Lovage – better known as celeriac herb or Maggi herb, is one of the most important herbs in European cuisine. The flavor is so distinctive and characteristic that it is easy to spot in herbal gardens. In addition to its unique flavor, lovage also contains health-promoting ingredients that have made it an important herb ever since ancient times. Incidentally, lovage has nothing to do with the well-known spice from Maggi.
Profile of Lovage:
Scientific name: Levisticum officinale
Plant family: umbellifer (plant of the order Umbelliflorae), Apiaceae
Other names: Maggi herb
Sowing time / Planting time: March – April
Flowering period: July – August
Harvest time: May – September
Location: sunny to partially shaded
Soil quality: nutrient-rich, slightly moist and calcareous soils
Use as a medicinal herb: cramps, urinary tract infections, kidney problems, menstrual cramps, eczema, pimples, rheumatism
Use as aromatic herb: soups, fish, poultry, hearty food, cheese
Plant characteristics and systematics
Origin of lovage
Lovage probably comes from the Near East, most likely even from Persia. It is believed that the plant has already played a major role in ancient times. True evidence can not be found, however, the lovage is already mentioned in ancient herbal books. There it was already described as aromatic herbs and as a medicinal herb.
Distribution of lovage
Wild lovage can only rarely be found in nature. Occasionally, it is due to the quite frequent cultivation to find in allotments on some meadows or roadsides. Otherwise it is more likely to be found in the warmer regions as wild herb.
Plant order of Lovage
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) belongs to the umbelliferae family (Apiaceae) and is related to herbs such as salad burnet, dill, coriander or ashweed. For the genus Levisticum no other species are known or described except the species Levisticum officinale. The older literature also includes synonymous spellings such as Hipposelinum levisticum or Angelica paludapifolia.
Characteristics of Maggi herb
Despite its area of origin, the perennial lovage is a relatively winter-hardy plant that can withstand temperatures down to -15 ° C (5 °F) . The plant reaches growth heights of up to 2 meters (6‘ 7‘‘) with good care and optimal site conditions. In the home region of Western Asia, specimens up to 2.50 meters (8‘ 2‘‘) were reported. The lovage forms dense tuberous root parts, which are referred to as rhizome. These rhizomes are an underground extension of the shoot, serving as hibernating organs and have nothing to do with the actual root.
The mostly light green leaves of lovage are markedly pinnate and sawn. The lower leaves are much more pinnately than the upturned leaves. The lower leaves sit on a stem, whereas the upper leaves are directly on the petioles. The leaves have a striking gloss and are relatively large.
The most yellow to yellow-green flowers of the lovage grow in double umbel. On each umbel sit up to eleven flowers. The herb has a relatively short flowering period, which is expected between July and August.
From the flowers develop the (for many Umbelliferous) typical fruits, which are referred to as double-achene. This consists of two partial fruits, each with a flat, brownish and clearly structured seed.
Lovage sow and plant
Lovage is an undemanding and easy-care plant.
The „Maggi herb“ prefers nutrient-rich, slightly limed, loamy and rather moist soils. The plant tolerates both sunny and partially shaded locations, although sunny locations are preferred.
Irrigation of the herb should be done regularly. The soil should always be kept moderately moist. However, waterlogging is mandatory to avoid. In addition, the root ball should never completely dry out, as the plant thereby causes immense damage in the short term.
The sowing of lovage takes place in spring (end of March to end of April) directly in the open ground. It is also possible to grow it in the apartment in planters from February on. The lovage can then be put out and cultivated in the field or on the balcony. Inasmuch as it is cultivated on the balcony, a southern exposure to full sun usually gives the best results.
Instead of offspring, „Maggie herb“ can easily be multiplied by division. The plant is divided with the roots and then planted on the new location.
For fertilization, a few doses of compost or organic long-term fertilizer are sufficient. Lovage is a moderate feeder and needs slightly more nutrients than many other herbs. Also recommended is the mulching of the beds, where the herb should grow. With good mulching, the soils do not need to be fertilized additionally, as the decomposition of the material provides abundant nutrients.
Lovage is hardy and does not need to be brought into the house in the frosty winter. However, lovage is not one of the evergreen herbs; the foliage withers at the end of the growing season, but shoots again in the following year.
Since lovage tends to grow vigorously in height, it is advisable to support the plants with appropriate constructions such as rods. If you want to harvest fresh lovage leaves throughout the year, it is advisable to cut back the plant before flowering.
For harvest, the fresh and rather young leaves should be picked. As a suitable harvest time, the time before flowering is recommended. The rhizomes, which are often colloquially interpreted as root, are also used.
