Lovage An Herbal Substitute For Celery

Levisticum officinale - Ploufragan-France july...
Image via Wikipedia –Levisticum officinale

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.

18 thoughts on “Lovage An Herbal Substitute For Celery

  1. Hi Gurujot!
    Wow, only one plant to germinate. That sounds like my one experience with Lemon Grass! It wasn’t very good, but there were only 10 seeds in the packet. One germinated and it never made it to transplant stage. 🙁

    Good luck with your Lovage! Let us know how it goes, ok? I am curious as to how you’ll use it.

  2. I have a huge lovage plant in my herb garden in North /Central Arizonia . It is the first one to grow each spring. It I s Easter and it is already 20 inches tall.

    Do you have any ideas for usage?

    THANKS!

  3. Hi Linda,
    I would first use it as a celery substitute in cooking soups or crock-pot dishes. I’m curious if you’ve tried to eat the leaf stems or stalks like a piece of raw celery? With cream cheese or peanut butter smeared on, of course. Let us know how you like it!

  4. Plant Lovage has been in family for three generations. Brought here from Germany
    by my grandfather. It has been transplanted from original plant a MILLION times!!
    It makes the best Chicken Dumpling Soup…..yum, yum.
    Grows well in midwestern states. Never knew name of plant until my daughter looked
    it up recently.22

  5. How cool is that, Barbara! I can’t imagine having a plant last from generation to generation as I came from a mobile family with lots of addresses over the years.
    Thanks for your tip on using lovage in chicken soup! Will have to give a try.

  6. I bought a plant years and years ago. It spread out sort of everywhere (self-seeded, maybe?)

    I brought one of the plants to our new home and it’s grown very large with another one close by. I like to just grab a leaf every now and then to munch on while I’m in the garden. I have used the leaves for for garnish and chopped up on salads. Never eaten the stalks though 😉

    I’m in ND and yes, it grows very well here…Zone 3 or 4.

  7. That’s great to know, Connie. Would you say the leaves tasted like celery leaves when eating them out of hand?

    Oh, is it planted in full sun to get that great growth? We have lots of shade here and it can be a problem for growing veggies and herbs too.

  8. I have one in central Massachusetts for 30 years! I pick and naturally dry stalk, stem, leaf in sun, final dry in low oven if humid outside. I have used it as a rub on corn-on-the-cob. Just melt butter in a large cast iron pan and place whole dried stem and leaf in hot pan to crisp (until dark green) and sprinkle salt and/or pepper, or garlic powder for that matter, to flavor. Powdered Sage might be good, too! After it looks crisp, I crush the Lovage into small fine pieces and then roll cooked corn-on-the-cob in the mix. It is so so so delicious. Then I eat whatever Lovage is left in the pan until I almost burst.

  9. Too cool, Gina! It’s great to know how these uncommon herbs can be used in tasty ways.

    I love that idea of rolling corn on the cob in your buttered herbs – thanks for sharing! I’ll be trying it this summer for sure.

  10. 6-22-16 Have grown lovage for years in SW Idaho. Letting plants go to seed this year for what else…celery seed. elsey seed you buy in the stores in 90-95% lovage seed. My two plants are standing almost 10 feet tall right now. They face east and are shaded from the hot afternoon sun by the house.

  11. Deni,

    Ten feet tall! That’s great. You’ll have enough seed for a long while I guess.

    Thanks for your comment about the store-bought celery seed being mostly lovage seed. Who knew? I do like that stuff in salads, the seeds I mean. Do you use the leaves in your cooking?

  12. I live in Oxfordshire, UK and grow lovage successfully in light soil and full sun. Plant now 10 ft tall. I am interested to read previous comments on uses for the stem and leaf as I have only used the seed in stocks and stews as a celery substitute. I particularly like the idea of combining with see salt for use as a condiment and will add to cheese scones today to accompany tomato soup for lunch.
    EM

  13. Well, Eileen, if you weren’t so far away in the UK, I’d come over for lunch. It sounds delicious. And your plant magnificent!

    Adding your herb to sea salt for a condiment is a great idea. Thanks for your tips!

  14. I have 2 HUGE Lovage plants. I use it in anything I would add celery to, but be very careful on how much is used as its extremely strong in comparison. It can almost ruin a dish if overused.

    I also dry it and chop it to use in soups and sauces.

  15. My lavage plant came from a piece of my fathers plant that came from a piece of his fathers plant. For 50 years or more we didn’t know the correct name and called it “soup celery”.
    I love to put two or three whole leaves in a pot of soup, or go to the garden in the morning, pick a leaf, and shred it on my fried eggs. Delicious.

  16. Hey Dan!

    Way to keep it going! That’s an old plant by anybody’s definition. 50 years!

    I love the name “soup celery” and I surely hadn’t thought of sprinkling bits on fried eggs.
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

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