2.32 Lovage

Photo: Levisticum officinale 4. Latin name:
Lovage: Levisticum officinalis (Ligusticum levisticum)
Scotch lovage: Ligusticum scoticum.

2.32.1 Growing lovage

From: nmm1.cam.ac.uk (Nick Maclaren):
This is a broad-leaved, tall (6-10') and (for an umbellifer) long-lived perennial. It has deep fleshy roots, and prefers deep, well-drained soil with some moisture in a light but not necessarily sunny position.

It dies down completely in the winter and will survive the top inch or so of the soil freezing solid. It may be grown from seed, small plants, or by splitting older ones in its dormant season. It spreads slowly but is not invasive.

From HeK:
If you give it good soil and plenty of sun it'll go for the height record in your garden - I've seen plants that were over 3 m (10') high. On the other hand, in a poor spot it'll only get to about 50 cm (2'). The roots will be enormous no matter where it grows. You can propagate it from pieces of root, and it's an 'easy to garden' plant - nothing will crowd it out and I have yet to see an unhealthy plant.

2.32.2 Harvesting lovage

From: nmm1.cam.ac.uk (Nick Maclaren):
The leaves can be used fresh or dried in the usual way, or the seed can be harvested for winter use. An established plant produces huge heads of seeds.

From HeK:
The roots are used in cooking in Europe. Dig them, take a step or two back, try to dig again. Give up, and at least try to break off a chunk or two. Dry these in small chunks and powder before use. Caution - very little goes a long way.
You pick the seeds when they turn brown; dry them and add as a spice to your foods.
You pick a leaf a year (they have a very strong taste and are -really- large), dry it and use it as a spice.
You can pick a leaf- or flowerstalk and shoot peas - it's much more fun than weeding the garden, and you might hit a fly or two, too ;) or you can use it as a drinking straw.

2.32.3 Using / preserving lovage

From: nmm1.cam.ac.uk (Nick Maclaren):
It has a taste rather like celery with a hint of yeast extract, and is a traditional flavour enhancer; it can be used in quite large quantities.
The young leaves are excellent chopped in salads, but the normal use is to put the older leaves or seeds in soups, stews, casseroles, stock etc.
The seeds will keep for a year or two (for cooking) in a tightly closed jar. It is an extremely useful herb.

From HeK:
It's the main spice in all those dried soups - in Germany it has been called the Maggi-herb, after one big dried soup firm over there. I add it to all kinds of stews and soups, and it fits nicely in a spicemix with ginger, sweet pepper, cayenne, turmeric, garlic powder... sorry, have to go cook something now. And oh yes, you can also candy young stems of lovage. I wouldn't vouch for that taste, though. Anyone want to try? Let me know how many you managed to eat; )

Lovage overdose -> nausea

From Chrissie Wildwood:
Ignoring my common sense, I followed the advice given in one of my herbal cook books - that is, to use lovage 'like spinach'. This implies that the herb is safe to use in quantity. So I used four stems of fresh lovage leaf, mixed with a much larger proportion of spinach, and used this as a basis for a cheese flan. Even though the flan tasted delicious, less than an hour later we (myself, partner and a friend) began to feel nauseous. I sensed lovage was the culprit. Fortunately, I had some peppermint oil tablets available. We chewed two tablets each and this quelled the nausea within a few minutes.

The herb's emetic side-effect is largely overlooked. Indeed, only one reference book in my vast herbal library offers a warning against over use of lovage: 'The Illustrated Book of Herbs, Their Medicinal and Culinary Uses', by Jiri Stodola and Jan Volak, published by Octopus, 1984 (a translation from the Czech). Here we are warned: 'If taken internally in excess, lovage may cause nausea and vertigo.'

But what constitutes an 'excessive' dose? Undoubtedly, four leafy stems shared between three adults (even though cooked for an hour in a pastry case with spinach, beaten egg, cream and cheese) can make you feel very queasy. Thankfully we didn't experience vertigo as well.

2.32.4 Which lovage do you have?

From Henriette:
Scotch lovage can be used like lovage. Can't say how it differs from lovage, though, as it doesn't grow here. I imagine the taste is milder - how else can you explain that the English make a stew out of lovage leaves?