Are you familiar with lovage (Levisticum officinale)?1 Unless you are from certain areas of Europe or parts of southwest Asia, you probably haven’t heard of this member of the parsley family,2 which can provide a unique flavor to your dishes and positive health impacts to your body.
Continue reading to learn how you can distinguish lovage physically from other plants, what it can be useful for and effective techniques to grow this plant at home.
What Is Lovage?
Lovage is an herb native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and Asia minor, but can also be found growing throughout central Europe, parts of Britain and the eastern U.S. Lovage is a perennial that often reaches a height of 5 feet. It has long stems, long crisp and flattish leaves and a yellowish and resinous juice.3
The lovage root is thick, fleshy, grayish brown and carrot-like. In the summer, the lovage plant yields pale yellow flowers, followed by small, yellow-brown and highly aromatic fruits. Out of the various parts of the lovage plant, its seeds, leaves and root are most often used.
Health Benefits of Lovage
There are various health benefits associated with lovage, whether you use the seeds, leaves or root:4,5
• Anti-inflammatory properties: A compound called quercetin is found in lovage, and this contributes to the herb’s potential as a natural remedy for allergies. Quercetin can inhibit histamines, eventually reducing the body’s allergic response and helping alleviate itchy eyes, runny nose and other serious allergic reactions.
Lovage’s anti-inflammatory capability may be ideal for people suffering from inflammatory disorders like gout, arthritis and hemorrhoids. The herb can also be beneficial in soothing an upset stomach and may help the gastrointestinal system return to a neutral state.
• Antibacterial properties: Some studies have revealed positive links between lovage and a decrease in E. coli, Salmonella and other dangerous infections. However, research is still ongoing on this topic, so you might want to opt for other effective and proven natural antibacterial remedies.
• Skin-soothing abilities: Direct application of lovage leaves or a salve can assist with decreasing symptoms of psoriasis and acne, and promoting smoother and better-looking skin. Antioxidants in lovage can also help minimize the appearance of wrinkles (in some cases) and assist with increasing blood flow to the skin's surface and improving tone and appearance.
Lovage was also discovered to possess the following abilities:
Expectorant: Lovage can help with loosening and expelling phlegm, making it potentially useful in treating respiratory problems.
A primary soothing agent called eucalyptol in lovage may assist with reducing lung inflammation and irritation and promoting rapid healing.
Diuretic: Although the exact mechanism has not been determined, lovage has the potential to improve kidney health.
The herb can work a type of diuretic called an aquaretic, which stimulates urination but does not result in electrolyte loss.
An aquaretic promotes a healthier form of urination if you're trying to detoxify the body without the risk of dehydration, eventually boosting kidney health.
Emmenagogue: Lovage has the potential to soothe severe side effects of menstruation such as cramps and bloating when taken at the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
Plus, the herb's high nutrient density can be effective in maintaining good energy levels and mood during more stressful times within the month.
Carminative: Lovage possesses carminative properties that may address bloating and excess gas by reducing bowel irritation and promoting healthy and normal movement in the colon.
Stomachic: Lovage can help address poor appetite. In fact, the herb is added to herbal bitters.
Diaphoretic: Lovage can prompt perspiration and sweating and help cool the body. It can assist with relieving intermittent fevers and feverish attacks, and helps get rid of body toxins through the skin.6
How to Use Lovage
Lovage is utilized for these main purposes:7,8
• Medicinal: This herb's medicinal and therapeutic capabilities were noted as early as the Roman and Greek civilizations. Lovage's abilities were mentioned in the works of early authors like Galen, Dioscorides, Pliny and Apicius.
Meanwhile, in the 12th century, St. Hildegarde noted that lovage can aid with relieving coughs, abdominal pains and even heart problems, and the traditional School of Salerno used lovage as an herbal remedy for jaundice and liver complaints. Generally, lovage was used as a remedy for gas, abdominal pain and flatulence, as well as colic among children. The herb was also utilized as a natural diuretic to relieve kidney stones, as a blood cleanser and as a treatment for conditions like:
• Culinary: Lovage leaves have a pungent and celery-like flavor. Lovage was cultivated for centuries as a kitchen herb and is one of the oldest known salad greens. As such, it is a good addition to salads, soups, stews, stocks and casseroles, used as a meat substitute or dipped in a cheese sauce (if using the leaves and the stem).
