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Ammoniacum. Incense of the Oracle-medicine of the people.

Ammoniacum, Ferula Tingitana, Apothecarysgarden.com

During a trip to the Mediterranean and Africa, I purchased two kilos of the aromatic resin known as Ammoniacum. They were beautiful, fragrant, fresh specimens and of rare quality.

Ammoniacum, Ferula Tingitana, Incense of the Oracle
Fresh Gum Ammoniacum from North Africa. Ferula tingitana

They were still as the harvesters had gathered them, many resinous tears pressed into as big a ball as each could manage comfortably. Though steeply priced, they were recently collected and bright with personality, fragrance and colour. There is no doubt I would have spent my last few shekels on them if I had to.

Also known as Giant Tangiers Fennel, Ferula Tingitana is a perennial plant of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. Similar in structure to wild carrot, Angelica, Anise and Lovage, (but not Fennel!)

In late spring/early summer beetles puncture the outer membrane of its hollow stalks, triggering the plant’s defence system to exude a sticky, fragrant oleo gum resin that both repels insect attackers and acts as a bandage to the wound. Commercially, the plant is wounded by harvesters who then collect the droplets when they solidify.

Ammoniacum through the ages

Ammoniacum or Gum Ammoniacum is named for its long association with the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon in Siwa. Originally located in Libya, the temple was an important religious center for the Egyptians and the ancient Greeks,

Famous throughout antiquity, the Temple of Ammon was established by the ancient desert tribes of Libya. The remains of the temple are located 500 Kilometers north of the Kebira Crater, (The source of the mysterious Libyan Desert Glass), and 500 Kilometers West of the Temple of Amun in Karnak.

Temple of Amun, Siwa, Egypt.

Once the site was absorbed by the Egyptians, it was renamed the temple of Amun Ra. Also named Amun, Amun-Re, Amon and Amen, this deity was considered King of the Gods and the God of the wind. In many ancient and modern traditions, the wind is associated with communication, ruled by the element of air, and represented on this plane by burnt offerings, the censer, and the smoke of incense.

When the ancient Greeks settled the coast of Libya around 600 BC, they named their domain Cyrene and operated the Temple and the Oracle under the auspices of their own gods, Jupiter-Ammon and Zeus-Ammon.

In Greek mythology, the Oracle of the temple of Jupiter Ammon is reputed to have instructed that Andromeda should be tied to a rock and devoured by a sea-serpent. Perseus dropped by to visit the Oracle prior to beheading Medusa, (Saving Andromeda on the way back), and Hercules visited the oracle of the temple before he fought.

Also known as Oshek or Veshek, Ammoniacum is burned till this day in the Moroccan Jewish tradition before the holy scrolls are removed from the Synagogue ark.

Horns of the Gods

Since ancient times Ammon, or Baal Hammon, was associated with ram’s horns. An association seen in Egyptian renditions of Amun Ra and through Greek and Roman times where stylized Ram’s horns are found on coins depicting the governors of Cyrene, and on the reverse a plant suspiciously reminiscent of Ammoniacum.

The temple kept its singular purpose and prominence as a divine oracle till the decline of the Roman empire. Even Alexander the Great took a detour and trekked 500 Kilometres through the deadly desert sea to consult the oracle at the Temple of Ammon. (After which he declared himself a God and had coins minted depicting himself with the Horns of Ammon).)

Ammoniacum-Dorema Ammoniacum, Apothecarysgarden.com
Dorema ammoniacum-Iran

Ferula or Dorema?

There is another aromatic resin named Ammoniacum, but it is Dorema ammoniacum and found in Iran and further north. Due to its distance both culturally and physically from the temple of Ammon, my feeling is that Ferula Tingitana was originally associated with the oracle of Ammon and not its eastern cousin Dorema.

Adding to the confusion between these 2 plants is the common name of Oshek or Veshek in Southern Mediterranean and North African communities and its modern-day reference to the resin of both species which are sometimes found in Mediterranean markets and speciality shops.

By Yan Wong from Oxford - Inflorescence,
Ferula tingitana-Ammoniacum, Gum Ammoniacum, Oshek, Veshek. Photo by Yan Wong from Oxford – Inflorescence

Medicine, Perfume and Incense

Ammoniacum has a lovely “green” fragrance, similar to, but sweeter than that of its cousin Galbanum, F. galbaniflua, which is used in perfumery. Where Galbanum has a green and very dry scent, Ammoniacum has a fragrance that could be described as golden green, fresh, penetrating, moist and nourishing.

To my nose, Ammoniacum is closest in scent to Helba, crushed Fenugreek seed. In flavour, it tastes bitter and pungent though this might be due to its high essential oil content.

Ammoniacum has been used since antiquity to treat respiratory issues, excess phlegm, Asthma, chronic coughs and bronchitis and is said to soften hard tumours when applied as a poultice. It is considered a carminative, stimulating appetite and peristalsis which could be useful for the elderly. It may have a stimulating effect on the uterus and likely should not be taken during pregnancy. I found chewing on a small piece of the resin was pleasant and had the effect of stimulating the expectoration of phlegm, easing my breathing and soothing a stubborn cough.

