If you haven’t cooked with lovage before then you have missed out on a very flavourful herb.
Lovage’s flavour is distinct and greatly appreciated by food aficionados, especially those who claim southern European heritage. Even though some people like to compare lovage to celery, it is almost like saying that an apricot tastes like a small peach.
Lovage is a perennial herb that has been long cultivated in Europe, the leaves being used as an herb, the roots as a vegetable, and the seeds as a spice, especially in southern European cuisine. It brings fresh taste to soups, beans, fish, tomato sauces, pickles, etc.
Lovage is a wonderful way to anchor a dish with deep, verdant flavour, like adding a bass line to a piece of music. It has something of the same deep, savory character as celery, but is also spicy, peppery and pungent. If you like lamb soups or stews, cook them with lovage once and you will not consider missing it again. With its wonderful, deeply savory flavour, it will quickly find its way into half the things you cook.
Lovage is one of the few herbs that don’t mind a little shade. It is a true perennial and hence is very easy to cultivate in the garden. Give it enough water and a rich soil and it will live in your garden for many years.
It is sometimes grown in gardens for its ornamental foliage; mature plants have beautiful architectural foliage that will tower over your herb garden. In Italy it is rather charmingly known as 'Mountain Celery'.
During June and July, an ornamental umbel of yellow flowers appear, produced in umbels up to 10 to 15cm (4 to 6in) diameter which are a magnet for pollinators.
Lovage is considered a 'magic bullet' companion plant, one that improves the health of all surrounding plants, so should be given a place in the vegetable garden. It is adored by bees and makes a great home for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Lovage is one of the most intriguing and versatile of herbs, yet when was the last time you saw it in a shop or even growing in someone's garden? Time to redress the balance.
Sowing: February to June or September to October
Lovage seeds can also be sown in pots indoors, sown outdoors into prepared seed beds or can be sown directly where they are to grow in spring or in early autumn. Germination is usually 10 to 14 days, dependent on temperature. Move the seedlings to their final growing positions about a month after sowing. Transplant into the garden 60cm (24in) minimum apart.
Lovage will reach its mature size in about three years. At maturity, lovage is a large herb and will ideally need a 90cm (3ft) square space. This is a tall addition to the garden and often placed at the back of the border.
One plant is usually sufficient, but it’s a good idea to start a new plant every few years. Lovage prefers a rich soil that retains moisture well. It likes full sun in cool climates or partial shade where summers are very hot.
Seeds can be sown into cells or cell packs from early spring, and transplanted out at about the time of your last frost. Sow seed 6mm (¼in) deep in flats or cell packs, 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost and keep well watered
Sowing thinly in a well prepared seedbed or directly where they are to grow in full sun or partial shade. Sow 13mm (½in) deep in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Keep well watered. Thin to the strongest plant(s) and transplant seedbed grown seedlings to their permanent position about a month after sowing.
Tender young growth has the best flavour, so in summer, around June consider pruning plants back to force them to push out a flush of new leaves.
Remove flowers should plants produce too many unwanted seedlings, or gather the seeds and use them in cooking.
Lovage is a hardy perennial that survives winter even in very cold climates. The plant dies right back in the winter. The unsightly collapsed stems can be cut down to ground level. However, it is worth-while leaving a few of the upright hollow stems for ladybirds to hibernate in.
Top-dress the soil around the dormant plant with rich compost each winter.
Harvesting: May to November
Lovage leaves can be picked within 6 to 8 weeks from sowing until the first sharp frosts. Young leaves have the best taste and texture. Gather sprigs as needed and freeze extra leaves by first chopping, then placing with water into ice cube trays.
Harvest the seeds once they start to turn brown. This perennial herb dies down during winter and will re-emerge again in spring.
The flavour of lovage is intriguing, like parsley and celery combined with a hint of aniseed a few spices. Lovage seeds, leaves and stems can all be used. Lovage tea can be made from the dried leaves creating a very agreeable aroma.
The herb is in the same family as parsley and celery, making it an ideal replacement for either plant in a recipe. Go easy at first because it's stronger than both, though the flavour mellows a bit in cooking. The leaf stalks and stem bases can be blanched and eaten as you would celery. The seeds can be used as a spice, similar to fennel or celery seeds.
Toss the lively young leaves in salads, risottos and rice dishes or tuck them into the cavity of a chicken or fish before roasting. Finely shredded, they are a great addition to soups, stews, mash or scrambled eggs; you can steam the stems, braise the roots and use the seeds in biscuits and bread.
