Here’s an herb you may not know…but should. It’s lovage, a relative of the carrot rather than of the celery it so closely resembles. Pronounced either “LOVE-age” or “luh-VAHGE,” this hardy herb, Levisticum officinale in Latin, is useful in the edible landscape and a sultry addition to the kitchen.
So plain and unassuming in the garden, lovage has what one source calls a “bold” streak in the kitchen. Too strong to prepare by itself, with a flavor like intense celery but slightly oily, lovage in small quantities nonetheless adds a delectable taste, bringing smokiness to soups and stews, sauces and meat stuffings. I use lovage anytime I use a bay leaf. In fact I grow the bay leaves themselves on a sturdy bush that’s tucked away in a sheltered semi-shady part of the garden.
This Old World plant also has an edible seed with aromatic properties, used to flavor beverages and desserts, and the stem is sometimes candied.
Lovage grows robustly in ordinary garden soil. And I can attest that it also grows robustly in sloppy, heavy wet clay soil (at my house). Germination takes some time, but newly established seedlings can be moved into place and will take hold and provide a bushy mid-green mass that adds lushness to flower beds. The almost fringed leaves are especially attractive. Once established from seed, lovage grows as a hardy perennial plant, one that comes back year after year and can be propagated by dividing the spreading roots.
Then watch out! Stout flower stalks can head up to eight feet tall before spreading their yellow glory. The seed is prolific.
To get an idea about ordering lovage online, see Nichols Garden Nursery online.
Nan K. Chase is the author of Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape. She grows lovage and all sorts of other weird plants at home in Asheville, N.C., and speaks to garden and urban farming groups about the edible, drinkable landscape.