The infused oil of Ammoniacum may be of help in a chest rub for respiratory issues and lends a beautiful crisp golden green fragrance to oil-based perfumes. An alcohol tincture brings out more of its bright notes and burned as incense, the fragrant smoke is true to the aroma of the fresh resin with no charring or unpleasant burnt scent.

Ammoniacum can be used in similar ways to its cousin, the fetid smelling Ferula Asafoetida known as “Devil’s dung”, Stinking gum and Hing.  Cats find the fragrance of both resins repulsive and avoid them at any cost. Ammoniacum, unlike its cousin Ferula assafoetida, does not seem to reduce flatulence.

Silphium and Cyrene

There is a theory that this species of Ammoniacum may be the ancient, mysterious and sought-after Silphium which was highly esteemed for centuries, and found itself minted on many a coin. Silphium was said to grow only in the area of Cyrene, in Libya,  a hop, skip and short camel ride away from the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon.

Silphium was used as a culinary spice, a popular medicine and as an incense material. (An offering to the oracles?) Silphium was so sought after in ancient Mediterranean cultures, it may have become extinct from over-harvesting. A cautionary tale.

Sylhiumcoin1
Roman coin with a depiction of Silphium. Note the stylised ram’s horns on the left. A Ram-horned God has been consistently associated with the temple of Ammon since the time of the nomadic Libyan tribes.

Ammoniacum, according to the Silphium entry in Wikipedia-”This species has been considered to have abortive and menstruation-inducing properties.[7] The species has been suggested as a possible identity for the controversial silphium, a plant used as a spice and for various medical purposes in classical antiquity in the Mediterranean region.[8] Among the many uses of silphium was promoting menstruation, and possibly contraceptive or abortifacient properties, which has been suggested to link it to Ferula.Wikipedia.

For those who have an interest in the spiritual/esoteric aspects of this plant, I will mention that in my experience this resin can serve the same oracular functions today that it offered our ancestors. A piece the size of a lentil is all that is needed. From an Astrological point of view, I would associate it with Mercury.

You won’t find Ammoniacum in the shop. I couldn’t put a monetary value on it so I gave it away to those I thought would appreciate it the most.

 

Dan

 

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Candied Angelica – A Recipe and Introduction

Angelica Archangelica flowering -Apothecary's Garden, May 2013

Angelica Archangelica.

Angelica Archangelica flowering -Apothecary's Garden, May 2013
Angelica Archangelica flowering -Apothecary’s Garden, May 2013

There was no waffling or indecision when whoever it was, came up with the name for this stately and aromatic plant, Angelica Archangelica. Ruled by the Sun, Angelica is a fragrant, medicinal and culinary delight in all its parts.

  • Medicinally it is a specific for all things digestion related, yet also excellent  for respiratory complaints such as Bronchitis, cold, cough and flu. Angelica is considered carminative, stimulating, a diaphoretic, stomachic, tonic, and expectorant. It is traditionally used to heal and tone the urinary tract and is a comfort in the winter when one has a chill. Taken hot as a tea it helps produce a sweat and break a fever.

Like the Sun, its energy and effects are warming, uplifting, stimulating and energizing.

  •  A tincture made from the root of Angelica makes an excellent natural perfume musk, a warm and spicy base note if one does not want to use animal derived musks
  • From a culinary point of view, the seeds when dried, keep well, and are incorporated in recipes for liqueurs, cakes, cookies and confections. Angelica has been widely used historically for liquors and beverages. Chartreuse and Vermouth are among some of the traditional liqueurs distilled with Angelica, while most digestives and “Bitters” include Angelica in their ingredients. Angelica leaves have been an additive to beers with, and instead of hops. Stalks, seeds and root, when thinly sliced can all be candied, used medicinally or for flavouring.

    All parts of the Angelica plant are healing, warming and balancing to the gastrointestinal tract, stimulating appetite and digestion, settling a stomach after eating and eliminating flatulence.

   If anyone is familiar with the fragrance of Angelica , they will know immediately what a culinary delight it would be if candied.Though it’s said only the tender Spring stalks,(available till mid-May),  are recommended for candying, I plan to test this theory shortly in the month of June. I will post my findings when I have finished the process.
Until then I will leave you with a wonderful recipe for candied Angelica stalks which I adapted slightly and recently used with great results. Candied Angelica is excellent before and after a meal, when one is feeling bloated or “gassy”, it can be incorporated in candies, cakes and ice cream, or used to add flavour to shakes and other treats. In short, candied Angelica stalks are really yummy and make a lovely treat at any time of the day or night.

The syrup of Angelica, used for the candying process should not be wasted. It can be thinned a bit for use as a pancake or ice  cream syrup, or used to “feed” ones  Spring Dandelion Wine if it is still hungry for sugar to turn into alcohol, or if it requires a little extra sweetness and flavour before bottling. (Be sure to read up on the proper way to add sugar to wine when one does not want further fermentation but only a higher sugar content). I am sure creative minds can find many useful applications for this fragrant sweet liquid.

