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How to Grow Lovage, the Herb for Stress Relief

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
Lovage Plant In The Garden

You can grow lovage from seeds or root division, and it will be happy growing in containers or the garden.  Since lovage has one cultivar, selecting seeds is easy.

This easy-to-grow perennial herb has stalks that can replace celery in sauces, soups, stews, and salads.  It also goes well with pork, poultry, and potato dishes.

With leaves that look like celery leaves, it tastes a lot like celery and parsley, with hints of anise and citrus.  

What is Lovage?

Lovage is native to Southern Europe and is a member of the Apiaceae, or Umbillifer family.  This family produces groups of small flowers in an umbrella shape.

Lovage has many names, including smellage, love parsley, false celery, maggi herb, Italian lovage, garden lovage, and true lovage.  It also has a long list of names depending on what country it’s growing in.

Celtic tradition claims that lovage could relieve exhaustion.  They were so sure they even made baths including lovage leaves and fragrant oils.

This was to ease the stress from traveling.  And they would even put lovage leaves into shoes to help relieve tired feet.  Hmmm, they might be on to something.

Every part of the lovage plant is edible, including the roots (rhizomes), flowers, and seeds.  You probably didn’t know that when you go to the store to buy celery seed, you’re buying lovage seed!  This is because lovage seeds have a stronger flavor than regular celery seeds.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

Types of Lovage

Cultivated lovage is Levisticum officinale, and it’s the only type.  The mature plants have dark green leaves and can reach 6 feet tall with a width of 32 inches.

Wild lovage has two types:

  • Sea Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum).  Other names for this wild lovage include shunis or Scottish lovage.  It grows on the North Atlantic coast of the United States and Northern Britain.
  • Black Lovage (Smyrnium olusatrum).  Also known as Alexanders or horse parsley, it grows along the Mediterranean Sea and in Britain.

All parts of wild lovage are edible, including the greenish-yellow flowers. The roots of every type of lovage often find use in medicines. According to WebMD, lovage can treat kidney problems caused by diabetes (diabetic neuropathy).

Lovage treats other conditions such as coughs, kidney stones, and indigestion.  WebMD states there’s no evidence for lovage treating these conditions.

Lovage Flowers
Lovage Flowers

Preparing the Soil

This herb likes loamy, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 – 7.0.  It prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade.  Mix well-aged compost into the soil because lovage likes fertile soil. The compost also improves soil drainage.

It grows in Zones 3 – 9 and prefers cooler climates.  In fact, it’s cold hardy down to -5o F.

Growing Lovage from Seed

Start the seeds indoors about six weeks before the last spring frost.  Use peat pots filled with potting mix, and sow at least four seeds per pot.  This increases the chances the seeds will sprout.  Water often to keep the soil moist.

Transplant the seedlings when the plants are 4 inches high.  Be aware that lovage seeds often have low germination rates and take up to 20 days to sprout.

If you save seeds for planting later, ensure they are under a year old.  The seeds don’t stay viable for longer periods.

Keep the soil moist but not soaking wet.  If the soil is too dry, the plant tends to get bitter.  A mulch of straw or grass clippings will help the soil stay moist.

Sow lovage seeds in the garden when the soil temperature is 60 degrees F or more.  Loosen the soil a few inches deep and sow the seeds on the surface.  Then, sprinkle a thin layer of sand over the seeds.  When the seeds germinate, thin the plants 18 inches apart.

Lovage will only grow about 2 feet tall in its first year, but you can start harvesting when it’s a foot tall.

A Selection of Lovage Seeds for Your Garden

Seed Needs, Lovage Seeds - 500 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Levisticum officinale - Medicinal Herb to Grow Outdoors Garden Non-GMO & Untreated (2 Packs)
Seed Needs, Lovage Seeds - 500 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Levisticum officinale - Medicinal Herb to Grow Outdoors Garden Non-GMO & Untreated (2 Packs)
$6.99
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Survival Garden Seeds - Lovage Seed for Planting - 1 Pack with Instructions to Plant and Grow Perennial Levisticum Officinale Culinary Herb in Your Home Vegetable Garden - Non-GMO Heirloom Variety
Survival Garden Seeds - Lovage Seed for Planting - 1 Pack with Instructions to Plant and Grow Perennial Levisticum Officinale Culinary Herb in Your Home Vegetable Garden - Non-GMO Heirloom Variety
$4.94
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Lovage Seeds - Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - Open-Pollinated High Yield Heirloom 85% Germination Rate 1.67g
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Lovage Seeds - Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - Open-Pollinated High Yield Heirloom 85% Germination Rate 1.67g
$5.99
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18

Growing Lovage in Containers

Lovage can grow in containers.  Because of its large root system, it needs a container that is at least 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide.  Anything larger than that would be a bonus.

