Forgotten Plants: Lovage (Plus a Lovage Lemon Chicken Recipe)

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Lovage-Stem-label

Forgotten plants: once prolific in the kitchen gardens of our ancestors but now so rare that the average person might never even have heard of them. Many of these deserve to find space in our gardens again! And I will be writing about them and re-introducing you to them in the coming months.

Let’s start with lovage. I have grown lovage in my garden for the past several years. What started as an experiment of the “I have no idea what this plant is but let’s give it a try” variety has quickly become an important part of my kitchen garden.

History of Lovage

The history of lovage goes back several hundred years and spans continents. Lovage was mentioned by Charlemagne as a must have for all royal gardens, and was eventually brought to the new world by the colonists. My father-in-law recognized the plant immediately as one that used to grow outside his grandmother’s house, although even at that time he’s not sure it was used for any culinary purpose.

What It’s Like and How to Grow It

In the same plant family as celery, the dark green leaves grow on thick stalks with similar, but stronger, taste. The stems are tall and hollow. This perennial plant is one of the first plants to poke it’s head up in the spring, and it provides a continuous harvest well into the fall.

I grew my lovage from seed planted directly into the garden, but like most perennials it will also grow by root division if you are lucky enough to find someone who has this plant in their garden already. They grow tall — mine is about 6 feet — and wide, so give them a good space to grow in a sunny or partially shady location.

Lovage

Lots to Love About Lovage

Lovage deserves a spot in our gardens for a number of reasons!

The entire plant is edible, from root to seed, and it has a long history of both culinary and herbal use. I personally use it much as I use celery, only a little more sparingly due to its stronger flavor.

I regularly add whole stalks to the stock pot, include finely chopped leaves in soups and stews, and add small amounts to egg dishes. It is wonderful cooked along with chicken and fish, especially with some lemon slices thrown in.

Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads, and the hollow stems make fun straws for summer drinks. I have also read that the roots can be peeled and eaten like a vegetable, and the seeds ground as a tasty salt substitute, although I have yet to try these for myself.

Additionally, it freezes well, so it can be enjoyed all year round.

As an herb, the touted benefits are numerous including benefits to digestion, a help to the respiratory tract, relief from rheumatism and urinary tract complaints, and help with menstrual troubles and poor blood circulation.

It’s amazing that one plant can do so much! It seems obvious why the settlers must have found the plant important enough to bring with them on their long journey to the new world.

So, are you ready to try lovage? There should still be plenty of time to get some planted in your garden ready for a fall harvest. Once you’ve got it growing, try one of my favorite recipes:

Lovage Lemon Chicken

  • a handful of lovage, leaves and stems
  • one lemon, sliced
  • 4 whole chicken legs
  • one onion, chopped
  • a few carrots, chopped (potatoes are good, too, if your pan is big enough for them!)
  • salt and pepper

Serves 4.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lay a bed of lovage in the bottom of a large baking pan. Tuck a lemon slice and lovage leaves under the skin of the chicken thighs. Place the thighs in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Throw some chopped onion and carrots in around the chicken.

Lovage Lemon Chicken

Bake, covered, for half an hour, and then uncovered for another half hour, or until the skin of the chicken is crisp.

If you really like the taste of lovage, try the original recipe.  I loved it but it was too much lovage for my husband, so what’s above has become our own version.

Do you grow lovage, or any other “forgotten plants” in your garden? What are some of your favorite ways to use them?

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Comments

  1. says

    It’s a tall growing perennial?! I would love to try this. I’m trying to use plants like this as windbreaks in my garden. I have a difficult climate though: we have extreme changes in temperature, wet springs, and very dry hot summers (as in triple digits in August, sometimes as early as June). Do you think this would work for me? I’m in zone 6b.

    • says

      It is definitely tall! This year mine is over 6 feet! And it spreads wide, too. I am in zone 5b and so far the lovage has survived our cold winters, wet springs, and seems to be thriving in the hottest temps on record that this summer has thrown our way (although we will never reach triple digits!) The bottom leaves do tend to yellow in hot, dry weather, so that might be an issue, but from what I have read lovage still does well into Zone 7b, so it might be worth a try!

      • says

        I will try it! I located some seeds so I will see if I can’t start them soon and plant it this fall or next spring. We’ve had a problem with wind since we live in an exposed area and I’ve been looking for tall growing plants, preferably perennials that might help protect some of the other crops. I would also love to use this in the kitchen. I think we’d enjoy it. Thanks for sharing! I’m really exited about this.

  2. Sarah says

    My grandma grew lovage and I finally have some growing myself. I have mostly used it to make soups and to add to salads. I just pulled some chicken legs out of the freezer to make the lovage lemon chicken right away. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  3. Rina Myers says

    I have grown lovage for years, and although it is a little strong for my family’s taste, I give it to my dairy goats along with comfrey and sweet cicely. They love it, and I think these deep rooted perennials pull up the minerals and make them available for us.

    • says

      I have the same problem with a few of the edible plants I own! Now I make it a practice to try something new each week until I get into the habit of using everything.

  4. says

    I grew up in Eastern Europe and we always used lovage for fish soup. Especially if it is a sweet water fish. My mother in law was visiting a couple of years ago and we had the hardest time finding lovage so she can make us some traditional dishes. I also remember my mom using lovage when fermenting vegetables. She used to make a mix of carrots, red peppers,cauliflower and add lovage to that. It acts as a kind of natural preservative, like celery. Yum!

    • says

      I have never seen lovage being sold anywhere around here, either, as most people I have spoken with have never head of it! I love the idea of adding it when fermenting vegetables – thanks for the idea!

  5. says

    I grew lovage in my herb garden for several years. It never got over 2 feet tall and then one year it didn’t come back. I had no idea it could get so tall. I should plant it again.

  6. Deborah says

    I love lovage! I have never frozen it, can i just put in freezer bag fresh, or is there other steps I should be taking?

    • says

      I freeze lovage in the same way I freeze celery. I pop whole fresh stalks in the freezer for adding to stock, and then chop some up for adding to soups and other dishes. No blanching or special prep needed.

  7. Steve says

    Bought a small lovage start last year that I popped in the garden and sorta forgot. This year it has already reached over a foot high in mid-April and was looking very nice so I checked its identity and started to look for some ideas for using it. Think I’ll slice a bunch up and add it to a big pot along with some onion, garlic, salt, pepper and a couple frozen roosters to boil for a day or so.

    And Jenny needn’t worry about the heat. Here in California, even at over 3,000′ elevation, it gets into the triple digits sometimes as early as May and the lovage seems just fine with it. Now maybe I should see if it goes with peanut butter and honey the same way that celery does.

  8. Tawney says

    You’ve convinced me. I have the spot all picked out where I will be planting my seeds! Thanks for the info. :)

  9. says

    I adore my lovage! I have it planted right next to the house by the back stoop (right next to the chives) so I can send the kids out to grab a leaf or two when I’m making things like tuna/chicken salad, potato salad, soups etc. It gets very tall, but I just hack off the parts that are in the way and it keeps right on growing.

  10. sharon says

    Just found you peeps out there using lovage as an edible. I’d read that it is an edible plant, but I’ve never try to use my plant as food. You are all giving me ideas. However, I wonder if anyone else out there has my issue: When I have trimmed or cut down this plant in the fall, I’ve learned I MUST wear gloves! Otherwise, if I’ve touched the plant with bare hands and then happen to get it on my face (scratching an itch or slapping a bug), then my skin, or lips start to sting or itch and swell up a bit at the point of contact. Anybody out there experiencing the same? Perhaps I’m allergic to the plant? I’m certainly NOT allergic to its cousin celery.

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