Diseases and pests
The „Maggie herb“ is a rather robust herb. Diseases are rarely to be expected at this spicy herb. Occasionally, the white thrips, various leaf bugs (mirids) and aphids may occur. However, these usually only occur when the herb is under severe stress. On the other hand, it is even suitable as a herb that can keep many pests away.
Lovage and its use
Whether fresh or dried, lovage is an aromatic herb that should be present in every herb cabinet. The intense taste completes many dishes. And incidentally „Maggie herb“ helps against a variety of digestive problems.
Lovage in the kitchen
Visually, the leaves are reminiscent of the leaves of celery. The smell of lovage is just as similar, but in comparison to celery more intense and spicy, slightly bitter and sweet at the same time. Because of the strong aroma Lovage is used as a spicy herb in many soups, stews and hearty meat dishes. But also seeds are used in the kitchen. For example, the seeds are added as a natural flavoring during cheese making, or baked like cumin in bread or rolls.
Lovage is an excellent seasoning for many hearty meals as well as for meat dishes such as boiled beef, poultry and fish. The herb harmonizes perfectly with garlic.
For the preparation in warm dishes, it is advisable to add the herb only towards the end of cooking, because otherwise it loses some of its strong aroma. For cooking both dried and fresh leaves can be used.
Dried Lovage should always be well kept in an airtight container. Well suited are also glasses with airtight closure. The herbs are best kept cool and dry and protected from direct sunlight.
Lovage as a medicinal herb
For medical purposes, the leaves, the roots and seeds are used; The latter, in particular, are used dried for tea (2 teaspoons of lovage seeds to about 300 ml (10 fl oz) of boiling water, leave to draw about 10 minutes covered).
Especially the roots (rhizomes) are rich in essential oils and antispasmodic ingredients, which do not lose their effect even after drying. The rhizomes probably have the strongest effect here as well.
To remedy gastric and intestinal problems, e.g. loss of appetite and constipation, is either drunk a tea or the leaves are eaten.
However, lovage has proven itself especially in case of bladder infections and urinary tract infections, because the herb is not only anti-inflammatory, but also has a diuretic effect. Care should be taken at this point for persons suffering from kidney disease and should consult with the doctor if a lovage drainage is recommended.
Lovage is not unknown even in gynecology, as the anticonvulsant and stimulating ingredients of the Maggie herb have a positive effect on menstrual cramps – reasons why another synonym for lovage is called „uterus herb“. Pregnant women should avoid the excessive consumption of lovage due to the stimulating the blood flow and anti-spasmodic effect. Some midwives use it at the time of delivery to support the birth.
Lovage also provide a remedy to help with skin problems. Eczema and pimples are treated with lovage tinctures. In addition, it is used in phytotherapy for the treatment of gout and rheumatism.
In old herbal books lovage was used for strengthening, but also as a means of “casting out the dead birth”. Special attention was paid to the use of lovage seeds, which were said to have high medical benefits. But the herb itself was also mentioned. Among others a lovage bath was recommended against sweats. As wine in combination with cumin was reported to “a good stomach” and dispel “the evil wind from the bowels”.
Note / Contraindications:
Lovage should be avoided during pregnancy. People who have a specific kidney problem should not use lovage, as the renal tissue may become inflamed when having impaired kidney function. The herb also contains so-called furocoumarines, which can sometimes cause skin irritation in abundant sunlight.
Buy Lovage – What is there to pay attention to?
Since lovage is a very well-known and popular culinary herb, it can also be purchased in different ways. Fresh herbs can be found in many supermarkets and food stores. If possible, you should taste test a small leaf and taste if the aroma is strong. The leaves should be juicy and free from yellow spots.
When buying larger perennials or when buying potted plants, the plant should be surface examined for pests. Lovage is basically a very resistant plant that rarely has any disease. Sometimes, however, aphids are found in the leaf axils, which are difficult to remove due to the plant anatomy. Rarely, the plant is also attacked by thrips.
In addition to fresh lovage herbs also many manufacturers can be found that offer dried herbs. If you rarely use the herb, buying a smaller amount (under 100 grams (3.5 oz)) is recommended. Although dried lovage keeps its aroma well, it loses more and more over time. The prices for 100 grams (3.5 oz) vary depending on the manufacturer quite strong and are between about 2.50 and 5 EUR/$.
For sowing in the garden and balcony, the selection of lovage seeds is quite large. The plant belongs to the standard assortment of most seed manufacturers and should be easy to procure.