Fill the pots with three parts of potting soil mixed with one part each of compost and perlite.  You can substitute vermiculite for perlite if you prefer.  This mixture gives the potting soil improved fertility and drainage.  By itself, potting soil becomes too dense and doesn’t drain well.

You can either transplant plants still in their peat pots or use seeds.  Make sure you plant several seeds in one pot to guarantee germination.

It could outgrow the container if you don’t prune a potted lovage plant.  Pruning is a good thing because you can eat the leaves you cut off.

Pots for Growing Lovage

The HC Companies 17 Inch Round Classic Planter - Plastic Plant Pot for Indoor Outdoor Plants Flowers Herbs, Evergreen
The HC Companies 17 Inch Round Classic Planter - Plastic Plant Pot for Indoor Outdoor Plants Flowers Herbs, Evergreen
$16.96
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Active Aqua Hydrofarm HG12X12SB Pack 12' X 12' Black, 12' Tall, Case of 24 Square Pot
Active Aqua Hydrofarm HG12X12SB Pack 12" X 12" Black, 12" Tall, Case of 24 Square Pot
$129.30
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
PSW Arcadia Garden Products OT41C Traditional Pot, 16 by 13.5-Inch, Chocolate
PSW Arcadia Garden Products OT41C Traditional Pot, 16 by 13.5-Inch, Chocolate
$38.79
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18

Propagating Lovage by Root Division

If you have a lovage plant at least a foot tall, you can propagate it by root division.  This is best done in spring, early summer, or late fall.

Dig down about a foot deep and as wide as the plant’s crown.  The taproot for lovage can be up to 35 inches long.

Separate about half the roots from the main root ball and transplant them to another location.  Use a garden knife (hori-hori knife) to separate the roots.  Using large hand tools to separate roots could damage the plant.

Harvesting Lovage

The plants will mature in 85 – 95 days, but you can start harvesting leaves when the plant’s over a foot high.  Harvest only the leaves in the first year; in the second year, you can also take stalks and roots.

New growth will appear wherever you take leaves or stalks.  If you plan on harvesting the entire plant at the end of the second or later, do it in October.

The plants will grow better if you prune off the tops one time in the middle of the growing season.  Pruning won’t be necessary if you’re harvesting the leaves often.

Lovage produces greenish-yellow flowers that turn brown when they have gone to seed.  Since the seeds are edible, save them by removing the flower stalks with the seed heads.  Then, put them upside-down in a paper bag until they’re dry.  Rub the dry seed heads to remove the seeds.

The seed heads can stay on the plant, and they will reseed more plants that will come up next spring.  Once the plant goes to seed, the leaves will be bitter. Cut off the flowers before they go to seed to extend the harvest season.

Caring for Lovage Over the Winter

When winter arrives, the plants will go dormant and die back to the ground, but they’ll grow back in the spring.

Remove any dead plants and cover the soil with mulch.  It can be grass clippings, shredded leaves, straw, or pine branches.  The mulch will protect the roots over the winter.

Storing Fresh Lovage

Lovage is best when it’s fresh.  Rinse and dry fresh lovage, put it in plastic bags, and store them in the refrigerator.  They’ll keep up to a week.

If you plan to store the roots, wipe off the dirt, but don’t wash them yet.  You can store them in the refrigerator for several weeks.

For longer-term storage, first blanch the leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Immediately put the hot leaves in cold water to stop them from cooking further.

Drain the leaves and put them on paper towels until they’re dry.  Put the leave on trays and freeze them.  After freezing, put the leaves in freezer bags or containers and pop them in the freezer.

You could also grind or chop the leaves in a food processor.  Then put the ground leaves into ice cube trays and top off the cubes with water.

Once the cubes freeze, please remove them and put them in freezer bags to return to the freezer.  This method makes it easy to add lovage to your recipes by popping in a cube or two as needed.

Slice the stems and freeze them in freezer bags or containers.  Frozen lovage will keep for about six months.

Drying Lovage

Lovage leaves will store for about a year by drying, but the flavor doesn’t compare to fresh leaves.  When drying roots, wash them and slice them thin first.

Air Drying Lovage

Cut sprigs of lovage about 8 inches long and tie them together at the cut end.  Hang them upside-down in a cool, well-ventilated area and cover the sprigs with paper bags.

Poke a few small holes in the bags to allow air circulation.  The leaves should dry in about a week.  Once the leaves are crumbly, strip them off the stems and discard the stems.

