Lovage comes from the mountainous regions of southern Europe, primarily Italy, Greece, and France. Though its English name refers to the ancient belief in its aphrodisiac powers, it received its Latin name from a small town in Italy where the plant may have first been cultivated before the first century AD. Lovage was often used in making cordials and liqueurs, both for culinary and medicinal use; every part of the plant, including the roots and seeds, is edible. Traditional medicine makes use of this herb to improve digestion, treat fevers and sore throats, and ease cramping. Because of their excellent deodorizing qualities, the leaves have often been used as an air freshener or to freshen the breath. Though lovage can grow in the wild, it looks very similar to poison hemlock and should be carefully identified before being used for culinary purposes.
Sowing: To start lovage indoors, plant the seeds 1/4″ deep in a flat 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost. Germination usually occurs within 10-14 days, but can be longer. Keep the soil lightly moist with a spray bottle or careful watering, and keep the temperature cool for best results. When the seedlings are big enough to handle and there is no chance of frost, plant them 2-3′ apart in rich soil and full sun or partial shade. To direct sow, plant 3-4 seeds in groups 2-3′ apart and thin to the strongest seedling. Lovage can also be direct sown in the fall for early spring growth.
Growing: Lovage thrives in moist soil, and needs regular watering especially when it is becoming established. Control weeds. A very hardy herb, lovage survives cold well but will need mulching in very cold winters. Since lovage easily reseeds itself, cut the flowering heads before they go to seed to prevent volunteer plants. Cutting back the stems will cause the growth of new and more abundant leaves. After several years of growth, lovage benefits from being dug up and divided; the plant grows well from root and stem cuttings, and parts of the extensive roots can then be harvested for culinary use.
Harvesting: As soon as the plant reaches a height of 12″, harvesting can begin. Harvest fresh leaves or stems as needed, taking the outer stems first; the best time to harvest is in the morning after the dew has dried. Though fresh leaves and stems have the best flavor, they can also frozen; drying tends to deprive them of flavor. The roots, which are also edible, can be harvested in the spring or fall after the plant has been established and needs to be divided. Wash the roots, cut them into 1/2″ pieces, and spread them out to dry for several weeks. The seeds, which are similar in flavor to celery seed, can be harvested as soon as the seed heads begin to dry and develop mature seed. Store the seed in an airtight container.
Seed Saving: Allow the flowering seed heads to dry and develop mature seed; remove them and spread them out to dry away from direct sunlight. Thresh them to remove the seed. Store the seed in a cool, dry place. For best germination, use the seed as soon as possible.
Latin Name: Levisticum officinale
Species Origin: Mediterranean, Europe, Southwest Asia
Type: Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Cool Season
Life Cycle: Perennial
USDA Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Seeds per Ounce: 10,000
Planting Method: From Transplant
Sunlight: Full Sun, Part Sun
Height: 60 Inches
Color: White, Cream
Bloom Season: Blooms Early Summer, Blooms Late Summer
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