Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
is one of my favorite herbs you have never heard of. The herb's lack of
public recognition always seems odd to me. It's a versatile herb with a
palate-friendly flavor a lot like celery, yet more complex and
nuanced. Fresh, young leaves are mellow enough to use whole in a salad,
but it also stands up to long cooking in soups and stews.
The obvious presenting flavor of lovage is celery, but the flavor is more complex than that. Along with the concentrated celery is a large dose of the bright green flavor of parsley and a hint of something sweetly earthy. I use it as a celery substitute whenever it is available and find it provides some ineffable extra taste that I really like.
The hollow stem, a section of
which can be up to a foot or more in length and an inch in diameter,
makes an excellent straw for drinks, such as a Bloody Mary, where a
celery flavor is desired. Lovage stems can be candied, like angelica,
as an unusual sweet treat.
me a moment of excitement, but I just discovered a new trick for lovage
stems: sliced lengthwise and put in ice water, they curl like the
ridged curling ribbon they make for wrapping presents! This offers all
sorts of possibilities from the sublime (make a brush for putting
melted butter on corn on the cob) to the ridiculous (edible icons of
the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Curlicue garnishes. Hair for Halloween
monsters. This could be fun.
Lovage is also a beautiful addition to your herb garden. Unfurling from
asparagus tip-like bundles in early spring, lovage quickly becomes a
hip-high bush of soft green foliage. Midsummer sees flower spikes
shooting to eye level before opening golden umbels that slowly mature into marvelously tasty seeds, something the birds know as well as I. Come fall, the birds and I vie for themature seeds, with my winnings finding their way into stews and breads over the winter.
appreciate lovage because it is easy to grow, tolerating most soil
condition and even a bit less water and sun than large, leafy herbs.
(It is easy to tell when lovage is thirsty; mine, which is in direct
sunlight, droops noticeably on hot days. Fortunately, it revives just
as quickly with a bit of water.)
A perennial that, like tarragon,
requires a period of cold dormancy, lovage is often grown as an annual
in warm climates. If you have to do this, you can save your own seeds,
stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, over the winter for
You can often find plants at a local nursery, although probably not at
a 'big-box' store, and seeds are available from a number of sources,
including Territorial Seeds and Seeds of Change.
Better yet, keep an eye out for a plant in the garden of a friend or
neighbor; If you see one, don't be afraid to ask for a start for your
garden. A single plant is enough to supply all but the most avid of
lovage fan - and two will do for even them - and since lovage
self-seeds, there are often small "volunteers" growing around the base
of established plants. Spring (now as I write this) is the perfect time
to divide lovage clumps, preferably on a cool, cloudy day.