Lovage happens to be one of my favorite herbs that I grow in my garden. For years I tried to grow celery, but the summer heat just wilted the plants before I could harvest them. I then stumbled onto lovage at Well Sweep Herb Farm in New Jersey and have been a big fan ever since.
Lovage is the tallest of the umbellifers, reaching a height of over 6 feet, and makes an attractive back-of-the border plant (which is a great idea to incorporate edibles in with your landscape plantings). All parts of the plant are useful in the kitchen, making it a worthwhile plant to keep. This herb was once thought to be an aphrodisiac, and was used by witches in their love potions.
Lovage looks and smells a lot like overgrown celery. The taste is similar to celery but I would say it is a little more bitter the further into the season you go. It has bright green, hand shaped leaves and thickly ridged hollow stems. The flowers, which bloom in mid- to late summer, are small, yellow, and formed in umbrella-like clusters. The seeds are flat, oval, and deeply ridged. The usual height is about 3-5 feet, but it can grow over 6 feet tall.
Lovage is one of the few herbs that tolerates shade, and it grows equally well in full sun. It will last several years if well cared for, and after about 4 years when it becomes too woody the roots can be used as a vegetable after the bitter skin has been removed.
It grows well in climates where it can receive a period of dormancy in winter. Sow indoors in late summer and retain only the best seedlings. One or two plants will provide enough of this herb for even the largest family. Keep the plants well watered in fall and spring. Water deeply to encourage deep root development, and take special care that young plants are never allowed to dry out.
The plants will die out in winter. In areas of hard frost, mulch the roots to protect against freezing.
Cut the stems and the foliage for drying in autumn. They are somewhat slow to dry, depending on the weather. Cut stalks of seedheads and hang to dry. When cutting, take care not to damage the center of growth.
Leaves may be used to flavor soups, casseroles, sauces and marinades. It may also be lightly cooked as a green vegetable. The stems can be candied as you would angelica, and the seeds are used to flavor baked goods. The roots can be peeled and used as a vegetable.
Give lovage a try. If you are a fan of celery, there is nothing better than lovage in your own garden.