Cultivate a love affair with versatile lovage
By Marilou Shea
In a recent column, I waxed poetic about how lovage, among other uncommon herbs, is trending as a culinary darling these days. I’ve just done a deep dive into lovage—which sounds like “luggage”—and it’s a pretty, cool herb, and while it won’t shake the shingles off your roof, it’s sure to intrigue (and I hope please) you with its yummy flavor family and easy cultivation.
A major thanks to the Tri-Cities Herb Club members who not only offered me an up close and personal look at this trendsetting herb, but a taste of it, so I can attest that what you’re about to read is true and accurate.
Lovage, or Levisticum officinale, is a sun-worshipping perennial herb. While its average height is six feet tall, it can grow to a whopping eight feet, and you’ll want to position it in your garden accordingly—perhaps as a border plant?
Its name harkens from medieval times and means “love-ache,” with “ache” being a derivative for parsley, so it should come as no surprise that they share the apiaceae (carrot/parsley) family in the plant kingdom.
Nothing akin to the Peloponnesian War, but there are disputes about its botanical heritage. Some say lovage’s roots lie in southern Europe and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean and southern France. Like many herbs, it can trace its origins, food love and medicinal applications to ancient Greeks. Others claim that it originated in southeastern Asia, the Afghanistan region and the Mediterranean. No matter. The truth is that many herbs have originated on both continents or found their way there to thrive and live happily ever after, thanks to trend-setting explorers, pirates and travelers.
Lovage flourishes in the United Kingdom in its propagation and use. The Brits adore this herb, fostering its use in a fabled winter lovage cordial with brandy.
Among its many attributes, this herb is super easy to grow and cultivate in our region, which makes it a favorite among herb lovers, gardeners and farm-to-table chefs.
If you’re a parsley or celery lover, then lovage is your new-old BFF because it captures the flavor of both—“new” because while it’s not a common herb, like say parsley, its lookalike cousin, its star is rising, and “old” because the Greeks adored it, and well, they’re considered ancient.
The herb has an intense celery flavor which makes perfect sense since it was the original celery before consumers played favorites and chose celery, usurping lovage’s popularity.
By all accounts lovage should be used sparingly in your dishes, as a little goes a long way, which creates great efficiencies because you get a lot of mileage using a small amount of the plant.
Lovage is also hyper-efficient. You can use every single part of the plant for something. The leaves can be used as an herb, say as a salad topper, in soups, or to up the flavor of broths, and, of course, it can be brewed for tea. Its seeds can be used as a spice, like that of coriander; its stems as celery; and its roots—good heavens—its roots can be used as a vegetable.
Lesser known is that its seeds and stems also are a secret weapon in popular confectionary treasures. In fact, the pilgrims of New England used to candy the root and chew the seed to stay awake and upright through prolonged pastoral remonstrations from the pulpit during church services.
On the recipe front, it’s a darling in potato soup and there are a gazillion lovage-potato soup recipes online. Lovage also pairs well with egg-anything, such as omelets and frittatas, stews, stocks, pork or poultry dishes.
Like oh so many of its counterparts, lovage has epic therapeutic benefits grounded in the very origins of its use and application. According to the Herbal Academy, it’s served in a broad array of forms, including infusions, tinctures, elixirs, and bath and foot soaks.
The Greeks used it for flatulence and digestive issues, and as a balm for those weary sandaled feet—sort of an ancient version of Odor-Eaters.
It’s known to treat inflammation and indigestion, a host of urinary issues, including prevention of kidney stones, gout, migraine headaches, jaundice, malaria, joint pain and pleurisy, among others.
Whether as a culinary partner to your frittata or as an herbal remedy to soothe a sore throat, this herb will provide a blanket of perennial good taste and comfort. What’s not to love?
Marilou Shea is an educator by day and the founder of Food Truck Fridays. Read her blog at foodlove.net.