Lovage is a wonderful, very old herb with properties perfect for today’s healthy lifestyles. Its unique flavor, which is a combination of strong celery flavour with a hint of anise, lends a wonderful flavor to soups, stews, stocks, salads, meat, potato and tomato dishes. You can use it much like you would celery or parsley, but with a lighter hand since it does have a stronger flavor. It is also used as a natural salt substitute, and is said to be an aphrodisiac – hence the name. And every part of the plant – leaves, stems, roots and seed – is edible!
Fortunately for us, Lovage is not a small, delicate plant. It will grow to about 6′ – 0 feet tall in 5 years, so you want to have a nice roomy corner of the garden set aside for it. Due to its statuesque size and solid green leaves, it looks great as a backdrop in the perennial flower garden, and is indeed often used for that purpose. It can also be grown in a large pot, or tub on the balcony. And in a couple of years, you never need to buy celery or parsley again – other than for celery sticks with Chez Whiz.
Here then are in the why and wherefores of how to grow and use Lovage.
So, one plant is enough for a family. It can take partial shade and does better in soil that is fairly fertile and not too dry. If you have a longer growing season, simply direct seed it outside. Hereabouts, start seeds indoors about 6 weeks ahead for transplanting, or buy a plant from a garden centre. Germination takes about ten to twelve days. Lovage seeds need to be fairly fresh, and to make sure you get one good plant, sow at least 4 seeds in a pot. When you move the plant to the garden keep it well watered for the first couple weeks, and feed with a natural fertilizer. The first year you won’t see it’s full growth – it will only reach about 2 feet – but you can begin to harvest at 1′ – 0 tall. Cut stems from the outside, leaving the center intact, and chop up to use in recipes.
Lovage is a perennial which dies back to the ground in winter, and regrows in spring. To keep you in Lovage over the winter, you can dry or freeze the leaves – the latter preserves the flavour – and dry the stems and grind them as needed.
Lovage seeds can also be used. They have a sweeter flavor than the leaves and can be used much like celery seed. A large seed stalk will form in early summer. Allow the seed to ripen until they begin to turn brown, then cut the stalk and dry the seeds. If you do not want to harvest seeds cut the stalk right away; this encourages more leaf growth. If you leave it be, the plant will reseed in your garden.
After several seasons dig up your Lovage in the spring and divide the root, or find and transplant new self-sown seedlings. You can preserve or use the root by washing it, and cutting it into small pieces. Dry the pieces on a screen and store away from light. Or, you can give the root to a fellow gardener to plant and grow their own Lovage plant. A gift that will be much appreciated. The Lovage plant will do much better after division.
Lovage is best used fresh, but you can freeze the leaves and stems. Blanch a handful of leaves in boiling water VERY quickly then quickly throw into a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes. Drain, place in plastic freezer bags and freeze. The frozen Lovage can be minced and used in cooked dishes.
Add a teaspoon of fresh minced Lovage to your chicken soup during the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking. You can also add it to hot or chilled vegetable, meat, potato or tomato soups. Add one to two tablespoons of minced fresh Lovage to your meatloaf recipes. Harvest Lovage seeds to use whole or ground in cakes, meats, biscuits, breads, sauces, cheeses, salad dressings, or pickles. Add fresh leavest to your favorite potato salad or coleslaw too.