When I was new to herb gardening I enjoyed discovering herbs that had gotten lost along the way as Americans in the nineteenth century moved from the rural life to the city life. One of them was lovage, a mainstay in Victorian herb gardens.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a tender perennial in Texas. Leaves are medium green and resemble flat-leaved parsley, a distant cousin. Yellow-green flower clusters appear in May or June. This member of the carrot family thrives best in areas with warmth and ample moisture. The edible stalks grow four to six feet tall and may spread 2-3 feet at maturity after three years of growth.
Plant lovage in a place where it will be easy to keep it well watered. Because of its height and somewhat wild appearance, position young plants near the back of flower or herb beds. Lovage can be propagated by offsets in early spring or by seeds later in the year. It self-sows in good conditions. To avoid it spreading where you don�t want it you might want to keep the flower heads clipped.
All parts of lovage are edible and have been used by cooks of times gone by. The fleshy roots (brown outside, pale inside) were peeled, sliced, and used in the same manner as carrots. The fresh, light flavor of lovage stalks were used in soups or stews. The stalks were also candied in sugar syrup and eaten as a breath freshener. Fresh young lovage leaves were added to salads. The crushed seeds flavored breads, pastries, rice, or potatoes.
Lovage also has medicinal uses. This herb is good at reducing water retention. Old home remedy books recommended an infusion of lovage when dealing with kidney stones, jaundice, and general urinary complaints. In other herbal preparations, lovage was used to combat stomach disorders and fevers.
It�s hard to say how, but lovage managed over the centuries to garner a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Witches were said to use it in love potions. Oil of lovage was also used to enhance perfumes and flavor tobacco, two effective mood enhancers.
You may not be interested in the medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities of lovage but the culinary uses are waiting for you to discover. Add some of this herb to your garden and see why it was a favorite of Victorian gardeners and cooks.