Meanwhile, lovage stems may be candied as a sweet treat, and other parts can be utilized as a spice or even as a flavoring agent in beverages and alcohol. The seeds are often ground using a mortar and pestle, and added as a spice or seasoning to breads and biscuits prior to baking.
How to Grow Lovage Plants From Seeds
The lovage plant is often grown from seeds, and is related to umbelliferous plants like dill, angelica, carrot, celery and parsley. The plant grows well in sunny to partly shaded locations, specifically in moist, well-drained and humus-rich soil with a pH level between 5.0 to 7.6.9 Lovage favors organic fertilizer, and it’s advised to add completely decomposed manure to the soil at least once a year.10
Ideally, begin sowing lovage seeds either in the latter part of summer or winter as soon as you get them, because fresh seeds germinate easily and better. When planting, allot at least a 6-millimeter or 1/4-inch deep hole in the soil for better germination. Usually, the seeds give rise to shoots or samplings within 10 to 28 days of sowing, but it would often take a complete summer or nearly a year for the lovage seedling to develop into a plant of sufficient size.
If lovage seeds aren’t available, you can go to your local nursery to purchase saplings that should be planted before the last spring frost in your area. Meanwhile, if you spot lovage plants in your location, you can take a part from the outer side of the mature plant (including a root and an eye or bud), as long as you asked for permission especially if it’s owned by someone else or government property, and place in it your garden.
When sowing plant parts, make sure there is a minimum distance of 60 centimeters or 2 feet between plants to provide them with adequate space for growth. There’s a tendency for lovage to grow bigger in dimension with the passing of each year. Because it’s the largest among all kitchen herbs, it’s recommended to grow the plant in the northern region of your garden, where it will not overshadow smaller plants.
Lovage is very sensitive to aphids, chewing insects and fungi-caused disease. In some cases, insects called leaf miners can damage and leave behind white burrowing spots on the leaves. If you notice these spots, remove the injured leaves and destroy them. To prevent this from occurring in the first place, try placing the plants under a snow cover or mulch these during winter time.
There is a tendency for lovage to grow by itself through ripened fruit seeds. To prevent the development of a lovage “jungle” in your garden, sever fruit-bearing branches when they brown during the latter part of the summer, before the seeds ripen and drop on the ground. Afterwards, place seed heads in paper bags or suspend the upturned branches over a cloth to collect the matured seeds.
Make sure to store the seeds in hermetically sealed containers. If you don’t make an effort to collect these seeds, it can lead to dense growth of new lovage saplings by the next season.
While lovage plants can survive for eight years, it’s not advisable to grow plants this long as they lose vigor with age. Ideally, at intervals of three to four years, split the plants and re-plant their roots with the stems to help retain their strength and energy. This process should be ideally done during the setting of spring or the latter part of fall, since it’s during these periods that the plant remains dormant and unlikely to cause harm to other plants.
How to Store Lovage
When harvesting lovage, do so in the morning after the dew disappears, although you can pick fresh leaves anytime of the day. To desiccate lovage, crop the stems with leaves before the plant’s flowering season and dangle the stems in a warm, dehydrated and well-ventilated and shaded place.11
Once lovage is dried, strip the leaves and store in an airtight and sealed container, such as a glass jar. To freeze the leaves, blanch them first and then freeze accordingly in plastic freezer bags.12
Try Cooking With Lovage Today
As mentioned earlier, lovage leaves and stalks have a flavor similar to celery’s.13,14 If you’re able to grow lovage, you can incorporate the herb into a healthy recipe such as this:15
Lovage, Lettuce, and Pea Soup
• 20 grams raw grass fed butter
• 1 onion, finely diced
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
• A few young lovage stalks, chopped
• 1 small handful of lovage leaves, shredded
• 700 milliliters homemade bone broth or chicken or vegetable stock
• 2 little gem lettuces, finely shredded
• 100 grams peas
• Dr. Mercola’s Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper
• A few teaspoons of crème fraiche or raw, grass fed yogurt to finish
1. Warm the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat.
2. Add the onion, thyme and a pinch of salt, and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the lovage stalks and sauté for a couple of minutes.
