Lovage (Levisticum officinale) belongs to the family of umbellifers (Apiaceae). The Latin name ‘levisticum’ derives from the Greek ‘ligystigikón’, which refers to the supposed place of origin of the herb in the Italian region of Liguria. In fact, however, the seasoning herb comes from the Near East and was used mainly in the 16th century as an aphrodisiac – hence the German name “Stöckel der Liebe”. In France, the herb is colloquially called “céleri bâtard” (false celery) because of its taste and appearance. The essential oils contained in the lovage remind in their smell of the well-known Maggi spice, hence the also very common German name “Maggikraut” – although the spice contains no lovage.
Lovagel is a perennial, hardy shrub with a strong and branched rootstock. It grows bushy and can grow up to two metres high and about one metre wide. The shoots are reddish at first, then green later. The stems are hollow and ribbed and branch only in the upper part.
The shiny dark green pinnate leaves of Lovage are soft, deeply divided, toothed and show visible veins. They smell like celery when they’re rubbed.
In July/August, from the second year onwards, the Lovage bears pale green-yellow flowers in composite umbels that attract insects.
After fertilization, the flowers develop into tiny, oval, yellow-brown split fruits.
Lovage prefers a sunny to semi-shade place in the garden. When choosing a location, bear in mind that lovage becomes relatively large and broad and only matures after three to five years.
The soil should be nutritious, calcareous and moist. Lovage also thrives well in large pots with an earthy substrate.
You can sow the lovage seeds at the end of March in the greenhouse or in the seed tray and transplant the young plants into the bed in summer. However, since a single plant already yields enough yield, it is hardly worthwhile to grow it. Instead, you should use offshoots. The seedlings must be placed at a distance of at least 50 centimeters from the herb bed.
Water it regularly and fertilise it with comfrey liquid manure in spring, for example. In autumn, when the above-ground parts of the plant have died off, it is best to provide the lovage with plenty of compost. To ensure that new, young shoots are always formed, you should pick the leaves regularly. If the herb spreads too much, you can also separate individual parts from the rootstock.
Fresh, young leaves are best harvested before flowering. The seeds are not harvested until late summer, when they are brown. The roots of three-year-old plants can be excavated, cleaned, crushed and used fresh or dried in the spring or autumn. The lovage leaves – both fresh and dried – are suitable for seasoning salads, soups and stews. The crushed seeds can be used, for example, to refine bread or rice.
The leaves, stems, roots and seeds can also be used for medicinal purposes. An infusion has a draining effect and rinses out toxins. For a healthy tea you need one teaspoon of dried or two teaspoons of fresh lovage leaves, which you pour over with a cup of boiling hot water and leave to brew for five to ten minutes. Lovage tea is mainly used for urinary tract infections, to aid digestion, menstruation problems or respiratory problems. But beware: pregnant women and kidney patients should avoid lovage tea.
Reproduction is best achieved vegetatively by splitting younger plants that are not too deeply rooted.
Diseases and pests
Lovage is relatively robust to disease. Aphids sometimes appear on the leaves.