Lovage, Levisticum officinale, is an edible herb and hardy perennial, which can reach up to 2m in height. The foliage is bright green and attractively divided, rather like flat-leaved parsley, and its tall stems are topped with tiny greenish-yellow flowers in summer. Lovage has a celery-like flavour and adds a meaty element to dishes. The leaves can be cooked as a green vegetable in soups and stews, and the tender young leaves added to salads. The seeds are edible too and have a wide range of uses, including in bread and savoury pastries, on salads and potatoes. All parts of the lovage plant are edible, including the roots, which can be harvested in winter when the plant is dormant.
How to grow lovage
Buy ready grown lovage plants or raise from seed. Plant them where there's plenty of room for them to grow, in fertile soil or in a large pot, and water well during dry spells. Clip established plants regularly to encourage fresh new growth, and harvest as required. Cut dead growth to the ground in autumn or winter.
How to grow lovage from seed
Sow lovage seed under cover in pots in spring, or in autumn outdoors directly where plants are to grow. For spring sowings, use modular trays or small pots of moist, peat-free seed compost, cover with perlite, and keep at a temperature of 15ºC. Once seedlings have germinated, thin to one seedling to each tray cell or pot. Harden off (gradually acclimatise young plants to the outside) before planting out in early summer.
Where to grow lovage
With an attractive appearance, lovage can be grown alongside ornamental plants in a border as well as in an herb or vegetable garden. It can also be grown in a large pot. Site in full sun or partial shade and plant in good, fertile soil that's moisture-retentive yet free-draining. Lovage can grow up to 2m high and 1m across, so bear this in mind when planning where to grow it.
How to plant lovage plants
Lovage is a hardy perennial and can be planted at any time of year, with autumn or spring being the best times. Plant lovage 60-90cm apart. Water well until established. To grow in pots, plant one lovage in a good-sized pot that has a minimum height and width of 30cm. Lovage can take several years to reach its full size.
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Caring for lovage
Once established, lovage needs little care. Trim occasionally to encourage a regular supply of new growth for harvesting. After flowering, allow the seed heads to mature and ripen if the seeds are required for harvest, but if not, cut off the faded flower heads as lovage can self-seed prolifically. Once growth has died back in autumn, cut back to ground level any time before spring.
How to propagate lovage
You can propagate new plants from your lovage by saving seed to sow in spring (best done after a period of stratification, so pop the seeds in the freezer for a couple of weeks before sowing), or dividing the rootball in autumn or early spring. Divide from plants that are several years old only, and have formed good-sized clumps. Ensure each division has plenty of roots and shoot buds.
How to harvest lovage
Pick the leaves as required, at the state of maturity to suit their use. Strip large, mature leaves from the stalks before cooking – the stalks can be chopped and cooked separately. Young leaves and stalks can be kept whole. To harvest lovage seeds, pick the seed heads as they start to turn brown, place in a paper bag and hang upside down in a dry airy place. Shake the bag so the seeds fall from the heads.
Using and preserving lovage
Lovage does not dry well and the leaves are best stored by freezing. Harvest the leaves, rinse with cold water and shake dry. Bunches of leaves can be frozen individually in plastic bags. Another way to freeze herbs is to fill ice cube trays with the chopped leaves, cover with a little water, then freeze.
Store lovage seeds in jars for use over winter. Make sure they're thoroughly dried beforehand by laying them out on kitchen towel in a warm, dry room.
Growing lovage: problem solving
Lovage is mainly trouble-free, as long as it's planted in rich, deeply cultivated soil. Plants growing in poorer soils may need frequent watering. Lovage growing in pots will need regular watering to ensure the compost doesn’t dry out.
Leaf miner is a pest that may attack lovage. Inspect plants regularly for signs of the ‘tunnels’ in the leaves: pick off and bin any infected ones as the infestation can become widespread.
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