The Low-Down on Lovage

This hardy, durable, delicious herb has existed for centuries, and its re-emergence into the modern garden comes with a rich history.

  • Lovage has a long history of usage, stretching back centuries.
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  • Lovage originated in the Mediterranean region, growing in places such as ancient monasteries.
    Photo by Getty Images/spooh
  • Lovage is believed to have been first cultivated in places such as the Italian Alps.
    Photo by Getty Images/Janoka82
  • Lovage likes rich, fertile soil and full sun, but it will tolerate some shade.
    Photo by Getty Images/sasimoto

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is making a comeback, with roots tracing centuries back through time. This hardy perennial member of the parsley family is also known as “sea parsley” and “love parsley” — and rightly so, as its seeds were used in a medieval love ­potion. Ancient monastery gardens also sported this versatile herb. In the Middle Ages, Charlemagne, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, so esteemed lovage that he decreed that it be grown in all his gardens.

Like many other ancient herbs, lovage originated in the Mediterranean region. Although its common names have romantic references, “lovage” is actually an alteration of the genus name Levisticum, which, as an alteration of Ligusticum (another genus in the carrot family), refers to the plant’s Ligurian origins. The Romans probably brought it to Britain, and from there it traveled to the American colonies. The colonists found lovage hardy, easy to grow with minimal attention, and wholly useful, from the roots to the seeds. Nowadays, the plant is naturalized in much of the United States. If you’re thinking of foraging for lovage, though, beware: it bears a striking resemblance to another large umbellifer — poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), which, as the name suggests, is extremely poisonous.

Interest in lovage is growing in the present day, and you can incorporate this ancient herb into your garden, using some of its rich history as a guide along the way. Admire lovage’s bushy form as it grows, harvest different parts of the plant, and utilize it for an array of purposes.

Medicinal History and Culinary Usages of Lovage

The roots, stems, and leaves of lovage have long been used medicinally, especially as a diuretic. Chewing the leaves was said to sweeten the breath, and the seeds were crushed and taken for improving digestion. American colonists also chewed the roots to stay alert.

Lovage once had cosmetic uses as well. A tincture of the leaves was made to clear up skin rashes and spots, and it was placed in baths for fragrance and cleansing. Lovage also worked as an air freshener: medieval women wore it around their necks to ward off odors. Today, its fragrance calls up images of the cloistered gardens of medieval monasteries in southern France, or the ancient herb gardens in the Italian Alps, where lovage is believed to have been first cultivated.

For the curious palate, lovage has an intriguing flavor, somewhere between those of parsley and celery, and most people familiar with lovage today know it as a flavorful culinary herb. Its leaves perk up the flavor of otherwise bland foods. Add them to soups or sauces to reduce the need for salt; they’ll also enhance the flavors of other vegetables or fish. Notably, lovage has a special affinity for potatoes in soup or salad.



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