Monday, 25 July 2011


Lovage is native to the Mediterranean region, but has been cultivated in Britain for centuries in herbalists’ gardens and those of monasteries and is naturalized. It is a member of the Apiaceae family or Umbelliferae family of plants and as such is related to parsley, angelica, carrots, parsnips and fennel. It has been used in alcoholic cordials for centuries, although it was probably first sold commercially by Phillips’ of Bristol in their range of shrubs which date back to 1793. In the Lovage cordial it is mixed with tansy and yarrow, and this was used in winter (and still is) mixed with brandy. It seems that the original cordials were used on long sea voyages, so lime juice was a constituent to ward off scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), while lovage was to prevent rheumatism, and shrub, a mixture of plant juices which was alcoholic was the ingredient which staved off colds and flu. The first cordials containing lovage are recorded in the 14th century, and these contained tansy and yarrow or milfoil. Lovage is also used in some liqueurs and could be found with borage in one of the Pimms mixes.
  Lovage gets its name because it was reputed to be an aphrodisiac, but also this is a corruption of Liguria, (the Italian Riviera) which was where the plant was first cultivated, it is believed. It was certainly growing there in the first century AD and probably before. Levisticum is apparently a corruption of Ligustikos, the Greek for Liguria.
  The plant grows to 5 or 6 feet tall with large flower heads, rather like cow parsley, sweet cicely and elder flowers but they are a greeny-yellow colour. The seeds these heads bear after the flower has died contain oil and have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, along with all other parts of the plant.
  In ancient times, lovage leaves were used by travellers who put them in their shoes as deodorant and for their antiseptic qualities. Today it is generally believed that the root is the most potent part of the plant, but Culpeper, writing in the 17th century believed the seeds to be the best part of the plant and that they were more potent than the root. He wrote that an infusion of the seeds,” being dropped into the eyes taketh away their redness or dimness.” He also recommended it as a drink for fevers, and a gargle for sore throats and that it should be drunk two or three times a day as a remedy for pleurisy. He suggested that the leaves should be bruised and flattened and cooked in “hog’s lard” and used hot on boils and skin eruptions.
  Traditionally the plant has been used to stimulate the appetite, stop flatulence, aid digestion and an infusion of the roots has been used for gravel and kidney stones and urinary tract inflammation for problems such as cystitis. The leaves have been used for their diuretic properties and as deodorant.
  The leaves have been taken as an emmenagogue for centuries to ease period pains and bring on delayed menstruation as well as to alleviate the symptoms of PMT / PMS. The tisane can be made from 1 tbsp of fresh leaves shredded or 1 tsp dried, to one cup of boiling water which you pour over them and leaves to steep for about 15 minutes before straining and drinking .If you harvest the leaves, you can freeze them whole and shred them as you use them, rather than drying them as this may be easier. The tisane is good for a number of problems including stomach cramps during menstruation. (You should drink 2 cups a day.)
  You can use the leaves in salads- the young, tender ones are best, which come before the flower blooms. Some people confuse this plant with hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is poisonous, but the flowers are different and I think it’s more easily confused with angelica or sweet cicely. However be careful if you gather this from the wild.
  The plant has hollow stems, which can be dried and used as brushes to baste meat and fish with. They can also be used fresh as stirrers, instead of swizzle sticks or straws for Bloody Mary’s and the seeds of lovage may be substituted for celery seeds in the drink. (Lovage seeds are a little sweeter than those of celery though.)
  You can add shredded leaves to risottos and other rice dishes, and eggs-they go well in omelettes and scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes too, as well as being testy additions to soups and stew. Use the stalks in salads as you would those of the globe artichoke, blanched and peeled or just blanched and eat it like celery. The leaves can be added to salads to give them a different flavour too.
  The roots, leaves and seeds of the plant have antispasmodic properties and have been used to speed up slow labour in child birth, and as a stimulant; .they are also mildly expectorant so are good for respiratory problems.
   You can add the leaves to your bath water or even better try this recipe:-Pour 2 pints of boiling water, over 1 cup of shredded lovage leaves, ½ a cup of the chopped root, ½ a cup of fresh mint leaves and 1 tbsp eucalyptus leaves that have been torn to the vein but are still in tact. Leave this to cool, strain and pour the liquid into the bath water when tepid for a relaxing bathe.
  Early American colonists used to chew the roots of lovage to help them stay alert, much as we chew gum, and in Mediaeval times, people wore bunches of the herb around their necks to avoid the general stench.
  In 1990 the German Commission E approved the lovage roots and dried rhizome for urinary tract inflammation (cystitis etc.) saying that “the linguistilide –containing essential oil is antispasmodic.” They concluded that it was suitable for “irrigation therapy for inflammation of the lower urinary tract and for the prevention of gravel.” The recommended daily dose is 4-8 grams of the root.
  In 2009 the European Food Safety Advisory Authority said that there was insufficient evidence for them to approve the use of the root for improved diuretic function, despite the German stance.
   Recent scientific research has shown that the essential oil from the leaves of lovage inhibit cancer cell growth in “Head and Neck Squamous Carcinoma Cells” (S. Sertel et al, University of Mainz, Germany, published in 2011 in the Anticancer Research Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment). Other research has also shown the oil to have antimycobacterial properties.
  It may be worth taking a look at the possibilities of using this herb in your kitchen and growing it in the garden; it has a number of uses.

20 gr butter
1 onion, finely diced
a few young lovage stalks, chopped
1 head Kos lettuce
½ cucumber diced small or a small cucumber
1 sprig thyme, stripped of its leaves
salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper
100 gr peas (shelled weight)
small handful of young lovage leaves, shredded finely
natural yoghurt to serve

Warm the butter and add the onion, thyme, a pinch of salt and fry until soft and translucent.
Add the lovage stalks and fry for a further 2-3 minutes.
Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. (Add a glass of white wine if you like and adjust the amount of stock you use.)
Now add the rest of the vegetables, shred the lettuce, but reserve some shredded lovage leaves for garnish.
Simmer for 5-10 minutes then remove from the heat.
Serve in bowls with a swirl of natural yoghurt in each.
Serve with crusty fresh bread or garlic bread.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


  1. Fascinating! My English grandma told my mom ,who has recently quit smoking, to take it to help her through withdrawals.

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