Lovage (Levisticum officianale)
Our one lovage plant has lived in my and my partner’s Zone 5 garden for 30 years. A green giant among herbs, lovage is a vigorous hardy perennial that pushes through first thing in spring and quickly soars to a height of two metres or more. By midsummer, its umbrellas of tiny, yellow-green flowers are abuzz with nectar-sipping flying insects, including small non-stinging parasitic wasps that prey on harmful creatures like tent caterpillars and green cabbage worms.
The whole plant—root, stem and leaf—is redolent of celery and parsley, but stronger. One of the best soup herbs, lovage is the leaf to simmer in broth with the usual onions, carrots and bay leaf. But don’t stop there: use lovage, sparingly at first, in bean and lentil soups, slow-cooking chilis, beef or chicken stews or tuna casseroles. Lovage is also classic with potatoes: minced with chives in mashed potatoes; in sour cream over baked spuds; or with marjoram in potato soup. Lacking celery, mince a bit of lovage into egg, tuna or salmon salad.
One lovage plant is plenty for any garden—you’ll never use it all. April through June is the best time to pluck tender leaves, since this robust herb can turn bitter in hot weather. After flowering, but before the plant spills its seeds, cut lovage back to 20 centimetres from the ground to encourage fresh growth and save the work of rooting out scores of seedlings.
For a quick start, look for a small potted plant in spring—or an off-shoot from a friend—and situate it in fertile, drained soil, in sun or partial shade, in a space that can accommodate its imposing height and metre-wide girth. Pick the spot for permanence. You might move a badly placed lovage in year two, but after that it’s a hard job to get its deep roots out of the ground.
Chew a fresh lovage leaf after a garlicky meal (or any time) to freshen breath. Use hollow lovage stems, cut to length, as a straw for tomato juice or a Bloody Mary. If you love lovage, dry individual leaves on a screen in an airy, shaded place to store for winter use.