We couldn't help it. If you're like us here at Seed Needs, you probably love to listen to music while you garden, so stick this Tears for Fears classic in your ear! It's time for an auditory flashback as we sing the praises of lovage, and maybe contemplate our culture's advances in men's hairstyles.
Hold on a sec...before you pop that cassette into your boom box ( Google it, kids) we want to let you know that many plants are sometimes called "lovage", but today we're looking at the true herb with the scientific name Levisticum officinale .
Lovage is a member of the Umbelliferae family, bearing on its long, thick, hollow stalks tiny clusters of yellow-green flowers within larger, umbrella-shaped groups. Lovage's blooming period is generally June through July, sometimes well into August in cooler climates.
Its vivid green segmented leaves resemble those of celery, and in fact, the stems taste much like Apium graveolens, only stronger. Many of lovage's active compounds are similar to those found in celery oil.
"High Time We Made a Stand, And Shook Up the Views of the Common Man"
Many of us select and grow aromatic and medicinal plants to complement alternative health programs and reduce our dependency on prescription medications. According to the spice nerd website The Epicentre , lovage contains the following compounds, and we've linked them to contemporary academic research supporting their potential benefits.
- Ligustilide: A chemical common in herbs used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat menstrual cramps. At least one modern study has shown that Ligustilide is effective in treating certain brain damage (as one might receive after too much reading up on chemical compounds) and enhancing cerebral function in rats.
- Butylphthalide is known to reduce hypertension and shows promise treating Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients by "decreasing oxidative damage, inhibiting inflammatory responses, improving mitochondrial function, and reducing neuronal apoptosis." ( Source)
- Sedanolide is Earth's answer to Kryptonite, as far as mosquitoes and nematodes are concerned. Sedanolides are also thought to aid in treating liver cancers.
And, in smaller concentrations likely too negligible to flip anyone's pancake:
Lovage also contains the flavonoid quercetin , a chemical common in many fruits and vegetables. Quercetin is, among many things, an anti-inflammatory agent used as a natural remedy for allergies.
We're not sure how much lovage (seeds, stems, leaves or roots) you'd need to consume to achieve the herb's benefits, but we figure that if we point you in the right direction, you can make sense of the most common anecdotal uses for the plant, known to be a diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, and diaphoretic.
Lovage's Cultural History
Early fans of lovage include St. Hildegarde, and Greek and Roman brainiacs Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, and Apicius. The medieval School at Salerno studied lovage for its potential benefits, and the plant was as common in kitchen gardens then as carrots, tomatoes, and green beans are today. In fact, Charlemagne was a huge fan and encouraged his countrymen to cultivate the herb.
Northern Europeans and English have long since embraced lovage, and among their cultures, it has some pretty great names: Maggi plant, Old English lovage, Cornish lovage, smellage, liebstöckel, maggikraut, sauerkrautwurz, cajoler's weed, and our personal favorite, maggiqurzel.
If you ask a scraggly-haired, warty-nosed old hermit living in a hut in the woods, she'd probably tell you that lovage will treat the following:
- Kidney stones
- Jaundice and other liver complaints
- Menstrual problems
- Skin boils
- Intestinal gas and flatulence
Given what scientists are learning about lovage's chemical makeup, she'd likely be right. As for "eye of newt"... we're still not convinced.
One of our favorite sources on herbal history, A Modern Herbal by herb historian M. Grieve, reports that lovage contains an agent called ligulin which turns from red to blue when dropped into alkaline water. Too bad this wasn't on hand when Montezuma's Revenge first hit the European vernacular.
Here's another nugget of wisdom from Botanical.com's editor:
"The leaves bruised and fried with a little hog's lard and laid hot to any blotch or boil will quickly break it" — M. Grieve, A Modern Herbal
The next time your teenager asks you to buy sixteen different expensive zit creams, point them in our direction. Don't tell them that infusions made from seeds (lovage fruits, actually) were sometimes used as eye drops to relieve redness. If you have teens (or you were a teenager at some point), you'll understand what we're saying.
Lovage precautions: We always recommend that our brilliant and sensible customers consult with a physician or pharmacist before consuming herbs in concentrated doses. Lovage may cause light sensitivity, and though lovage is known to treat kidney stones, patients diagnosed with kidney disease should abstain from using lovage. Pregnant women should definitely avoid large quantities of most herbs.
"...Could You Be, Could You Be Squeaky Clean?"
If you wanna have fun in the early spring mud and get your lovage seeds in the ground, you sure can't. Since lovage flowers often lend their sweet aroma to lotions, soaps, and shampoos, you can always clean up later.
Once you plant lovage, you'll enjoy the same plant's regrowth for several seasons. Lovage is one of the easiest, hardiest herbs to grow in USDA zones 3-8, so let's get you started!
Choosing a spot for lovage
Lovage is a big plant, growing four to seven feet tall and about 18"-24" wide, and it's a native of southern Europe and the Meditteranean. Though these regions are known for being somewhat arid, lovage likely grew in riparian zones.
Location: Lovage needs full sun in an irrigated spot in your garden. In areas with the hottest summers, lovage does well in partial shade. Given its potential height, you'll likely want to plant it in the background of your garden.
