Lovage (levisticum officinale)

The only plant in the genus Levisticum, lovage is native to the mountainous areas of southern Europe and southwestern Asia. It produces celery-flavored leaves in early spring — often before other fresh herbs are available — followed by tiny yellow flowers and aromatic seeds. Both its common and genus names come from the Latin word ligusticum, or Ligurian, for the Italian province where this herb once grew abundantly. The species name officinale refers to its value as an herbal medicine.

Lovage

Plant profile

Common Name: Lovage

Description: Perennial, up to 6 feet tall; basal rosette of finely cut foliage; greenish yellow flower umbels; aromatic seeds

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Apiaceae

Flowering: Late spring

Parts Used: Leaves, roots, seeds, and stems

Range/Habitat: Native to mountainous slopes of southern Europe and southwestern Asia

Culinary use

You can eat every part of the lovage plant. In the Lombardy region of Italy, lovage leaves are made into a traditional stuffing for capons, with sautéed giblets, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, fresh bread crumbs, eggs, cream, and nutmeg. The leaves, which have a celerylike flavor, can also be steamed or blanched and eaten as a vegetable or added to soups, stews, salads, and omelets. You can cook lovage roots as a vegetable and add the sweet-flavored seeds to desserts and liqueurs. Use the fresh, hollow stalks as straws in cocktails, including the tomato juice and vodka beverage called a Bloody Mary.

Medicinal use

In medieval times, this herb was thought to have aphrodisiac properties, and in the early 17th century it was used to scent bathwater. Lovage contains a volatile oil that has sedative and anticonvulsant properties, so it would provide a relaxing bath. A tea made from the leaves has been used as a tonic for the digestive system to treat conditions such as indigestion, gas, colic, and poor appetite. An oil distilled from the root is used in aromatherapy for these conditions, as well. Lovage could also be helpful in the treatment of upper respiratory conditions such as bronchitis.

Caution: Lovage should not be used during pregnancy or by those with kidney disease or weak kidneys.

How to grow it

Lovage grows well in deep, rich, moist soil in full sun or partial shade. Choose a site at the back of a border for this tall plant, and amend the site with compost before planting the seeds in spring or fall. Harvest leaves and young stems before the plant flowers. Propagate by dividing the roots of established plants in spring.