4. Pour in the broth or stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the rest of the vegetables (but set aside some lovage leaves to garnish) and simmer for five minutes.
6. Season and serve with dollops of the yogurt or crème fraiche and a scattering of lovage leaves.
Take Note of These Side Effects of Lovage
It's recommended to consult a physician or holistic doctor first before consuming lovage or applying lovage oil (more on this to come later). Allergic reactions can occur if lovage is taken alongside other herbs or supplements too, so you must inform your physician or doctor if you are taking any of these.16
Lovage can also prompt photodermatitis, a skin allergy that occurs after eating the herb and exposing yourself to sunlight. Plus, because lovage is a known diuretic and increases urine output, people with kidney problems should refrain from consuming or using lovage or its derivatives.17
Furthermore, lovage can be harmful for women, and it's advised that women who are pregnant or suffer from menstrual disorders must avoid this herb. After all, lovage's emmenagogue properties encourage menstruation and can potentially lead to a miscarriage.
Advantages of Using Lovage Oil
Lovage essential oil can be derived from either the roots or leaves of the plant via steam distillation, wherein the botanical material is placed in a still and exposed to extremely high temperatures to extract the oil.18 The essential oils from the roots and leaves have different characteristics:
• Color and smell: Lovage oil made from the plant’s roots can be yellow or brown, depending on how fresh or dry the roots were at the time of distillation. This oil is quite resinous and thick, and possesses a strong floral aroma with a slight bitterness and a hint of celery.19
It’s used as a fragrance in soaps, cosmetic products and perfumes and as a flavoring agent in liquors, non-alcoholic drinks and some edibles, and can be used for anointing too. Meanwhile, lovage essential oil derived from the leaves has a fairly thin texture and emits a warm, fresh, sweet and spicy aroma.
• Essential oil components: The essential oil from the roots contains butylidene, dihydrobutylidene, butylphthalide, ligustilide, senkyunolide, a number of other phthalides and terpenoids and coumarins. Meanwhile, essential oil derived from the leaves offers alpha-terpinyl acetate, cis- and trans-ligustilides, alpha-phellandrene and alpha-terpineol.20
Lovage oil's potential benefits include addressing muscle-, joint- and circulation-related conditions when used in aromatherapy. This essential oil is also touted as a potential diuretic that can help treat colic and gastrointestinal issues. Furthermore, lovage oil can be effective for certain conditions, as research has revealed that it can act as a/an:
Lovage oil can be diffused or applied topically, after being diluted to a desired concentration.21 You can add a few drops to bath water, aroma lamps, inhalers, light bulb rings, massage oils or mist sprays.22 Lovage oil can blend well with bay, galbanum, lavender, oakmoss, opopanax and rose essential oils.23
Before using the oil, talk to a physician or holistic nutritionist and take an allergen patch test to check for allergic reactions or sensitivities. Common side effects of lovage oil include acting as a photosensitizer that can prompt the skin to become more sensitive to ultraviolet or UV light. It’s advised that if you will be exposed to sunlight within the next 48 hours, the dilution of the oil must be 1 percent or less.
Meanwhile, pregnant or breastfeeding women must not use lovage oil to avoid harsh reactions and complications. The same goes for people with existing plant allergies and/or taking anticoagulant medicines like Coumadin or Warfarin.
Lovage might not be as popular as other medicinal herbs, but it doesn't mean that it has lost its edge when it comes to improving well-being. Growing your own lovage and adding it to your favorite dishes may be worth it, thanks to its unique flavor and important health benefits. Just don’t forget to consult your physician or holistic nutritionist first prior to taking this herb or using its essential oil, because there are side effects that are associated with this herb.