The Levisticum officinalis, also known as lovage, is a wild plant that can be easily cultivated in the home garden. It has a long tradition in our country as a rustic species highly appreciated in cooking. In this article, we will discover the properties of levisticum, cultivation techniques, its characteristics, and culinary uses.
Botanical Identification of the Levisticum officinalis Plant
Lovage, Levisticum officinalis, belongs to the botanical family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae. It is a close relative of leaf celery and celeriac, as well as other plants from the same family such as fennel, fennel, parsley, carrots, dill, chervil, and green anise. The species is native to Persia, modern-day Iran, and in ancient times began to spread in Central and Southern Europe. It is often found in the wild in the pre-alpine and Apennine regions, from 500 up to 1,500 meters in altitude. Its preferred habitat is uncultivated meadows, both in partial shade and full sun, as long as the soil is moist and well-drained. The name levisticum probably derives from the Latin “levare”, meaning to remove or alleviate. This may refer to the plant’s ability to alleviate minor ailments.
The Lovage Plant
The lovage is a perennial herbaceous plant. It is characterized by great hardiness and high vigor, as it can grow over 2 meters in height. The plant has tall, hollow, and roundish stems that branch upwards. The individual stems are green but may have reddish hues.
Lovage has a large taproot from which numerous lateral roots branch out. These can descend up to 40 cm in depth. From the second year of growth, the plant thickens the rhizome covered with large fibers, remnants of the leaf sheaths.
The Lovage leaves are large, alternately arranged on the stem, and carried by a long, also hollow petiole. They are incised and toothed, intensely green in color, and resemble common celery leaves when young.
Lovage Flowers and Seeds
The flower of Lovage is typical of the Umbelliferae family. It is grouped at the apex of the stem in umbrella-like inflorescences. It consists of 5 elliptical yellow petals. The plant blooms from June throughout the summer. In autumn, the levisticum officinalis seeds mature, being small, oblong, and flattened achenes. The weight of 1000 seeds does not exceed 10 grams.
Cultivation of Levisticum officinalis
Growing levisticum officinalis is a relatively simple practice since it is a robust and highly resistant plant. Due to its pungent flavor, it is often preferred over common celery as an aromatic plant and is perfect for cultivation in mountainous areas. Remember that this plant is a perennial plant, so it needs space in the garden to grow undisturbed. For example, it can be beneficial to plant a Levisticum officinalis near sage or rosemary, other common perennial herbs found in our gardens. It withstands harsh winter temperatures and does not need protection from frost. Conversely, if you are cultivating it in regions with very hot summers, it is best to place it in partial shade or use shading nets to prevent the leaves from turning yellow.
Ideal Planting Soil
Lovage thrives in loose, deep, and fresh agricultural soils with a good supply of organic matter. It avoids soils that are too clayey and poorly-drained, as they lead to waterlogging. During soil preparation, it is advisable to amend with mature organic fertilizer, which can be well-rotted manure, household compost, or worm castings.
The maturation of levisticum seeds usually occurs in early autumn. This is a good time to start cultivation by sowing in seedbeds. Germination is very slow, and growth during this period is not very fast. Therefore, it’s best to keep the seedlings protected in the seedbed for about 3 months before transplanting them into the open ground. The plant is ready when it is at least 15-20 cm tall. February is an excellent month for transplanting into open ground. Direct sowing can be done in late winter, followed by thinning. Fully-grown plants are quite voluminous, so it is recommended to thin them to leave a plant every 50 cm.
Division of Clumps
Another way to propagate levisticum officinalis and start a new cultivation is by dividing the clumps. This operation is performed in early autumn or early spring by taking portions of the plant with the roots from the mother plant. So, if you have a friend with a large Lovage plant in their garden, you can easily get some plants to transplant into your soil.
Irrigation is necessary in the early stages, after the levisticum seed has emerged when the seedling is still forming its root system. Therefore, after sowing, be sure to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. In spring, autumn, and winter, lovage does not need irrigation since natural precipitation is usually sufficient. However, water is important during the summer months, with regular watering. The yellowing of the base of the stem is a clear sign of water deficiency.
Mulching or Weeding
To grow lush lovage plants, you must pay attention to weeding and keeping them free from weeds. You can do this with periodic weeding or by using natural mulch such as straw, jute, or wool mulch.
The harvesting of lovage leaves and stems usually begins in June and continues gradually throughout the winter. The plant continuously sprouts and benefits from cutting the flowering stem at the end of summer. It is advisable to pick the outermost and well-thickened leaves. The large rhizome is also edible and is harvested starting from the second year of the plant’s life, preferably in autumn. The rhizome is split in half and dried in a dry and well-ventilated place. Once dry, it can be stored in paper bags.
Properties of Lovage
Lovage is known for its medicinal properties, given its high content of active ingredients. It contains resins, tannins, sugars, vitamin C, pectins, acids, and essential oils. The use of this plant was widespread in monastic herbal medicine and appreciated for its properties: diuretic, anti-edematous, antirheumatic, deodorant, antiseptic, carminative, tonic, and digestive. Therefore, it was used not only as fresh food to season dishes but also in the form of infusions and decoctions. The dried rhizomatous root is boiled and serves as an excellent aid to regular kidney function. Here you can find the essential oil.
Lovage in the Kitchen
In the kitchen, lovage leaves have always been appreciated for their intense aroma and spicy, lingering flavor. It was the ultimate aromatic plant for the ancient Romans, who used it much like we use parsley and common celery today. This wild plant can give a pleasant flavor to salads, soups, and meats. Due to these characteristics, this plant is used as an essential component of vegetable stock cubes used for making broth. The sprouts can be consumed on their own and are delicious when dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.