Lovage – A Renaissance
Lovage is an old traditional herb from Southern Europe. It gradually spread throughout the rest of Europe as the early monks carried it with them from place to place as one of their many remedial herbs. It has also become naturalized in parts of the U.S.
Roots were used to combat disease
After the reformation, many monks departed but their herbs were left behind and continued to grow throughout the towns and villages. The roots, especially, were used to cure many ailments. The leaves were also used as a flavoring in the kitchen, a use which has enjoyed a renaissance in modern times. All parts of the plant are strongly aromatic. Both the taste and the aroma are reminiscent of celery.
Lovage is a perennial. Each year it grows new leaves which later wither at the onset of winter. It can grow very tall very quickly and may reach a height of 5-7 feet each year. The large, smooth, finely divided leaves have an attractive blue-green color. A member of the Umbelliferae, the Carrot family, Lovage has flat-topped clusters of yellowish-green flowers at the tops of the grooved stems in summer.
Once used as a medicinal herb
The roots and seeds were once used in medicine. The roots were dug up in spring and boiled, after which the water in which they were cooked was used for ailments such as renal troubles and constipation. It was believed that both the leaves and roots could relieve throat infections and persistent coughs.
Lovage in cooking
Lovage has a special taste and aroma. Many love it while others hate it. In any case, it should be used with discretion. Just a small leaf or a sliver of root can do wonders but too much can ruin an entire dish. Lovage is often used in the manufacture of stock cubes to give extra flavor. The leaves can be dried or frozen for winter use and the roots will last for a long time in the refrigerator.
Indoor and outdoor cultivation
Lovage is best suited to being grown outdoors, but it can also be grown as an annual indoors and resown each year. Lovage can be grown as a pot plant in the window or on a balcony for the summer. Young plants will reach a height of 16-20 inches, the leaves will stay tender and the plant will not bloom.
Sow seeds in spring in pots of propagating soil mixed with a little sand. With a temperature of between 68°-86°F., the first leaves should appear within 4 weeks. Cover the pots with glass or plastic and stand them over a source of bottom heat if the night temperatures are lower than the day temperatures. Keep the soil moist and move the pots to a cooler place once the seedlings appear. Pot the seedlings in larger, deeper pots when they are large enough to handle. One to three plants should be enough to meet the needs of a typical household.
Outdoor plants can tolerate frosts, dying back and sprouting new growth in spring. Indoor plants will stay green until winter when the leaves will wither and appear again in spring. Or, discard them and regrow each year.
Lovage is rarely attacked by insects or disease, possibly because of it’s strong aroma.
The larvae of the black vine weevil can take up residence in the roots, making the plant wither and die. Discard affected plants and sterilize or discard the soil.
If the leaves of Lovage wither at the edges, it may be because the soil has often become dry. Water regularly, especially in dry weather.
Lovage seeds and plants are usually offered for sale in plant nurseries; seeds can also be obtained from seed catalogs.
Lifespan: Pot-grown Lovage should be renewed each year. Garden plants will live for several years and will seed themselves.
Season: Spring through fall. Dormant in winter.
Difficulty quotient: Easy.
Size and growth rate
Lovage is a sturdy perennial which can reach a height of 5-7 feet each year. It has large, divided leaves and grooved stems.
Flowering and fragrance
Flat clusters of yellowish-green flowers in summer. All parts of the plant are extremely aromatic, including the seeds.
Light and temperature
Lovage thrives in both sun and half-shade. It is not a difficult plant to grow and can survive frost. It will naturally start to wither in fall and can adapt to fairly harsh conditions.
Watering and feeding
Potted plants should be watered regularly and thoroughly throughout the growing season and fed with a general fertilizer now and then.
Soil and transplanting
Lovage is not fussy about the soil and will thrive in any good garden soil or standard commercial potting soil. Prick out indoor-sown seedlings to larger pots for further development. Do not keep plants in containers for more than two years, they become too large and dominating. Garden plants can be left to grow for several years.
None except to gather and use in cooking.
It is easy to divide older garden plants but this is not recommended for pot-grown plants as they tend to become too coarse. Grow container plants from seed.
Very decorative in a kitchen window together with other potted herbs.