Friday, May 28, 2010

Angelica, in and out of the rain

A fellow lover of plants sent me angelica seeds a few years back.  I put them in a corner of the patch that I was just starting to transform from a former playset pit into a garden.  I knew their height and durability would be just the thing to help visually and philosophically anchor a corner that sat at a point into which decorative, cutting, crop, and wild areas all ran.

When I got the seeds, I was excited.  But the only thing I knew of angelica was from my readings.  And my readings focused on its herbal properties, its suitability for low maintenance gardening, and the quiet but powerful role it could play in visual design.

If anything discussed how good the flowers smell, I don't remember it.

I do like their odd sweet with herbal bitterness aroma.  Which starts wafting a few inches away from the flower heads and invites you to stick nose down into the umbels, where you can inhale deeply.

Angelica, if you have not made its acquaintance, grows tall.  Quickly. Here's three foot stalks that shot that high in less than two weeks.  The bulk of the vertical growth happened in less than a week.  The stems are light but strong, hollow tubes with fern like fronds positioned opposite each other but spaced generously apart.

People tend to inhale, draw back a bit sharply...then go back for more.  The sweet wins...and because it's so high up, it's easy to revisit.

Angelique Sous la Pluie has long been one of my favorite in the Frederic Malle collection, and has been hovering at the "next full bottle purchase" list for a while now.  (When I do get it, it will join En Passant and L'Eau d'Hiver, suggesting that I might have a preference for the understated...but I think of it as finding a beauty in these scents that is hard to find in most lines.  I also adore Parfum de Therese, and there's no way that one is going to be interpreted as "quiet" or "understated.")  When I went out to harvest some angelica the other day, I realized I needed to revisit Angelique Sous la Pluie, not only in tribute...but because I had reached a new level of appreciation for Jean-Claude Ellena's creation.

Standing there in the garden, inhaling the flowers, I was struck by how honest the perfume was in terms of the smell of the herby sweet flower.  My memory even suggested that perhaps I needed to re-categorize Angelique... as a semi-soliflore.  When I actually came back and spritzed the perfume, a little bit of trompe l'schnozz was unveiled.  Yes, the idea of the actual flower was in there.  But it was as if the flower had been given a bit of Diorella-ish bite, with an aldehyde-like lift.  "Diorella-ISH"..."aldehyde-LIKE"...true flower IDEA...put together constructs which conjure, and the gestalt is what is Angelique Sous ls Pluie.  It's as if you are looking at an attractive picture full of depth and with saturated colors in some areas but with light passing through in others...and then realize you are looking through a series of transparencies, but translating the assembly into a whole.

At this moment, blowing back and forth between hot, humid and cool, breezy weather, with a long holiday weekend in front of me and plenty of angelica still left standing in the distance, I conjure a drink that suits the plant and the perfume.  At the moment, it's an elderflower liqueur that comes to mind to stand in for the angelica element, and a Plymouth gin to capture both the Diorella bite and the not-quite-aldehydic lift.  Because ASlP not full out bubbly, I'm not bringing in a sparkling wine or seltzer.  It needs shaking over ice, of course, to bring in the chill, and then being served martini style, to allow the sweet elements to hover at the surface of the liquid.

And as you lower your lips to the glass, it will be a little like putting your nose down to that angelica flower umbel...and the sip will be like the transparent layers of floral herby sharp refreshment that is the perfume.

P.S. There is a bubbly Elderflower pressé made by a British company, Belvoir, which would be a nearly suitable non-alcoholic beverage pairing for Angelique Sous la'd really need to mix in some tonic to cut the level of sweetness and make it be right.

And, if it were really hot, I'd turn the the alcoholic proposal into something stirred with tonic over ice.  And a slice of bitter cucumber to garnish.

all images author's own


La Bonne Vivante said...

Whenever I think of angelica, I think of a moment from a Norse Saga I was translating a few years back--I think it was Fóstbræðra saga--where one of the heroes is hanging off the side of a cliff (a kind of ledge, actually) and the only thing he is holding onto is a stalk of angelica. It is a pretty tense scene--like a movie, really--and when I was translating it, I was like--"what? Angelica? he's hanging from Angelica?" I thought I had mistranslated and looked it up in the dictionary, but sure enough, that was the word.

This is obviously a tangent with very little bearing on your lovely post, but I thought you might be interested, being a medievalist yourself!

I have never pulled on an angelica plant--is it so tenaciously rooted in the ground that it could bear a grown man's weight?

ScentScelf said...


Tangents welcome. :)

As far as tensile strength...those hollow stalks are rather fibrous, and held out well against my test of a stalk itself, and I can imagine a mature stalk being used as a kind of MacGyver-ish rope. The thing is, the root balls are pretty shallow, and it isn't too much trouble to yank a plant out intact. So, barring the plant somehow being held in place at ground level...or the intrepid hero wrapping a stalk around a study limb or some such...I am dubious about a successful "save" in reality.

