Lovage..You'll Fall in Love

(Levisticum officinale)

As previously stated, the Romans felt it was a valuable medical plant, they had some justification-it contains a plant pigment called Queratin, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, Besides containing Vitamin C and a variety of B complex vitamins.


Medically it has been used as a diuretic, stimulant, anti-inflammatory, treatment for jaundice, and to regulate the menstrual cycle. It is prepared as an infusion, tincture, lozenge, vinegar, and in salves used for treatment of acne and to sooth rashes and psoriasis symptoms.


Lovage is appropriate to zones 3 through 9, and it prefers a cooler climate will still do well in hotter temperatures. It is a perennial, and is dormant in the winter, and when grows quickly enough in the spring and summer that you can have a steady supply even the first year it is in the your garden.


The plant grows up to 6 feet tall and can spread to 32” in width…..so it is great near a foundation or wall, and with it’s flat parsley like leaves can provide a backdrop for you’re herb or flower garden.


Propagation

You have multiple options…seed or root division.

When sowing seeds, you want soil temperatures to be greater than 60 Fahrenheit…sprinkle them on the soil and cover lightly with sand. Or, you can start them indoors 5 to 6 weeks before last frost in your area. Keep the soil moist but not drenched. Use seeds that are fresh (less than a year old) as they don’t store well, and be patient…they have low germination rates and can take up to 20 days…what seems like forever in gardening!


If starting indoors, transplant the seedlings when they have 2 sets of true leaves and all risk of frost has passed. Use plenty of compost in your soil, and be sure to tamp the soil down well after transferring.


Root division is the second option…if you already have some lovage you want to transfer, or a friend who is willing to share, dig around the plant at least one foot down and as wide as the crown. This plant has a very long taproot (up to 35” long), so you want to ensure you have enough root structure to supple the new plant. Shake the soil off and divide the crown and roots into 2 sections. Remove any dead roots or branches and then replant in the desired location.


Lovage likes full sun, but can tolerate a few hours of shade during the

day…and a sandy/loamy soil that has plenty of organic matter. The soil should ideally be slightly acidic at 6.5 ph, and have good drainage. Mulch around the lovage to retain moisture.


Raised gardens are perfect for this plant, but you can use a container, as long as it is at least 12” deep and 12” wide. It is not a great indoor plant, because it gets so big, but if you wanted to grow it indoors you can use succession planting every 2 to 3 weeks.


When harvesting never take more than one half of the leaves at one time, so the plants maintains it’s strength. If you are not harvesting it you should prune it mid-summer. This promotes air circulation and of course removes dead or damaged portions. Simply use sharp pruners and cut back to the leaf nodes.


If your plant should bolt (intentionally or otherwise you can cut the flower stalk to prevent it from going to seed and spreading…..If you allow it to flower (it has dainty little flowers) it will attract parasitic wasps and tachinid flies that can help manage caterpillars in your garden, so it is very beneficial.

The plant is pretty resilient, and doesn’t have too many diseases it is prone to…but aphids, leaf miners, parsley worms, and tarnished plant bugs are harmful to Lovage. Diseases most likely to pose a threat are early blight and leaf spot, but again, it is generally pretty healthy.


Harvesting

The first year harvest only the leaves, not the stalks. The second year you can harvest the stalks, and you have the option or harvesting the roots to use as a vegetable. When harvesting the full plant, you should wait until around mid October when it is has reached full height. Always harvest the leaves in the morning, after the dew has dried, and colleting the outside leaves while they are young…don’t worry, they will resprout!


When harvesting do not wash the leaves, but wait until you are ready to prepare them. They will do well in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Seeds can be harvested when they turn brown…then dry them in a paper bag. When dry roll them around in your palms to remove the crown casing.


Harvest roots by digging up and storing in refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks. But again, don’t wash them until you are ready to prepare or preserve.


When drying roots, slice them into thin slices and dry at the lowest setting if you are using a dehydrator. The same with the leaves…..the lowest temperature you can use will preserve color and taste.


Another option is freezing the roots. Slice then blanch them first by dipping in hot water for 30 seconds, and then cold water to stop the cooling process.

Stems can be pickled in a 3:1 ratio of water and vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of vinegar. Heat the brine on the stove until the salt dissolves, then cool. Mix in some shallots, peppercorn, or celery seeds and refrigerate in a glass jar. Use within 2 months.


Stems and leaves can be chopped and frozen for up to 6 months.


Lovage is a great alternative to celery and can be used in the same way, but it does have its own taste….many people like it more than celery. It is a great addition to pasta, egg, and potato salads. It also can hold it’s own as a side dish…


You can bake the seeds into bread, like you would use Caraway, and they can also be added to meats and vegetables. Seeds can be added to salads and salad dressing, vegetable dishes, pesto's, soups, and stews.


In other words,…this versatile plant should be a welcome addition to your home.


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