I sell lovage at the Rutgers Gardens annual sale. It’s one of those herbs that people always pass up. They ask what it is and when I tell them it’s lovage and it tastes like celery, they just keep on walking. They shouldn’t. Lovage is much more than a celery wannabe.
Lovage is a member of the carrot family and is native to southern Europe. It was so valued in ancient times that the Romans brought it with them when they colonized Great Britain where it has naturalized. The British, in turn, brought it to North America when they were settling the continent and it has naturalized here also.
Lovage is a perennial that is hardy as far north as zone 3. It prefers sun but will tolerate a little shade. Unlike Mediterranean herbs which grow in poor soils, lovage needs the rich soil found in most gardens. Good drainage is a must. Keep seedlings well-watered. Mature plants require less water because they have developed a long tap root which can access water found deeper in the soil. Lovage can reach a height of up to 6 feet.
Propagation by division is the preferred method. Divide crowns in the spring. Lovage can be grown from seed but it is a little more difficult. The seed must be fresh. Ideally, you should harvest your seed and plant it immediately. But be patient! The seeds have a long germination period. Transplant your seedlings in the fall to their permanent home. Less desirable is waiting until spring to transplant them.
All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves are used in soups and salads while the stems can be used like celery. Beware! Lovage tastes much stronger than celery, so use half as much as you would celery. The stems and seeds can be candied for a sweet snack. In fact, Queen Victoria always carried some candied lovage seeds to satisfy her sweet tooth. Lovage seeds can be substituted for celery seeds in recipes or ground up and used as a spice, similar to fennel seeds. The roots used to be used medicinally, but in modern times are eaten as a vegetable in Europe or grated into salads.
Lovage loses its flavor when dried, so it is recommended that you briefly blanch the leaves and stems and then freeze them for use during the winter when the plant has died back to the ground.
Historically, lovage has been much more than a medicinal herb. It has been used in love potions, cordials, as a breath freshener as well as air freshener, and as a facial cleanser. Charlemagne was said to have liked lovage so much that he ordered it grown in all of the gardens on his estate. So add this “royal” herb to your herb garden and grow a little history!