Soil requirements: Lovage requires well-draining, deep, humus-rich, fertile soil. Incorporate plenty of aged manure and compost, and shoot for a pH level anywhere in the broad range of 6.1 to 7.8. Lovage's taproot is the same shape and length as a carrot or parsnip, and like other root vegetables, it requires plenty of depth to grow.
Companion planting: Don't be afraid to plant lovage with your ornamentals or veggie patch; lovage attracts parasitic wasps and beneficial ground and tiger beetles known to eat a wide variety of pest insects. Lovage is believed to enhance the growth and flavor of other root vegetables, as long as soil quality is suitable enough to supply each plant's nutritional needs.
Lovage does well with nearly all vegetables and garden fruits, though it isn't a good neighbor for legumes, including beans and peas.
Growing Lovage from Seed
Mature plants can be divided, or cuttings made from their stems. We're a seed company, though, so we'll focus on growing lovage from scratch. Did you know? Lovage seeds are actually the fruiting part of the plant, similar to other Umbellifers.
Seed Depth: Plant seeds 1/4" deep; some guides recommend placing 3-5 seeds per hole because oil-rich lovage seeds have a short (three years or less) shelf life. Seed Needs carries the freshest seeds, so it's unlikely you'll need to use more than one and a spare per sowing hole, especially if you use one of these seed germinating tips.
Start seeds indoors in peat pots 6-8 weeks before planting, and transplant or sow outdoors as soon as possible once frost danger has passed. Lovage can also be seeded in the fall.
Plant spacing: Lovage requires elbow room, so plant or thin for 24-36" spacing.
Germination typically occurs in 7-10 days at an ideal temperature of 68°F
Maturity: 85-95 days when grown from seed
Pests and diseases: It's a good thing that lovage attracts predatory insects, as it's sensitive to aphids. Lovage is also a potential snack for snails and slugs; otherwise, this very hardy perennial isn't prone to common garden plant ailments.
Watering: Lovage shouldn't be allowed to dry out at any point in its growing cycle.
" ...I spy tears in their eyes they look to the skies..." — Tears for Fears
Don't depend on rainfall to keep your lovage watered. Lovage requires moist, fertile, well-drained soil.
Harvesting: Don't wash leaves or stems; instead, gently pat clean with a damp towel to preserve lovage's flavorful oils. Pick in the morning, after the dew dries, for the crispest texture and best flavor. Unlike many herbs, lovage leaves are best used dry when made into teas or seasonings, but the stalks can be chopped and frozen or eaten fresh. Most herbalists prefer lovage's roots for making extracts or powders and essential oils made from the seeds/fruits.
"... So Nice to Eat, So Nice to Taste..."
Lovage is sweet to the taste, and the resinous juice from its stalks is often crystallized and used in candies and frosted cakes. Aromatic lovage teas and cordials made from dried lovage leaves were popular in the 15th century.
Lovage's stems, stalks, and leaves are a great substitute for any recipes calling for celery. With a more concentrated and sweeter flavor, it's popular in poultry and pork stuffing, animal or plant-based stocks and broths, and soups and stews. Chopped lovage leaves are useful in...wait for it...tossed salads and scrambled eggs, or to season roast potatoes.
Similar in appearance to a parsnip but with a grayish skin, peeled lovage taproots can be used in a similar fashion...roasted, in soups and stews, or munched raw.
Sue "Bunny" Cotton, a U.K. blogger who sells herbs from the deck of her longboat (aptly named Herbidaceous) says she's seen London hipsters sipping Bloody Marys through Lovage's hollow stems.
Lovage Soup from Nourished Kitchen. Jenny McGruther nails it with this creamy, chicken stock-based dish.
Trout Stuffed with Lovage (video): Jonathan Wallace brings us this recipe from his Medieval Cooking series.
Lavender, Lovage, and Lime Roasted Chicken with Honey: Genius Kitchen rocks it once again. While this recipe calls for lavender honey (in addition to lavender flowers) any wildflower honey will do, though stronger varieties such as buckwheat honey are the exception to the rule.
Lovage Cordial: Bunny Cotton's recipe celebrates one of lovage's most popular uses from days of yore. While you're there, look for a link to her friend's lovage pesto recipe...
...or try Lemony Lovage Pesto from Kevin Lee Jacobs' blog, A Garden for the House. Kevin describes this recipe as "a swoon-worthy topping for pasta, fish, chicken, and even toast", and we totally believe him. His page also has some fantastic photos of lovage, both in the kitchen and as a mature garden plant. We won't go into the details of this recipe, other than to say...CREAM FREAKING CHEESE! Check it out, for sure.
Do you have a favorite lovage recipe you'd like to share? We'd love to know! Better yet, come on over and cook it up for us. We're hungry after thinking about our favorite dishes all day.
The Outtro (Never say "Fade-Out")
Still have that song in your head? Need a palette-cleanser? Then stay tuned for an upcoming post celebrating the history of seed metal. OK, just kidding. But you'll want to bookmark our blog for tips on growing our wide selection of herbs, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals, as well as our musings on different garden-related topics. Seed Needs is committed to providing the best quality seeds from hardy, productive parent lines, and we only keep enough stock on hand that we can expect to sell in a single season.