Peel the large tap roots and use them in stews, or cook them as you would salsify.
Lovage has been cultivated since the time of Pliny (23-79AD). It was used a good deal as a herbal remedy for sore throats as well as an aphrodisiac.
Thought to be introduction to Britain by Benedictine Monks, in 1597, John Gerard considered lovage to be one of the wonder drugs of the day and was used for jaundice, colic and fever in children. Old herbalists would also claim this herb would aid against other 'pestilential disorders', which allowed them to prescribe it for pretty much anything.
Medicinally, Lovage tea can be applied to wounds as an antiseptic or drunk to stimulate digestion and as a remedy for an upset stomach. Lovage can also help get rid of flatulence. It can also be used to reduce water retention and can also be used as a deodorant. Medieval travellers tucked the leaves into their shoes because of their antiseptic and deodorising properties.
Lovage cordial was taken to settle an upset stomach and could be found on sale in inns until the early 1800s and has always been know as a bit of a medicinal pick-me-up. It is traditionally mixed with brandy (2 parts to 1) and is soothing for the digestion as well as being very warming.
Lovage is considered a 'magic bullet' companion plant, one that improves the health of all surrounding plants, so should be given a place in the vegetable garden.
Although lovage has been grown in English gardens and Monastery gardens for hundreds of years, it is not a native plant. It originates from the Mediterranean.
The exact native range is disputed; some sources cite it as native to much of Europe and south-western Asia, others from only the eastern Mediterranean region in south-eastern Europe and south-western Asia, and yet others only to south-western Asia in Iran and Afghanistan.
Levisticum officinale, Lovage is a tall perennial plant, the sole species in the genus Levisticum, in the family Apiaceae.
The Greek name Levisticum is said to be a corruption of the Greek Ligusticum from the Greek Ligustikas, meaning pertaining to Liguria, the Italian province which is one of the plants' homelands.
When Linnaeus invented the binomial system of nomenclature, he gave the specific name 'officinalis' to plants (and sometimes animals) with an established medicinal, culinary, or other use. The word officinalis is derived from the Latin officina meaning a storeroom (of a monastery) for medicines and necessaries. It literally means 'of or belonging in an officina', and that it was officially recognised as a medicinal herb. It conjures up images of a storeroom where apothecaries and herbalists stored their herbs.
The common name of 'lovage' is from 'love-ache', ache being a medieval name for parsley; this is a folk-etymological corruption of the older French name levesche, from late Latin levisticum, in turn thought to be a corruption of the earlier Latin ligusticum, meaning 'of Liguria', an area in the northwest of Italy, where the herb was grown extensively.
Also called 'love parsley', as the name suggests, it was thought to be an aphrodisiac. The French call Lovage céleri bâtard, meaning 'Bastard celery', referring to it being a substitute for celery.
In modern botanical usage, both Latin forms are now used, for different, but closely related genera, with Levisticum for (culinary) Lovage, and Ligusticum for Scots Lovage, a similar species from northern Europe.
Old English Lovage Cordial:
Lovage has been used in alcoholic cordials for centuries, although it was probably first sold commercially by Phillips’ of Bristol in their range of 'shrubs' which date back to 1793. In the Lovage cordial it is mixed with tansy and yarrow, and this was used in winter (and still is) mixed with brandy.
The original cordials were used on long sea voyages, lime juice was a constituent to ward off scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), while lovage was to prevent rheumatism. 'Shrub' which is a mixture of plant juices, which was fermented and therefore alcoholic was the ingredient which staved off colds and flu.
The first cordials containing lovage are recorded in the 14th century, and these contained tansy and yarrow or milfoil. Lovage is also used in some liqueurs and could be found with borage in one of the Pimms mixes.
Phillips' of Bristol continue production of Lovage Cordial today. The cordials have a long West Country heritage and are all made to secret recipes handed down to JR Phillips. Available on-line or at any welcoming hostelry in the west country.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 500mg Average Seed Count 150 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 300 to 350 seeds/gram Common Name Love Parsley, Mountain Celery Family Apiaceae Genus Levisticum Species officinale Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Yellow umbels. Natural Flower Time Summer Height 1.5 to1.8m (5 to 6ft) Spread 60 to 90cm (24 to 36in). Soil Rich moist, but well-drained soil. Time to Sow February to June or September to October Germination 10 to 14 days, dependent on temperature.