Lovage, scientifically known as Levisticum officinale, is a lofty perennial aromatic plant belonging to the Apiaceae family. The herb bears dark green leaves and greenish yellow flowers. Lovage is expansively farmed all over Europe and the United States. Interestingly, in Europe, lovage is generally branded as the Maggi plant. In fact, it shares its name with a well-liked spicy flavored sauce which constitutes lovage. Lovage is an important herb all parts of which are highly perfumed. Its scent and flavor reminds one of its similarities with celery - a long-stemmed vegetable with long crisp flattish leaf stalks that are eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. Leaves of lovage are commonly used for adding flavor and zing, particularly in soups. On the other hand, the underground parts of the herb - rhizome and roots - contain therapeutic properties. The roots of lovage has been a distinguished folk medicine, especially for their diuretic (causing increased flow of urine) and carminative (relieving flatulence or colic by expelling gas) properties, for several hundred years, particularly since the 14th century. In addition to increasing the urine flow and ejecting gas, lovage was considered to be of substantial significance for treating kidney stones, jaundice, malaria, pleurisy, boils and aching throats. Even today, people in Europe use lovage roots for self-healing of ailments like stomach upsets, bladder and kidney problems, menstrual disorders, and gout, rheumatism as well as migraine headaches. Interestingly, the name of the herb ‘lovage' often deceives some people to believe that it is an important ingredient of love tonics.
Chemical analysis of the lovage root has revealed that it comprises 0.6 to 1.0 per cent of a volatile oil - the main elements, almost 70 per cent, of which are a succession of lactone derivatives called phthalides. Significantly, some of these elements can also be found in celery seeds and to a great extent this explain why the aroma and taste of lovage and celery are so similar. During laboratory tests, scientists injected rabbits and rodents with minor quantities of extracts from lovage as well as the volatile oil found in the herb's root. The results showed prominent diuresis or unusually large urine output. The scientists also detected traces of dermatitis or skin inflammation possibly owing to the photosensitivity. Generally all plants belonging to the apiaceous family are very sensitive to light. Despite the issue of photosensitivity, there is no problem with using lovage, as it is still widely sold in Europe as the primary constituent (according to many, it is the only active ingredient) of several diuretic tea blends. Moreover, lovage is also used in several liqueurs, herb bitters and sauces as an important flavoring agent. As mentioned earlier, there is enough evidence from several studies that lovage roots contain specific diuretic properties. As the same time, lovage is also beneficial in mitigate gas or flatulence.
The herb lovage has derived its name from the Latin word denoting ‘Ligurian'. This is because in the ancient times, this aromatic herb belonging to the Apiaceae family thrived in Liguria - a province that comprises the Italian Riviera. Interestingly, by the time the name was accommodated in English it was distorted beyond recognition. The name entered English in Chaucer's Day as ‘love-ache' or ‘love parsley'. Hence, over the past 600 years, people have been misleading by the name ‘lovage' and thought there was some connection between the herb and love potions. They were of the opinion that lovage constituted a significant part of all major love potions. Today, there is no such misconception among the people, apart from the fact that breath sweeteners prepared with lovage may stimulate romance.
Root, seeds, leaves.
Lovage has several uses, including medicinal and culinary. Several researches have shown that lovage is an extremely beneficial herb for the digestive and respiratory systems. It has warming and stimulating therapeutic effects on both. In addition, lovage is effectual in healing ailments such as poor appetite, indigestion, bronchitis, gas and colic (pain in the abdomen). Lovage also possesses considerable diuretic and antimicrobial properties and hence it is normally administered for healing urinary tract problems. Apart from these features, lovage stimulates menstruation and alleviates menstrual pain. The warming quality of lovage helps in improving the poor blood circulation system.
Lovage is an excellent ingredient to add flavour or tang to your favourite soups, particularly those that contain potatoes, peas, beans and lentils. The herb and its derivative may also be used to spice up stews like chili, chicken pot pie, stir-fried vegetables and all favourite seafood cuisines. Addition of lovage to tasteless vegetables like summer squash adds flavour and savour to it.
Habitat and cultivation
Lovage is generally found in abundance in southern Europe as well as southwestern Asia. Although this aromatic herb can adjust and grow on most soils, barring heavy clay, it thrives best in well-drained cavernous, luxuriant soil that can preserve moisture. Lovage also prefers organic fertilizer and hence it is advisable to add completely decomposed manure at least once in a year. The plant's pH endurance range is between 5.0 and 7.6. Normally, lovage grows well in full sunlight, but can also adjust and thrive well in shade. However, the plant requires regular watering during the arid seasons.