Drying Lovage in the Oven

Set the oven at its lowest temperature, which varies depending on the oven.  For roots or leaves, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the leaves or slices in a single layer.

Drying could take 6 – 8 hours for roots, but check the drying process a few times to ensure nothing burns.

Drying Lovage in the Microwave

Lay paper towels in the microwave and put the leaves or slices on the towels in a single layer.  Microwave for 1 minute and then for 10-second intervals until dry.

Drying Lovage in a Dehydrator

Lay the leaves or slices in a single layer on the dehydrator racks.  Set the dehydrator at its lowest setting.  Remove the leaves when they’re dry.

Crush dried lovage leaves or roots with a mortar and pestle, or powder them with a spice grinder.  Always store dried herbs in air-tight containers in a cool dark place.

Companion Plants for Lovage

  • Lovage gets along with tuberous vegetables like carrots and potatoes.
  • The flowers attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.  Some of these insects, like tachinid flies and parasitic wasps, prey on insect pests.
  • Other companions for lovage include winter and summer squash, peas, asparagus, lettuce, beets, cole crops, onions, beets, and cucumbers.
  • If you need a trap crop for tomato hornworms lovage can do it.
  • Deer don’t like lovage so it will protect the plants that deer like.
  • Don’t plant lovage near rhubarb or celery.

Pests and Diseases of Lovage

Lovage has few pest problems, but leaf miners can hide in the leaves.  These pests form yellow trails and turn the leaves brown.  Pick off the damaged leaves, burn them, or throw them in the trash.

If you spray the plants with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap in early spring you can stop the leaf miners.  Continue occasional spraying through the summer.  If you see leaf miner damage it’s too late to spray because they’re in the leaves then.  The spray will never reach them.

Another option is to buy leaf miner wasps (diglyphus isaea).  Their larvae will kill the parasites.

Aphids are a common problem on many plants and will also attack lovage.  Remove aphids with a blast of water or spray the plants with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap.

Find more helpful advice about pest control in our article “Top 5 Natural Pest Control Methods You Can Use Now.”

Several types of fungi and bacteria cause leaf spot. It shows as black spots on the leaves that spread and kill the leaves.

There isn’t a cure for this condition, so prevention is necessary.  Keep the plants pruned to allow airflow, and don’t overwater them.  Remove any infected leaves and destroy them.

Early blight is a fungus that causes brown spots on the leaves and stems.  Sometimes, the spots will have yellow rings.  Remove infected leaves and branches and destroy them.

Plenty of space between the plants and pruning improves the airflow.  Excess water can also cause this problem.

Final Thoughts

Lovage tastes like celery mixed with parsley, a bit of anise, and a citrus zing.  The pilgrims brought it to America, and Charlemagne ordered it should always be in his gardens.  Try growing some today and discover why our ancestors thought it was so delicious!

Frequently Asked Questions About Lovage

  1. Does lovage come back every year?

    Lovage is a perennial that’s easy to care for. Every year, lovage is one of the first plants to show fresh green leaves ready for picking. It spreads quickly by self-seeding and by its rhizomes spreading out.

  2. What does lovage taste like?

    Lovage has a unique taste that’s a lot like celery and parsley, with notes of anise and citrus. The taste is also stronger than celery or parsley.

  3. How tall does lovage grow?

    Mature lovage plants can grow up to six feet tall and 32 inches wide.

  4. Will lovage grow in shade?

    Lovage prefers full sun, but it will also grow well with partial shade. It grows so tall it you can use it as shade for other garden crops!

  5. Can I grow lovage in a container?

    Yes, but since lovage is such a tall plant it needs a large container so it won’t fall over. It also needs depth because it grows a long tap root. Use containers at least 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep. The bigger the better.

  6. What is lovage used for?

    Lovage can be used fresh or cooked as a replacement for celery. The leaves are used in soups, salads, and meat dishes. It goes well with poultry, pork, and fish.

    Cook the stalks like any green vegetable, and the roots like any root vegetable.

    When you buy celery seed at the supermarket, you’re actually buying lovage seed. That’s because lovage seed has a stronger flavor that celery seed.

    Lovage is used in manufacturing to flavor foods, drinks and candies. It’s also an ingredient in fragrances for cosmetics and soaps.

    Medicinally lovage has a long list of uses:
    Indigestion, heartburn, gas, and bloating.
    Sore throat.
    Pleurisy, jaundice, rheumatism, gout, and migraine headaches.
    An expectorant to help loosen phlegm.
    Irregular menstrual periods.
    Irrigation therapy for kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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