Young Angelica stalks waiting in water for Candying
Young Angelica stalks waiting in water for Candying

One of the secrets to making nice-looking candied Angelica stalks, is to use a little baking soda in the blanching process. This keeps the color a vivid green. Boiling the sugar syrup till it reaches 140-145 degrees Hi Joanna. Yes you are right. I corrected this in a later version, but not in this post.
The sugar water will heat above the boiling point of water once the water evaporates from it. So; When you blanche the stalks, it is 100 Celcius.
When you “cook” them the first time,,before the second and final cooking, assures a translucence and high sugar, (low water), content in the stems. If using this method for candying, I find it is usually easiest to split the stalks lengthwise in half. Though keeping the tubes whole and round does look nice, it is difficult to find a balance between keeping their shape and bringing them to the desired tenderness without having them collapse on themselves. I opted for tenderness.  I will leave it to you to decide whether to keep them as whole tubes or flat strips. Also, I have found that cutting them to 4 inch lengths, works better for me than 6 to 8 inch lengths as some of the old and traditional recipes call for.
Candied Angelica will keep for at least a couple of years if properly stored in a sealed dry container preferably in a dark cool place, though rarely will it last that long before the last sweet crumbs are gone..

I think that is it for insights and comments, I have tried a few recipes over the years, this is my favourite for this traditional and delightful treat. Enjoy! And please feel free to let me know how your Candied  Angelica stalks turn out or if you have any questions along the way.

Dan Riegler

 A Recipe for Candied Angelica Stalks

(Yields about 400 Grams of candied Angelica stalks).

  • Harvest enough young green Angelica stalks to give you 500 grams, (approximately a pound) or so when cleaned. If you harvest the thicker, large stalks, they will work well and are firm enough to keep their shape. The narrower tubes, all the way up to the leaves, will be firm enough to use and will work well. So stay away from the more delicate offshoots of the plant, or plants that are very young. Second year plants or older should be used. You will need;
  • 2 cups sugar,about 500 grams.
  • 2 cups water about 1/2 liter.
  • 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda.
  • Enough water to just cover stalks for blanching.
  • Sugar, granulated, or fine confectioners sugar for coating.
  • An airtight container.

METHOD OF PREPARATION

  • Cut Angelica stalks into 4 inch sections. You can use many of the narrower diameter “tubes” closer to the leaves.
  • Bring enough water to just cover your cut stalks, to a boil.
  • Add baking Soda
  • Add your cut stalks and boil for 5 minutes or so, or until they are noticeably tender when pricked with a fork.
  • Remove from boiling water, plunge into cold water or cold running water till cool.
  • Use a knife to strip away or peel the stalks from the fibers that run their length. Much like Celery. See photo.
    Angelica for candying-Stripped of leaves, cut into 3"-4" sections
    Angelica for candying-Stripped of leaves, cut into 3″-4″ sections

    Angelica-  Cut, Blanched, peeled, for candying -2013
    Angelica- Cut, Blanched, peeled, for candying -2013
  • For each 500 grams of uncooked Angelica stalks take 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water, bring sugar and water to a boil.
  • Boil peeled Angelica stalks in sugar syrup for 5 minutes, (only). When cooled remove and cover the stalks with the syrup in a glass container or pan, cover and let stand for 1-2 days.
  • Separate the syrup, boil it till it reaches 125 degrees Celcius.
  • Let cool and pour syrup over stalks in the glass vessel or pan again and let stand again covered for 1-2 days.
  • Separate and pour syrup into a pot. Bring to boil, and boil it until the temperature of the syrup reaches 140- 145 degrees Celcius.
  • Add stalks and boil for 5 minutes or so until they are translucent, (partially see through).
  • Use tongs and remove stalks from syrup. Let them drip dry on a rack.
  • Pour granulated or confectioners sugaronto a plate. Coat them with sugar. press each side in firmly if you sliced them into flat strips.

    Candied Angelica- Boiling in syrup @145 till Translucent
    Candied Angelica- Boiling in syrup @145 Celcius-till Translucent
  • Put them on a rack and dry them in the oven at a very low temperature. (90 Celcius).
  • After 1/2 hour to 2 hours when they are not sticky, but before they get brittle, pull the rack out of the oven, let them come to room temperature and pack them loosely in a sealed jar. Note, make sure you let them cool to room temperature first, otherwise they will release moisture into the jar which will condense and may spoil them after a few weeks.
  • Store and enjoy.
Candied Angelica translucent & sugar coated to oven for drying at low temperature
Candied Angelica translucent,(an experiment), & sugar coated to oven for drying at low temperature
  • Candied Angelica & Dandelion Wine 2013
    Candied Angelica & Dandelion Wine 2013. Only part of the yield of candied stalks. Leftover flavoured sugar syrup from Angelica feeds the Wine in primary fermentation.