Lovage is a hardy perennial, Levisticum officinale, and a member of the parsley family, Apiaceae. It’s native to a region including the southern Mediterranean and central Asia. Lovage is grown for its aroma and flavor that make a great substitute for celery. The leaves, seeds and roots are all used in cooking.
The entire plant looks like celery, but on a larger scale. It’s a tall plant that can grow to six feet or taller depending on the soil and growing conditions. This herb grows bigger each year for the first four years or so. The leaf stems are similar to celery stalks, but thinner. The aroma and taste are similar to that of celery with a hint of anise. The leaves are especially fragrant and somewhat pungent. White flowers are small and draw beneficial insects to the garden.
Cut back the entire plant during flowering and new growth will spring from the perennial root crown for a second harvest in the fall. Every few years the roots should be dug up to freshen the plant and induce vigorous growth. The roots with a couple of ‘eyes’ can be re-planted to form new plants, but you only really need one lovage plant. They’re large and the aroma is quite strong, so a little goes a long way. Better to give the roots to a friend with instructions to bury them a couple of inches in the soil. When planting lovage, make sure to select an area where this tall plant will not shade out other herbs or flowers. Due to the long and stubborn tap-roots this plant is difficult to move to a more suitable location with partial shade.
Sparingly use young fresh leaves on salads as the flavor is quite strong and may be an acquired taste. In noodle, rice or vegetable dishes the taste of lovage balances well with garlic, chives and lemon. When using fresh leaves in any recipe start with about 1 teaspoon chopped leaves as the taste can overpower other flavors in the dish. The leaves and stems can substitute for celery in soup, stocks, casseroles and vegetable dishes. Dried leaves retain their flavor and scent, and freezing the herb for winter use is also an option.
Seeds are aromatic and used in place of celery seed or fennel seed. They can be sprinkled on cooked dishes, added to mayonnaise-based salads, or in bread dough. Grind the seeds with sea salt to make an interesting seasoning that can be added to one’s own taste at the table. Blended with other herbs, lovage makes a tasty salt substitute.