In love with lovage

An under-appreciated herb

By
May 11, 2010

Just a month ago, the peculiar red shoots of lovage were just poking out of the ground. Now, in May, the plant is already a few feet high, and I’m thrilled.

I’m always thrilled about lovage, and I’ve been growing it, talking about it, and cooking with it for — could it be so? — more than three decades. Lately, lovage is starting to come into view for more people, but for most, when I say the word, what comes back is, “Lovage? What’s that?”

lovage
Lovage looks like a gigantic version of Italian parsley.

It’s a legitimate question, for lovage hasn’t been held in the same high esteem as it was in the time of Charlemagne, which was quite a while back, after all. During the Middle Ages, the herb was included in both kitchen gardens and physic gardens, where it was grown for its healing properties. As is often the case with herbs, it’s the root that’s used for curative properties, but what interests me are the leaves and the hollow, ridged stems.

So what we’ve got in lovage is a big perennial plant in the same family where dill, celery, parsley, carrots, cumin, and other umbellifers meet. The leaves tend to make a lot of people think that they’re looking at some gigantic version of Italian parsley, or maybe parsley crossed with celery. Actually, a blend of parsley and celery leaf almost describes the flavor of lovage — it’s not quite one, not quite the other, but reminiscent of both. In truth, the flavor is more wild and bright than either, but like both, it has a cutting, clean flavor that enlivens other foods like eggs, cucumbers, and potatoes. It is especially good with blander foods like rice, cream soups, and, again, potatoes.

lovage close-up
Lovage can grow as tall as a person.

Early in its season, the dark green leaves of lovage are smooth, tender, and new. With time, they’ll start to look more leathery and ragged, as they sustain more heat and wind — not that I don’t use them even in that state. But now their tender newness makes them just the thing to tear into a salad or layer with cucumbers in a sandwich, two of my favorite uses for this aromatic leaf. The hollow stems are delicious in a glass of tomato juice or a Bloody Mary. I’ve never done it, but apparently you can blanch the stems, then dress them in a vinaigrette.

Like its relative angelica, you can also probably candy the stems of lovage for use in winter baking. The seeds, which drop out of the umbels in late summer, can be ground or chopped and used as a seasoning, but it’s the new leaves that are most potent, surprising, and refreshing.

Under favorable conditions — that is, good soil, sun, and water — lovage can get as tall as a person. I always say one plant will feed a small city block, but personally, I have four. I just like to look at them as well as use them. They’re a handsome garden plant and thrive even in the high desert of the Southwest.

Advertisement
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian ad

Growing right next to my main lovage plant are tarragon, chervil, chives, and sorrel, also new and green and ready to eat. I put all of them into salads and soups, often together. For example, last night I started out making a potato-sorrel soup, then threw in some lovage and a few chard leaves and served it garnished with chives, tarragon, and a spoonful of cream off the top of the yogurt.

True, the sorrel gave it a gloomy army-green color, but one taste, and I was back in the garden. In the mouth, it was an utterly vibrant spring soup. Just imagine all these leaves in a salad for an even more sparkly version.

If you have a garden and have never planted lovage, I encourage you to buy a plant at your nursery and get started. It’s one you can have a lot of fun with and will enjoy sharing. And while you’re at it, you might as well install a few sorrel plants and some tarragon. Chives, too. Chervil you’ll do from seed.

Alan Chadwick, the English gardener who introduced the French Biodynamic Intensive Method of gardening to the U.S., was passionate about cooking, not just growing food. When he described a dish, he began with the plant in the garden — its precise condition and age — and then went on to give exacting instructions about the cooking of it. He once suggested this sandwich for a Scottish breakfast:

Spread grainy dark bread with sweet butter. Or use white bread if you prefer. Cover with chopped lovage or whole, tender lovage leaves. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and, if you like, add sliced cucumbers. Season all with freshly ground pepper. Eat as an open-face sandwich or top with a second slice of bread.

And if an herb sandwich seems a bit earthy for breakfast, try it for lunch.

Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

Subscribe
Comments
There are 30 comments on this item
Add a comment
1. by giovannaz on May 11, 2010 at 2:12 PM PDT

Deborah, I just found a tree of lovage in the yard. It’s wonderful in your salt potatoes with herbs from ‘Local Flavors’ (which I think of as brined potatoes). I also like it strewn over some cooked beans, with nothing more than salt and olive oil.

2. by Deborah Madison on May 11, 2010 at 5:14 PM PDT

I guess with all that moisture in Portland lovage could be a tree! I can imagine it’s very good with beans, too. I forgot to mention those. The next piece might have to be on Angelica, which is even thicker, bigger and more impressive than lovage (but far less useful in the kitchen, unfortunately.) I just saw one with stems as large as my arms.

