Lovage belongs to the parsley family, and its seeds, leaves, and roots are commonly used in Europe for flavoring foods and beverages and for their medicinal properties. The Romans, who introduced lovage to Europe, used it widely in their cooking as well as to reduce fevers and treat stomach ailments. Germans called it maggikraut because its aroma reminded them of maggi cubes (meaty yeast extracts). Today it is popular in South and Central European cuisines.
Origin and Varieties
True lovage is native to Southern Europe but cultivated in western Asia, Germany, Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the United States. There are two other types of lovage that grow wild. One variety, called sea lovage, Scottish lovage, or shunis, grows in northern Britain and along the north Atlantic coast of the United States. The other type, called black lovage or alexanders, grows in Britain and around the Mediterranean.
Also known as sea parsley, the leaves and stem of the lovage plant add an intense celery-like flavour to soups, stews and stocks or pork and poultry dishes. It can also be used to enhance the flavour of potato dishes. Lovage has green, serrated leaves and hollow stems that are sold fresh, dried, frozen, or crystallized.
The leaves, which resemble celery leaves, can be used whole or chopped. The younger leaves are smaller in size. The seeds (which resemble ajowan seeds) are tiny, ridged, crescent-shaped, brown, and aromatic. The roots are slightly thick and fleshy with a greyish brown color. The fresh leaves have a sharp, yeast-like and musky taste with a lemon and celery-like aroma. The dried leaves have a stronger flavor than the fresh leaf.
Cooking with Lovage
Ancient Greeks and Romans commonly used the seeds, leaves, and roots in their cooking. Today, lovage is a favorite flavoring in Britain and southeastern Europe. It is eaten cooked or raw.
The leaves are used in soups, stocks, flavored vinegars, pickles, stews, and salads. In Italy, lovage is used with oregano and garlic for tomato sauces.
The seeds are sprinkled over salads and mashed potatoes and are crushed for breads, pastries, biscuits, and cheeses.
The stems and stalks are chopped for use in sauces and stews, while the crystallized leaves and stems are used for decorating cakes.
The roots are peeled to remove the bitter skin and are then used as a vegetable or are pickled. Add the chopped leaves to casseroles for an really interesting flavor.
The anise, celery flavor of the lovage works really well. Lovage is great when cooking lentils- sweat a few leaves with onions , then let the lentils cook slowly with the lovage. Pesto is traditionally made with basil, but can be made with most herbs. Try it using sorrel and lovage. Lovage can be used on a pizza topping or add a handful of chopped lovage on pasta. Lovage is excellent with fish, such as salmon. Chop the leaves in a fresh leaf and herb salad- dress with your favorite dressing. Lovage soup is delicious. Leek and lovage soup really work well together.
Spice Blends: tomato sauce blend, soup blend, stew blend, and stock blend.
Health Benefits of Lovage
Europeans traditionally use lovage as a digestive stimulant, for stomach upsets, water retention, and skin problems. It was also taken to treat poor circulation and menstrual irregularities.