Lovage, Levisticum officinale (syn. Ligusticum levisticum), is also sometimes called European lovage, garden lovage, lavose, love parsley and sea parsley. It is a member of the Apiaceae family (as is parsley), which also includes several highly poisonous plants, so it is important, if you wish to use it, that you grow it yourself, using seeds or plants obtained from a reputable supplier.
Lovage can be found growing wild across Europe and Asia, parts of Britain, as well as the Eastern US, although it is believed to originate in Afghanistan and Iran. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of almost 6 feet (1.8m). It is attractive to wildlife and requires moist soil, but is otherwise unfussy as to type. It will not grow in full shade.
It has a flavor which is said to resemble both yeast extract and celery (this is a sufficient explanation for my not having tried it), and all parts are edible, usually cooked, though the leaves are also sometimes added to salad. A tea can be made from the leaves or grated roots, but tastes more like broth than tea. Seeds and leaves are used fresh or dried as flavoring for savory food such as soup or stews, and also in cakes.
Propagation from seed can be slow, and it is best to sow these as soon as they are ripe. Lovage can also be propagated by dividing existing plants in spring or fall. Leaves should be harvested before plants come into flower and used fresh or dried for later use. To dry them, lay out in very thin layers on trays in an airy place out of the sun, turning daily until they are ready to store.
Roots harvested for use in herbalism are generally collected from 3-year-old plants. Since these can be pretty large, you may wish to divide the plant, replanting part of it and using the remaining roots for medicine.
Lovage is not suitable for use by pregnant women or anyone who suffers from kidney problems, even in food.
Roots, leaves and fruit are used for herbal medicine. Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to infuse for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) then strain off the herb and discard.
A decoction can be made using either the fruit or the grated root. Put 30g (1 ounce) into 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to continue simmering until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard.
Dosage in either case is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.
A standard infusion is sometimes used to induce menstruation. Use a standard infusion or decoction to treat colic, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and as a mild expectorant. A root decoction can also be used to treat sore throats and external ulcers, or added to bath water for skin problems.
Lovage is near the top of the list of naturally occurring sources of quercetin (an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-cancer agent), just behind tea, red onions and capers, at 1700mg/kg. No study on the effect of organic growing on quercetin content in lovage has been undertaken, but in tomatoes, organic cultivation increases quercetin levels by 79% compared to non-organic. A similar effect seems likely in other plants, including lovage.
Even if you’re not interested in maximizing the quercetin levels in your lovage, because of potential conflicts between the active naturally occurring chemicals in the plant (which are the source of its properties) and those found in commercially available garden products, it’s important that you grow it organically, if you wish to use it for herbal medicine. To find out more about growing organic lovage visit the Gardenzone.