However, I like the potential invocation of a particularly Nordic plantstuff. One of the things I learned about angelica is that it is unusual in that its origins are in the north, and migrated south into the rest of Europe. Which makes it appropriate for Nordic legend...and means that perhaps I should plant some lingonberries around the base of my plants.

La Bonne Vivante said...

That helps clarify things a bit. I always thought that was fishy. NOw you've got me poking around for the literature, and I found some interesting things.

here's a pdf of an article on angelica. I'll cite their summary of the action of the saga:

"The oldest written sources to the use of angelica are the Icelandic sagas,and Old Norse lawbooks. In the saga of the sworn brothers (Fóstbræðra Saga) we hear about Thorgeir and Thormod going up into the mountains to gather angelica.
They found a grassy ledge, later to be known as Thorgeir’s Ledge, with a number of large angelicas. Thormod carried the bundle up to the top, while Thorgeir remained
behind. Suddenly Thorgeir lost his footing, but grabbed hold of an angelica stem,close to the ground, to avoid falling off the ledge onto the rocks far below. Thormod
wondered what took him so long and called out to ask if he had found enough yet. ‘I reckon’, Thorgeir calmly replied, ‘I’ll have enough once I’ve uprooted this piece I’m
holding.’ Thormod then went down to the ledge again and saved Thorgeir."

(sorry, it has a REALLY long URL:

here's a link to the saga if you're interested:

can you believe it? Icelandic angelica has a facebook page:

Ok, I'm going to stop now... Thanks as always, for a stimulating post!

Ines said...

What a great post.:)
I really like Angeliques sous la Pluie but more as an idea - I don't really wear it. But I never smelled angelica (not that I'm aware of) so I wonder if that would change my mind and make it wearable... I'll go and re-test it after this.

ScentScelf said...

BV, I'm going to direct your attention to the name of this blog. It is a snippet of a modern english translation of the definition of an Old English word...yeah, I'm digging what you're digging up. :)

A Facebook page? {runs off to check...} Holy cow! Indeed! Oh, I might spend my weekend "friending" plants... ;)

And thank *you* for taking the time to share the fun.

ScentScelf said...

Ines, Angelique Sous la Pluie was one that intrigued me from the start, but took a while for me to decide if I liked it.

I like it.

Probably the fact that I am nearly an alde-phobe is important in my relationship with ASP. I can only enjoy real aldehydes in a limited number of perfumes, and generally treat its presence as a big "WARNING", when the idea of the lift it provides is there, without the annoying high pitched pogo dance in my nose, I find myself in a happy zone.

Do you have any angelica you can go smell? son smelled it, snapped his head back, looked quizzical...but then went in for another go. It's not a traditional sweet flower smell but if you are ready for an element of sharp-green-herby-lightly syrupy rasp, you'll be prepared. Kind of. ;)

Ines said...

I think I'm prepared now to smell it twice. :)
I'll find it!

La Bonne Vivante said...

p.s. Have you tried Saint Germain liquer? It is pretty amazing stuff...and made from elderflowers.

ScentScelf said...

I have can find it directly referenced in other pairings posts. Which indicates my fondness for it. A couple of months ago, I was busy concocting a something that used St. Germain, Hendrick's gin, and orange bitters.

The bottle is almost as good looking as the liquid is tasty, too. :)

Mals86 said...

My gardening lemmings are activated... as are my oddball drink lemmings. I've often heard of people decorating cakes with candied angelica, but I'm not sure I've ever smelled it.

Wearing L'Arte today, and trying not to swoooooon. Love it love it: that liqueur-like rose tangoing with the woody-mossy, almost threatening, chypre base.

Rose said...

you have Belvoir! isn't that elderflower presse the best!

ScentScelf said...

Oh, goodie, lemmings! ;) Hearing about those cakes with candied angelica are as close as I've gotten in the past, Mals; we'll see if I can succeed a) with the candied angelica, and b) putting it to use.

Ah, L'Arte...I may need to go get mine for a go-round this week. June is here, and I feel the need to pay tribute to the rose. Nothing says I can't have fun while doing that... :)

ScentScelf said...

Rose, it is! I saw your post on your favorite beverages, and thought "but of course Rose would have it!" Funny how sometimes we lose track of the fact that one person's "exotic" is another person's "at the corner market." Or something like. :)

I love it. The elderflower presse. And the idea of familiar and exotic.

Rose said...

It's readily available here but it's still quite expensive- not quite the equivalent of picking up a coke- very lovely though- and how exciting that something English should be exotic! I don't know if that is a term people use about us very often!