3. by CJMcD on May 12, 2010 at 6:59 AM PDT

Funny that this article would be posted today. I was thinking of lovage and how I wanted to plant some. I had lovage at a former home kitchen garden. It was a beautiful plant. I love the flavor of lovage. Great for soups, salads, stews and all things celery-parsley.

4. by rozcummins on May 12, 2010 at 12:25 PM PDT

I like to put lovage in egg salad sandwiches and deviled eggs. A friend of mine sprinkles it on top of hot soups, so the soup steams the leaves.

5. by Patrick Barber on May 12, 2010 at 1:04 PM PDT

I can attest that lovage grows very well here! I use it mainly as a celery-substitute in stocks and soups. A little goes a long way and it’s much appreciated in a region where celery is only locally available for a few months each year.

I’ll have to try it in more recipes, you guys are giving me some great ideas.

6. by My Own Sweet Thyme on May 12, 2010 at 1:42 PM PDT

I had never used lovage until I made Pâte à Choux at a workshop in Switzerland. They suggested it be chopped and added to a mixture of cream cheese and mustard to fill the bite sized pastry puffs we were making. They seemed surprised that I wasn’t familiar with it. I’m glad to read even more suggestions for using it.

7. by Deborah Madison on May 13, 2010 at 9:35 AM PDT

Glad to see there are a few lovage fans out there! I love the idea of putting it in a filling for Pate a Choux. And in egg salad, of course. I always think eggs need a sharp herb and lovage in egg salad sounds perfect. Thanks Roz!

8. by seanymph on May 13, 2010 at 5:49 PM PDT

I adore Lovage and have grown it on and off for yrs. I suggest you grow it too because lovage leaves are near impossible to find. I use it wherever I would use celery and parsley. And its especially good in soup......it seems to add a little body to it. I just recently moved so Im hoping to grow it again.

9. by tigress on May 13, 2010 at 7:09 PM PDT

i planted lovage 5 years aqo after reading your book the Savory Way. i have been loving it ever since! i find with each passing spring i enjoy it even more. i’m actually moving the location of my herb garden this year, and i’ve gotten so attached to my existing lovage that i’m thinking of moving it rather than starting anew! probably not practical though!

10. by Patrick Barber on May 13, 2010 at 8:55 PM PDT

tigress - try moving it - my lovage plant is on its third house with me. it’s very happy in a big container. dies back to the ground every winter and then comes right back in the spring.

11. by Deborah Madison on May 14, 2010 at 10:01 AM PDT

Tigress - You can also go to a nursey and buy a new
start if moving your lovage seems overwhelming. I wouldn’t want to move mine right now - it’s already on its way for the summer plus I’ve had some problems trying to transplant lovage at this big, leafed-out stage. It might be our soil and wind that gets in the way, though.

12. by debra daniels-zeller on May 14, 2010 at 12:20 PM PDT

Your post made me want to go out and get lovage immediately. I don’t have any in my garden, but it looks so lovely and I can imagine the flavor is just as you described. Thanks for the inspiration.

13. by Deborah Madison on May 14, 2010 at 1:23 PM PDT

Debra —I’ve no doubt you will enjoy it!

14. by Emily on May 17, 2010 at 11:42 AM PDT

I planted some lovage that I recently got at an herb festival in a small pot on our patio but it is not doing well. The stalks are turning yellow and I am wondering if I need to move it. It is north facing and plenty of sun... We have had some pretty good winds here lately as well so maybe that could be part of it? Any suggestions?

15. by Paige Orloff on May 19, 2010 at 10:10 AM PDT

So happy to have found this post; I was just this weekend explaining to my mother (an accomplished gardener and cook, it should be noted) what the heck that crazy plant in my vegetable garden was...I planted two tiny plants last year and they came back (I had no idea they would do that in my very cold zone 5B) and are now at last 3 feet tall. Gorgeous. So happy to have all these ideas for what to do with them! On a related note--I had no idea that you were blogging, Deborah, and as a passionate user of your recipes, I am so, so thrilled to find you online. I’ll be a regular now.

16. by Deborah Madison on May 19, 2010 at 10:23 AM PDT

Emily - Lovage does like sun and it also likes a dressing of compost in the spring. Maybe the north facing patio isn’t quite to its liking. Leaves do tend to turn yellowish in the summer as the plant matures, but the stems shouldn’t. I’m not plant doctor I"m afraid, but when I look at the differences among my plants, I notice that the one that gets the most attention - i.e. water and compost, does best. It’s not completely sunny, but our southwestern sun is so strong it may not matter that much. Good luck!

17. by Deborah Madison on May 19, 2010 at 10:25 AM PDT

Hi Paige -
Great that you discovered your lovage plant! I"m in zone 5 as well, but others who are in milder climates report that their lovage is the size of trees, or at
least people! Enjoy your new found herb -

18. by DOROTA GOCZAL on Jun 2, 2010 at 2:47 PM PDT

Hello,

First I was not sure what the lovage is but now I have recognized a very familiar to me herb from Poland.