Lovage is propagated from seeds. The best time to sow lovage seeds is either in the latter part of summer or winter. Fresh lovage seeds germinate easily and better and hence, it must be borne in mind that the seeds should be planted as soon you obtain them. Take care to plant seeds at least 6 mm or 1/4 inches deep into the soil for better germination. Normally, the seeds give rise to shoots or saplings within 10 to 28 days of sowing. It takes a complete summer or nearly a year for the lovage seedling to develop into a plant of a good enough size.
If lovage seeds are not readily available to you, look at the local nursery and get saplings from there. Plant these saplings before the last spring frost in your area. On the other hand, if you find that lovage plants are growing in your locality, you can take a part from the outer side of a mature plant and place in your garden. But remember that this part of the mature plant should include a root and also an eye or bud. While sowing, always keep a minimum distance of 60 cm or two feet between two lovage plants. This will provide the plants with adequate free space for growth.
The lovage plant gets bigger in dimension with the passing of each year and since it is the largest among all kitchen herbs, it is advisable to grow the plant on the northern region of your garden. In this case, the lovage plant will not shadow other smaller plants in the garden. Significantly, the lovage herb also grows by itself through its ripened fruit seeds. Hence, if you wish to keep away from creating a jungle of lovage herbs in your garden, sever the fruit bearing branches before the seeds ripen and drop on the ground. If you fail to do this, by the next season, your garden will be full of dense growth of new saplings.
Normally lovage plants have a comparatively long life and can survive for eight years. However, it would not be wise to grow any plant of the species in your garden for this long as they loose vigor with age. It is best if you split the plants and re-plant the plump roots along with the stems at intervals of three to four years. This helps the plants to remain strong and energetic. The best time of the year to undertake this work is either during the setting of spring or the latter part of fall. During both these periods the plant remains dormant and hence unlikely to cause any harm to the existing plants.
Lovage plants are very sensitive to aphids (an insect that feeds on plants), chewing insects as well as diseases caused by fungi. At times, insects known as leaf miners attack the plant's leaves and create havoc. These insects leave behind white colored burrowing spots in some leaves. When this happens, just remove the injured leaves and destroy them. Significantly, lovage plants survive best under snow cover or mulch during the winters.
Chemical analysis of lovage has shown that this aromatic plant encloses a volatile oil, coumarins, plant acids, beta-sitosterol, gums and resins. About 70 per cent constituent of the volatile oil is phthalides, while coumarins include bergapten, psoralen and umbelliferone. It may be mentioned here that phthalides are sedatives (tranquilizers) and anti-convulsing that help in preventing or reducing seizures.
Side effects and cautions
Although lovage is a beneficial herb in many ways, it has a few side-effects too. It is possible that consuming the herb or any of its derivatives, some people may suffer from photodermatitis - a skin allergy that occurs after ingesting the herb and then being out in the open in sunlight. On the other hand, since lovage is instrumental in increasing urine output, it is advisable that people suffering from kidney problems should avoid consuming the herb or its derivatives.
Lovage may often prove to be detrimental for women. As the herb encourages menstruation, if consumed in excess, it may also lead to miscarriage among pregnant women. Significantly, many physicians often use lovage or its derivatives as a therapy to clear unwanted pregnancies. Thus, it is advisable that women suffering from menstrual disorders and also pregnant ladies should be careful in avoiding taking lovage in large amounts.
Collection and harvesting
Although fresh lovage leaves may be picked anytime of the day, the best time of harvesting them is in the morning soon after the dew has disappeared. If you want to desiccate lovage, it is best to crop the herb's stems with leaves prior to the plant's flowering season. Next, dangle the herb's stems in a warm, dehydrated, well-ventilated and shaded place. When they are dried out, strip off the leaves and store them in airtight and sealed container.
On the other hand, if you desire to freeze up lovage leaves, blanch and then freeze them in synthetic (plastic) freezer bags.
If you want to harvest lovage seeds, you need to sever the fruit-bearing branches as soon as their color changes to brown during the latter part of summer. Next, place the seed heads in paper bags. Alternatively, you may also suspend the branched upturned branches over a cloth to collect the mature seeds. It is always advisable to store the seeds in hermetically sealed containers.
Cough potion with lovage
Lovage was an important plant in the medieval monastery garden. Hildegard used it for coughs and against lung and chest complaints.
Place the herbs in the wine and let them steep for 1 or 2 days, until the wine has absorbed their taste. Strain the wine and heat a small glassful to drink after meals. If your cough is mild, you need not heat the wine.