07 April 2011

Lovage - Levisticum officinalis - is a useful herb and a beautiful plant for your garden

Lovage is a beautiful and useful foliage plant for any sunny or partly shady garden space in zones 4 to 8. A true perennial, it will return every spring for years. The roots are divided every few years, like rhubarb. It needs a dormant winter so it rarely succeeds in warm climates.

Used as a kitchen herb for hundreds of years, Levisticum officinalis is a key ingredient in Italian cooking. In the spring and early summer, the leaves taste like celery though in late summer they become bitter. And, like celery, Lovage adds a salty flavor to salad dressing and prepared dishes.

The stems are cut in April for candy. Boil the stems until tender, drain and dry. Lay them in a syrup made of equal parts sugar and water and leave it there for 3 days. Then re-heat it without boiling. Put the stems in a slightly warm oven until dry.

Candied Lovage stems
In Eastern Europe the chopped leaves are added to soups, particularly in Romania. English cooks put the leaves into potato cooking water in meat marinades.

The hollow stems are blanched and eaten like asparagus or candied for a dessert and used as cocktail straws. In Indian cooking, where it is called Kausuri Methi, the leaves are roasted before being used in curry dishes. Their research says that it lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, tones the skin and cures dandruff.

In other countries the leaves are dried and made in to tea used to aid digestion, ease stomach troubles and as a diuretic. Lovage tea is thought to be an antiseptic that can be used on wounds.

Historically, it was sent on sea voyages because the vitamin C content is high enough to prevent scurvy. Country inns put Lovage leaves into the shoes of travelers to ease their foot pain.

Of course, it was once used in love potions though the name actually comes from love ache, with ache being the name for parsley. Today, the essential oil of Lovage, angelic acid, is extracted for use by food, beverage, perfume and tobacco industries.

The root is thick and fleshy, like a parsnip. The plants grow up to 6-feet tall with dark green, aromatic, shiny leaves. In addition to being used fresh in the spring, the leaves are harvested in the fall for dried cooking herbs.
Our Lovage grew 6 feet tall last year
To freeze the leaves, blanch them in boiling water for a minute, and then put them directly into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain well and store in plastic bags. Mince it as you need it for casseroles, soups and stews.

The yellow flower clusters arrive mid-summer with their characteristic carrot family umbel appearance, similar to Queen Anne's Lace. In the garden Lovage is known to keep insects away.

When it goes to seed, the seeds are collected and dried to use in baked goods or ground as a cooking herb. They taste similar to celery seed. The seed heads are also dried and used in dried flower arrangements.

Lovage grows wild in Scotland, England, Asia and Europe. Its range in the U.S. includes CO, NM, MO, OH and PA (http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LEOF).

Lovage can be grown from root divisions (by dividing a mature plant) or from seeds planted in the early spring.


Levisticum officinale, seeds are available from swallowtailgardenseeds.com, ($2 for 150 seeds), and www.horizonherbs.com, ($3 for 100 seeds). Plants are available from thegrowers-exchange.com, $5 each.

When shopping for seeds and plants, take care to avoid buying Water Lovage, Oenanthe crocata L. since it is not edible.

Lovage prefers moist but well-drained soil and is one of the few herbs that can be successfully grown in part shade.

2 comments:

Jagan said...

You mention Kasuri Methi, but that is Fenugreek, not Lovage. I know; I grow both in my garden!
-Jagan

Martha said...

Hi Jagan -
Thanks for the correction. I don't know anymore where I read that.

I'm curious to know whether you grow them to use in the kitchen or just because they are so beautiful?