I am Polish and in Poland lovage is used in many soups but especially in a tomato soup. It is delicious.

19. by onecookingfool on Jun 2, 2010 at 6:28 PM PDT

My mom always had a big lovage plant in her garden... and used it in her potato salad every summer, as well as soups in the winter. She would chop it, spread it out on plastic wrap, then roll and freeze. Then she would only unroll as much as she needed. Our local nursery JUST added it this year to their offering of herbs. It’s awesome!

20. by Deborah Madison on Jun 7, 2010 at 3:36 PM PDT

Onecookingfool _ what an interesting idea - rolling and freezing lovage! Never heard of that.
I would try it, but while I was in Mexico last week, a gopher decimated
my plant. I discovered that the root system is huge - but I’m not pleased about
this. Hope I can find a new plant in my nursery!

21. by Deborah Madison on Jun 7, 2010 at 3:37 PM PDT

Dorota - I missed your comment from the other day. I had no idea that
lovage was used in Poland. I agree that it is wonderful in a tomato soup. Thank you for sharing this!

22. by simona on Jun 9, 2010 at 12:17 PM PDT

I am loving lovage too. I really like to smell it. I added it to some of my homemade fresh cheese and it worked very nicely.

23. by Kim on Jun 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM PDT

Deborah lost her lovage! Read the sad story (plus snakes) in her Culinate blog: http://www.culinate.com/author/Deborah_Madison/blog/a_sad_lovage_story__and_snakes

24. by Emily on Jun 19, 2010 at 6:51 PM PDT

Deborah,
Thanks for replying to my comment. I was relieved to hear that your leaves were turing yellow as well. I ended up moving it and it is now doing very well and may even need a bigger pot! I am enjoying using it this summer and am going to try rolling and freezing it to have some for later this year. I hope the gopher snake will protect your remaining plants :)

25. by Elke on Apr 2, 2012 at 7:53 AM PDT

I am from Europe and I could not agree more that Lovage is an absolute must have in the garden. I had several of them, lived here in the southwest desert for almost ten years and have been trying to grow it,but I am unsuccessful. I miss it a LOT.
I used in salads, soups, stews and I cut it up with parsley, onions, garlic put this mixture on cut up tomatoes with salt and pepper - heaven. For a soup mixture I would cut up - carrots, leeks, lovage, celeriac root or you can use celery leaves from stalk celery, it’s a good alternative, put it in a blender, bag it and freeze it. Voila there you have your soup blend ready to go into your soup in a sec.

26. by Deborah Madison on Apr 2, 2012 at 8:20 AM PDT

Elke —Another lovage fan - they’re everywhere!
Where in the SW do you live? I live near Santa Fe and can grow lovage with ease. the only challenge is the gophers who also like it, and my puppy, who seems to like it too. Right now its just emerging and is about 4 inches high, and I’ve just planted a few more plants. If it can get some water, it will grow here. At least in the high desert.

27. by anonymous on May 3, 2012 at 10:20 AM PDT

I’ve had a lovage plant in my garden for 3 years now, but really didn’t have any idea what to do with it. The Northeast’s minimal winter and early spring have it already at 2 feet tall!
The other day, I lopped off a few stalks. I sauteed them in butter, white wine and garlic, added local Jacob’s Cattle beans and some whole grain mustard. It was incredible with long-grain brown rice, and tasted even better on day 2. (The fragrance exploded beautifully.)

I think of it as tasting like curried celery.

And Deborah, I’m another huge fan. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is my favorite cookbook!

Stephanie

28. by Deborah Madison on May 3, 2012 at 11:19 AM PDT

That sounds absolutely wonderful, Stephanie! What an interesting approach. I’ll have to give it a try myself as my lovage is up and growing. Thank you for sharing your experience. (And thank you for your kind comment about VCFE.)
Try lovage in soups and salads too. It’s lovely to bite into fresh.

29. by Veronica on May 7, 2012 at 7:54 PM PDT

Hi there......i’m so happy to hear that people love lovage. I been looking for buying a plant,can somebody help me with that,please!!!!!!!!!!!!

30. by Deborah Madison on May 8, 2012 at 12:59 PM PDT

Veronica, I don’t know where you live, but nurseries often have the. If I come
across a mail order source I’ll let you know --

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [http://www.example.com "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer


Local Flavors

Deborah Madison, the celebrated cookbook author and local-food advocate, feeds us with her occasional reflections. Her latest book is Vegetable Literacy.

Want more? Comb the archives.

Advertisement
Our Table

The Joy of Cooking app

A new tool for the kitchen

The latest in our collection of cooking apps.

Subscribe
Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer

Reviews

Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice