Welcome back to the Casa Mia series “The Herb Garden”. Today we introduce the herb lovage.
Lovage, or Levisticum officinale (levistico or sedano di monte in Italian), is in the same plant family, Apiaceae, as celery, carrots, parsley and fennel. It grows perennially in southern Europe and Asia and is often used as a savoury herb in various cuisines on those two continents. It can grow to up to 6 feet tall and the flavor is similar to a cross between parsley and celery so it is perfect for soups. Its roots, leaves, seeds and stems are used for a variety of purposes. The leaves look very similar to those of the celery plant so they, and the stems, can be used as a substitute for celery.
The plant apparently is native to Afghanistan and Iran but eventually made its way to Europe and western Asia. The ancient Greeks used it mostly in cooking, using the seeds, leaves and stems. Apparently in ancient times the herb thrived in the Liguria region of northwest Italy considered the Italian Riviera, which includes Cinque Terre. Thus it is was often referred to as Ligusticum, the latin for Liguria. The ancient Romans brought the plant to their colonies in Britain, where Dr. Samuel Johnson recommended it for rheumatism. Like many other herbs, it was grown in Medieval gardens for medicinal purposes. Also in the Middle Ages it was put into shoes as an antiseptic and deodorant. Eventually the English brought lovage to the Americas when they migrated to that continent.
Like fennel lovage is used to treat intestinal disorders, urinary tract infections and kidney stones. It can also help heartburn, joint pain, respiratory problems and migraines. Other uses purportedly include relieving mentstrual pain and a preventative herb to combat E-coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria. Also, it can help fight certain allergies as it contains quercetan, which slows down the release of histamines thus helping with the unpleasantness of skin irritations. It can be made into an herbal tea, or a wash in the case of skin allergies, to combat any of the above ailments.
The lovage leaves can be used in salads but like dandelion greens only the young, tender ones otherwise they can be quite tough. It can be stuffed into the cavity of poultry and roasted or used in a meaty stew. It goes deliciously with spring vegetables to make soups but as it has a stronger, bitter-sweet flavor use it sparingly. It can be sauteed with summer veggies and is delightful mixed into an omelette or frittata. Substitute lovage for parsley in potato salad and you’ll have a picnic classic with a new twist. The roots can be cooked then pickled and used as a side to a cheese plate. And, since cocktails are all the rage now, lovage can be infused in alcohol such as vodka then used to make Bloody Marys using the stems as straws!
Stay tuned for more articles in The Herb Garden series!