Posted by: lornasass | May 12, 2010

FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVAGE

When I returned home from a summer of container gardening in E. Chatham NY, The Sweetie was kind enough to fill the car with some of the heavy pots I couldn’t bear to leave behind.  I had bought a small lovage seedling in July and stuck it into the soil.  I don’t remember eating any then; it probably got lost among the other plants I crowded into the container.

Then about a month ago, I spotted the lovage growing taller by the day in the corner of one of the pots.  When I brushed up against it, I was reminded of a kind of celery I never knew–the kind that had real taste. It took a while for me to realize that this was lovage, an easy-to-grow perennial that was kind enough to make a re-appearance. Before long I started munching on it, mostly chopping up the leaves into salads for an herbal, celery-like crunch.  On the other hand, the stalks are hollow and rather fibrous, best used to flavor soups.

I kept thinking:  whatever happened to lovage?  I remember reading about it in Elizabethan recipes and it was probably a regular in Shakespeare’s kitchen garden (most likely tended and watered by Anne Hathaway).  It’s always listed as an herb, but it feels to me more like a vegetable.  In any case, it’s got so much more spunk than watery celery–and most celery you buy these days comes beheaded–no tasty leaves to be seen.

So whatever did happen to lovage?

I went scurrying around to see what garden and food writers had to say about it:  not much!  I asked my Facebook foodie friends and lots of lovage-lovers came out of cyberspace to suggest adding it to egg and chicken salads and to soups, all fine ideas.

Nowadays, you have to grow our own lovage to get a chance to eat it.  In THE KITCHEN GARDEN, the ever trustworthy Sylvia Thompson (whose work should be better known!) says, “Lovage looks and tastes like a wild celery…and the plant can grow 6 feet tall.”  Mine is about 2 feet and growing–And even more of a delightful surprise, Thompson tells me I have much to look forward to:  “Flowers are pale gold and tasty, and the seeds that follow are used as celery seeds.”

Stay tuned.  It’s only mid-May and there’s going to be a lot more to love about lovage.

P.S.  Be sure to look at the comment posted by Gary for a heap of fascinating information on lovage and suggestions for using it in recipes.


Responses

  1. Here’s the entry on lovage from my last herb book:

    LOVAGE
    Levisticum officinale

    Other Common or Ethnic Names
    Bladder Seed, Cornish Lovage, Garden Lovage, Italian Lovage, Love Parsley, Old English Lovage, Sirenas

    Lovage root appears in old herbals and apothecaries as “Folia Levistici” or “Radix Levistici.” An old scientific name (in fact, the name bestowed by Linnæus himself) is “Ligusticum Levisticum.”

    Denmark: Lœvstikke
    Estonia: Harilik Leeskputk
    Finland: Libbsticka, Liperi
    France: Ache de Montagne, Céleri Perpétuel, Gaya Àtige Simple, Livèche, Livéche
    Germany: Badekraut, Liebstock, Liebstöckel, Luststock, Maggikraut
    Hungary: Lestyán
    Iceland: Skessujurt
    Italy: Levistico, Ligustico, Maggi, Sedano di Montagna, Sedano di Monte
    México: Levistico, Zazlipatli
    Netherlands: Maggiplant, Mankracht, Lavas, Lubbestok
    Norway: Løpstikke
    Poland: Lubczyk Ogrodowy
    Romania: Leustean
    Russia: Goritsvet, Guljavitsa, Krovavnik, Ljubistok, Zorja
    Spain: Apio de Montaña, Ligústico, Levistico
    Sweden: Libsticka
    Turkey: Selam Otu

    Related Species
    Ligusticum monnieri: Giêng Sàng or Xà Sàng (Vietnam)
    Ligusticum porteri: Chuchupate, Oshá (México); Lovage, Masterwort, Porter’s Lovage
    Ligusticum scoticum: Scotch Lovage

    Growth Habits
    Perennial
    Origin: Southern Europe
    Range: Naturalized from Pennsylvania, south to Virginia, and west as far as Montana and New México

    Culinary Uses
    Seeds are used as flavoring for breads, cordials, potatoes, poultry dressings, rice and salads. They appear in the recipes for some French liqueurs. They are sometimes pickled in brine.
    Aromatic edible flowers used in confections, as are the crystallized stems.
    Roots are sometimes brewed as tea or shredded for use in salads. They are also preserved in honey.
    Leaves are used in cheeses, eggs, salads, stews and with chicken. A small amount can be added to Bechamel-based sauces, such as Mornay, for use on baked fish.
    In Turkey, a kind of meatloaf is made using Allspice, Garlic and Lovage in the forcemeat. It is served with yogurt and Mint.
    Lovage leaves can be used in any recipe that calls for Celery Leaves — just use less, as Lovage is about twice as strong in flavor. As always, don’t take my word for it — always taste your ingredients. Don’t be an unthinking slave to anyone’s recipe.
    Lovage tastes and smells of celery (because the two species both contain Cedanolid), with a hint of yeast, but with a spicier, sweet-hot character derived from α-Terpineol, Angelic Acid, Butylphthalide, Coumarin, Ligustilide and Malic Acid. Its warmth is reminiscent of Caraway, due to minute quantities of Carvacrol and Eugenol.
    Scotch Lovage, Ligusticum scoticum, is used like Angelica (q.v.).

    Other Uses
    Ornamental in herb gardens.

    Caveat
    All of these Lovages are targeted by Parsleyworms (see caveat under Dill).

    • Oh, this is fascinating. Thank you so much!

  2. Hi Lorna,
    Perfect timing! I just started a garden-focused feature on the NY Times’ “The Local” blog and the opening salvo? Lovage, go figure!

    You may not know this NY Times blog. It was started as an experiment last March. After a year, they have not cloned the blog (which covers Fort Greene and Clinton Hill) to any other NYC neighborhood.

    Here’s the link: http://fort-greene.thelocal.nytimes.com/

    Next Wednesday, we’ll feature a Romanian soup that uses a LOT of lovage. I had better make it beforehand to test the recipe! It is a grandmother’s recipe from one of our community gardeners who spent part of her childhood in Romania. I may include a Bulgarian recipe as well.

    We’ve been growing lovage for many years in Rhode Island. The clump in the community garden in Fort Greene is an offshoot, or rather, a branch of the Rhode Island Lovages.
    🙂

    • Tx for letting me know. I’ll definitely check out your garden feature. Do you know about the Urban Backyard Gardening day-long workshop at the NY Horticulture Society tomorrow? I’ll be there.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lorna Sass. Lorna Sass said: FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVAGE: http://wp.me/pfM8v-Yc […]

  4. I have a lovage plant (nottinghamshire, UK) and it does indeed do well in soups stews and salads, but this week’s crop is going into a homebrew lovage schnapps. I’ve not tried this but the elderberry version was encouragingly delish. I’ll look forward to finding more things to do with it!

    • What fun to hear from you. We have two lovage plants in the backyard garden here on W. 83rd St. in NYC! They are such delightful perennials. Good luck with the schnapps.


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