Lovage has an intense celery flavour that is perfect for winter dishes. It is far easier to grow than celery and these tall plants provide generous harvests.
Lovage is native to the eastern Mediterranean. This hardy perennial plant, with large, frond like glossy compound leaves divided into diamond shaped leaflets, can grow to 1.8m. The tiny yellow flowers, borne in umbels are followed by oval seeds which can be used like celery seeds in cooking. The plant dies down completely in winter, emerging in early spring.
Lovage requires a rich moist but well drained soil and light shade where summers are hot. It is propagated by seed which remains viable for 3 years, or by division in spring. The plants benefit from generous quantities of compost. Remove older, yellowing leaves and consider cutting back older plants to about 30cm high to encourage fresh foliage growth in mid summer. In a mixed herb garden, mark the position of lovage as it is deciduous.
For cooking, pick the leaves as required. Dig the roots after the plant dies down, usually in the third year. You can dry all parts of the plant and also freeze the leaves in sealed plastic bags.
Called céleri bâtard or false celery by the French, lovage is used as an ingredient in many commercial bouillons, sauces, stocks and condiments. Its seeds are added to liqueurs and cordials, as well as to breads and sweet pastries. Blanch the stems in the same manner as rhubarb, or eat them raw in salads. You can also candy the stems and eat them as confectionery, or use the leaves in cooking to provide an intense celery like flavouring.
information sourced from The Complete Book of Herbs