women. People with a history of atherosclerosis or heart attack should also avoid this herb, as should anyone that has a history of photosensitivity—angelica contains psoralens, which are chemicals that can cause some sun-sensitive people to have an allergic reaction to sun exposure.

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