I first learned about Angelica Root about a month after I had Covid. Although I had mostly recovered, it still hurt to swallow and the right lymph node on my throat was especially painful to touch. None of the usual sore throat herbs were helping. Now usually, I interact with plants that are growing in my bioregion and that I can grow or wildcraft myself, but for this unusual lingering symptom I was forced to stretch a little further.
I happened to be taking a class on the Immune System at the time from CommonWealth Herbs, and heard that Angelica was a powerful lymph mover. So I decided to take a closer look at this plant that I was not yet acquainted with.
Like many autistic people, I am highly sensitive to medications and have had multiple nightmare reactions to pharmaceutical drugs. That’s why I turned to plants. But I have learned that it is better to try them out individually first (rather than through a formula/blend of herbs) because of how potent they can be. That way if I have a strong reaction, either positive or negative, I don’t have to guess which ingredient is responsible. As someone who spends a lot of time with plants, I am also well aware that they all have a multitude of properties. So while a plant may have the ability to help you with one particular symptom, it could also affect you for better or worse in numerous other ways you may not be expecting. When you are highly sensitive, you learn not to be sloppy when you dabble with plant medicine. You go slow, you do your research, and you observe what happens.
Since I did not have Angelica in my yard or in the woods surrounding my home, the next step was digging through all of my herbal medicine books to see what else I could learn. My first source is always ‘The Energetics of Western Herbs: A Materia Medica Integrating Western and Chinese Therapeutics.’ It’s nearly 1000 pages of in-depth information on how different herbs have been used around the world for the last 4000 years. If medicinal plants are your ‘special interest,’ this is the book for you.
So that’s where I initially stumbled upon a very key piece of information about Angelica. Amongst its host of medicinal properties, I learned that: “It will also balance and stabilize the autonomic nervous system as a whole—a perfect choice for syndromes of autonomic dysregulation…”
Ok, that got my attention. As a neurodivergent coach, those words really jumped out at me because addressing autonomic nervous system dysregulation is a huge part of the work I do. Most of us are not looking for a cure for autism or ADHD, and in fact we find that having differently wired brains is often a huge part of what allows us to be innovative, creative, and think outside the box. But many of us struggle with nervous system dysregulation. We spend way too much time in a heightened state of threat, and not nearly enough time getting rest and repair. We pay a high price for that.
I also read that it stimulates immunity, and is instrumental in the recovery phase of longer illnesses. This is an added bonus given that so many neurodivergent people are at higher risk for so many health issues, in part due to things like our hyper reactive inflammatory response and also because of our nervous systems not spending enough time in ‘rest and repair’ mode. So taking that all into account, I began to wonder who else had started looking into Angelica as a potential ‘Neurodivergent Helper Plant,’ and was not surprised to find I was not the first person to put two and two together.
There was an interesting paper put out by the American Herbalist’s Guild in 2013 called “Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Search for Answers.” Angelica is listed first in a formula for ASD symptoms that ‘enhance digestion, inhibit inflammation, reduce hyperactivity and help re-regulate immune and endocrine function.’ Later in the paper, they discuss how a significant number of people with autism also have digestive issues ‘which are clearly linked to increased agitation, irritability, hyperactivity and anxiety.’ Angelica is listed as an effective carminative herb for this set of symptoms.
That all sounded great, but just like meeting a person in real life can be quite different than reading their online profile, I still had no idea if I personally would have ‘chemistry’ with Angelica. Since I couldn’t go out and find some outside, I looked up pictures of it online, knowing that was better than nothing. I then proceeded to buy a bit in bulk and made a strong tea with it, so that I could take in the smell and taste of the herb as much as possible. Utilizing all your senses is so important when it comes to getting to know a plant.
In regards to smell, I found Angelica to be quite distinct. My first hit is that it smelled a bit like a particular soap my grandmother used to have, and there was something familiar that I could not quite place in the strong taste of it as well. Intriguing. As many herbs have to be taken over a period of weeks or even months before you feel their effect, I was surprised to find an almost immediate ‘shift’ in my mood. I felt both uplifted and protected.
Protected. It turns out that is a key word for Angelica. It has a fascinating history in regards to being a protective herb. Its latin name is Angelica archangelica. This comes from the belief in the Middle Ages that people channeled the spirit of the Archangel Michael through the plant. This angel protected humans from a variety of ailments through this plant medium and it became one of the most important medicinal herbs of that time.
If you have a more scientific leaning, perhaps you might instead say that a highly sensitive person could feel the plant stimulating their immune system, rallying the white blood cells to protect and defend against illness. Either way, it felt like a plant I wanted to keep close to me. And I was so distracted by how good I felt after drinking that tea that it was only hours later that I realized it no longer hurt to swallow. After all of the herbs I had tried that had offered no relief whatsoever, that was quite remarkable!
And so my intrigue continues. How many other neurodivergent people are out there that have discovered a protective entity in Angelica? I feel like I am just at the tip of the iceberg, and perhaps that’s why it’s the first ‘neurodivergent plant’ I have written about. Perhaps after I’ve had it growing in my yard a few years I will feel that I know more of its secrets, but that will take some time. So right now I’m putting out feelers, hoping others will share their experiences with it so that we can get more of this protective and regulating energy out into the world.
God knows we need it.
MY PLANT PERSPECTIVE: This is not medical advice. Plant medicine and wildcrafting have been my biggest helpers for emotional regulation and physical well being as an autistic woman. I am a serious plant lover, but I am not a doctor of licensed herbalist. Plants are complex, so do your own research (especially if you take pharmaceutical drugs as there can be possible interactions). Like people, even if plants check all the right boxes for you, you may not have chemistry with that plant so be willing to experiment. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below if you have discovered your own Neurodivergent Plant helpers and are open to sharing your experience. Thanks for reading.
Holmes, P. (2007). The Energetics of Western Herbs: A Materia Medica Integrating Western and Chinese Therapeutics. (4th edition). Snow Lotus Press.