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Herb of the Month

by Doina Marieta Costescu    

LOVAGE (Levisticum officina)

While its native range is disputed (much of Europe and southwestern Asia, only the eastern Mediterranean region in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia, only the southwestern Asia in Iran and Afghanistan, and claims that European populations are natur-alized) it has long been cultivated in Europe. The leaves are used as an herb, the roots as a vegetable, and the seeds as a spice, especially in southern European cuisine. The name lovage is from “love-ache”—ache being a medieval name for parsley.

Lovage is an herbaceous perennial plant 1.8 to 2.5 meters tall, with a basal rosette of yellow-green leaves and stems. The larger basal leaves are up to 70 cm long, tripinnate, with broad triangular to rhomboidal, acutely-pointed leaflets with a few marginal teeth. The stem leaves are smaller and less divided with few leaflets. Lovage is considered a “magic bullet” companion plant. Much as borage helps protect almost all plants from pests, so lovage is thought to improve the health of almost all plants.

Lovage was admired by the ancient Greeks and Romans for its medicinal as well as for its culinary properties—it was believed to cure everything from rheumatism to sore throats and indigestion. Medieval travelers tucked the leaves into their shoes because of their antiseptic and deodorizing properties. Charlemagne was so smitten, he ordered it to be grown in all of his gardens. As the name suggests, it was also thought to be an aphrodisiac (we used to call it “love parsley”). An infusion of the root was recommended by old writers for jaundice and urinary troubles and the roots and seeds were used in “pestilential disorders.” Culpepper wrote that “the leaves bruised and fried with a little hog’s lard and laid hot to any blotch or boil will quickly break it.”

Lovage also has culinary uses. The green leaves, cut into fine ribbons, are very good with lightly-cooked summer vegetables. Or add them, chopped, to salads or to just-boiled new potatoes in a mustardy vinaigrette. Lovage is delicious with eggs, too—stir leaves into omelets, scrambled eggs or frittata. Tender young stems from the center of the plant can be steamed and served as a side vegetable—lovely with a summer roast chicken. You can peel the large tap roots and use them in stews. In Rumanian cuisine, the leaves are used in soups. When the seeds start to turn brown, harvest them and use in place of celery seeds in pickling mixtures, breads or in savory biscuits to go with cheese. You can even use the hollow stems as a peppery, tongue-tingling stirrer for bloody marys, and if that doesn’t make you fall for this most lovely of herbs, I don’t know what will.

NOTE. The sources that Doina used were Wikipedia, "Lovage" in and "Lovage: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD."


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