We want to move towards self-sufficiency and are looking for herbs that can be added to supplement our diet with high nutritional content, so lovage seems the perfect herb!
If you want to have a garden that takes little maintenance then Lovage – Levisticum officinalis is the ultimate solution. It tastes like celery and the leaves can be taken directly from the living plant. Lovage is a perennial that will need a heavy prune before Winter and then division in Early spring.
Whether you choose to grow as a culinary herb or as an ornamental perennial, lovage has a lot to offer.
How To Grow Lovage From Seed
- Start your Lovage seeds in biodegradable plant pots. That way you can transfer them outside when they are ready to be put directly into the ground. It will mean no disruption to their roots.
- With a packet of seeds containing several hundred seeds you do not need to plant them all, ever! Lovage will self seed each year, meaning that you can weed some out, let some grow and even pot some on for fellow gardener’s.
- Almost fill the seed planter. Lay 2-3 lovage seeds on the top. Dust with soil. Lovage needs sunlight to germinate, so perlite is fine instead of a dusting of compost. The seeds will happily leave the flowers in Autumn and land on ground. Then take root. So no need to give them any special treatment.
- Water well and cover with a plastic bag and store in a warm sunny spot. Ideally a heated propagator will enable a good germination rate.
- Lovage takes between 7-10 days for seeds to germinate, but be patient if you are not using a heated propagator as this can be as long as 20 days.
- When the seedlings are large enough to handle prick out the smaller ones. True leaves will take between 5-6 weeks from germination to arrive.
- Lovage will take three years to reach full maturity. At this point it can be around 90cm in spread and 1.5 meters in height. Choose a spot towards the back of your herb garden. Full sun to partial shade is preferred and keep away from any area with hard winds. Dig through some well rotted organic matter. As much for drainage as for feed.
- Realistically one or two plants will feed a family, however keep on one plant from each year. This will allow you to have a fully mature plant and juvenile plants through the years.
Caring For Lovage Plants
- In hot months ensure to water well and give a liquid feed once a month.
- In Summer cut back fresh foliage to allow for a bushier shrub. Lovage will grow up, rather than out if left unchecked.
- During Summer harvest as and when required and take the cuttings to make dried lovage for herbal teas.
- When it flowers you have a decision to make. You can decide to let it go to seed and collect the seeds for use in place of celery seeds in cooking, or you can remove the flowers just as they start to die off. Now is the time to act if you do not wish to be over run with lovage plants the following year. This must be where it gets its reputation for being a weed from. It is an aggressive self-seeder.
- Towards mid Autumn lovage will start to die off. Cut it right back and allow for a dormant period.
- Before the first frosts layer up the base of your lovage plants with straw, or a light mulch. This should help with weeding as well as providing some degree of protection from the cold.
- Weed around your lovage, as much to stop it’s own spread as anything. You may find that it starts to smother other smaller plants and this can be controlled by adequate pruning in Summer months.
How to harvest Lovage
- Leaves can be harvested as and when you want to eat them, this is what makes lovage so perfect. Fresh leaves for any salads, soups, garnish or inside sandwiches.
- Stems can be cut back at the end of the main growing season
- Seeds can be taken once the flowers have gone over but be wary as they are self seeders so you may loose them all to a strong breeze.
- Roots can be harvested when you are ready to dig up the plant. It is a perennial so you may want to consider our advice on successional planting first.
What can you use Lovage for?
We are seriously looking at becoming more self sufficient. Lovage is the perfect alternative to celery as it is far easier to grow and much more prolific. Not to mention you can eat it all. Plus it is a cut and come again type of plant, meaning I can eat the leaves straight from the plant.
We add the leaves to salads and have a great Sorrel and herb salad mix thing for BBQ’s. The salty celery taste is good with more of your ‘heavy’ dishes. Even with hot buttered new potatoes with parsley and Lovage it really lifts the side dish!
You can use the leaves to garnish pasta dishes. To add an extra element to ham and tomato sandwiches in your packed lunch. Or even as an ingredient in a winter stew.
We love to cook with eggs as we have a small flock of free range hens, so any dish that you may have added spinach, then lovage, mixed with a few other herbs will become a tasty uplift.
The stem can be candied like angelica, we have never done this though! But good in sweets.
The roots are perfect as an actual root vegetable. So think like a more chunky celery, but with similar uses. Lightly roasted with other root vegetables, or in stews and casseroles.
Medicinal Properties of Lovage
Really you are adding a herb with high levels of vitamin C to your diet. Those benefits are not to be underestimated. Lovage will be more potent with the amount of sunshine it receives. So keep it well drained but in sunshine for as much of the day as possible.
Like all food the nutritional content will vary depending on how you cook it. As well as length of time from being picked to eating. So pick it and eat it in one go! Perfect for looking all eco-friendly and cool during family barbecues.
Keep it organic to make it easier to eat straight from the shrub!
There are other claims of the benefits of lovage for water retention, but they are still a new idea and would need more research to be fully confirmed.
Beware the Perennial qualities of this tasty ‘weed’
This fear of self seeding and your garden becoming a lovage paradise is real. To reduce that chance you can prick out the flowers, but then you have missed the delight of those small yellow petals. It would be a shame for local wildlife as well! So just keep an eye on the seeds during the dead flower season and make sure you weed around the area.
We are lucky that our chickens will eat any tender and tasty plants. So they do all the hard work for us and receive a good level of vitamin C in the process!
So please do let us all know how you get on with planting Lovage in your garden!
What Next & Further Reading