Native to southern Europe and used for centuries, growing lovage (Levisticum officinale) is easy!
The leaves, stems, roots, and seeds of this old-time herb are all edible and taste a lot like celery, but stronger. These perennial plants are large — up to 7 feet tall — and very hardy, meaning you’ll have no trouble maintaining them.
Lovage was beloved during the Middle Ages and could be found in most kitchen gardens where it was cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Today, the herb’s most popular usage is in soups, stews, and salads. In England, an alcoholic lovage liqueur is traditionally mixed with brandy as a relaxing winter drink.
In this article, learn exactly how to plant and grow lovage, as well as tips and tricks that will help you along the way.
Fun fact: In the 12th century St. Hildegarde — known for visions and prophecies — recommended lovage for the relief of abdominal pains, coughs, and heart problems.
Heirloom lovage can add depth to your savory meals. Planting instructions are included with each seed packet and shipping is FREE!
Botanical Name: Levisticum officinale
Common Name: Lovage
Plant Type: Perennial herb
Hardiness Zones: 3 – 9 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, well-draining
Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.0
Maturity: 85-95 days from seed
Height: 4 to 6 feet
Spacing: 2 to 3 feet apart
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Lovage
- A huge perennial plant grown for leaves, stems, roots and seeds
- Adds a celery flavor to salads, soups, and stews; teas are made from the leaves
- Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before planting outdoors after frost danger has passed
- Needs full sun to light shade and rich soil, well-watered soil with plenty of added organic matter
- No problems with pests or diseases
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a perennial herb belonging to the family Apiaceae. This makes it related to other herbs and vegetables such as parsley, cilantro, dill, and fennel, as well as carrots and celery.
Due to its resemblance in appearance and flavor to celery, lovage is often referred to as mountain celery. It’s also known as smellage or Maggi plant.
The lovage plant is native to Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. In ancient Greece and Rome, as well as throughout much of Europe in the Middle Ages, it was widely used as both a medicinal and culinary herb.
The plants are herbaceous perennials, which means that in the winter they die back to the ground and grow back in the spring.
Since mature lovage plants can reach heights of 6 feet, they make quite a statement in the garden. The leaves are a medium green color and look almost exactly like celery leaves or flat parsley leaves. In midsummer, bright yellow flowers with a pleasant smell appear.
Plant lovage in a location with partial to full sun. Although it thrives in direct sunlight, it can tolerate some afternoon shade, especially in warmer growing regions.
The soil should drain well and have a pH of about 6.5, which is slightly acidic. It grows best in sandy, loamy soil. It prefers rich soil, unlike other Mediterranean herbs, so add a lot of organic matter when planting.
Always make sure the soil is just damp enough to touch, but not soaking wet. When the soil dries out, it can cause the leaves to develop an unpleasant bitter flavor. Add a layer of mulch, such as compost, peat moss, or even grass clippings, to your garden to help retain moisture in the soil.
Lovage prefers temperatures higher than 60 degrees Fahrenheit when sowing, but mature plants can tolerate cold and are cold hardy to -5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Throughout the growing season, provide plants with compost tea or diluted fish emulsion. Each spring, amend the soil by mixing in aged compost or a commercial organic planting mix.
Uses of Lovage
You can grow this perennial plant for landscaping or culinary purposes. Either fresh or dried leaves of the lovage plant can be used in culinary preparations. Fresh leaves can be added to soups, salads, or other dishes to add flavor.
It is grown for its stalks and foliage, which are used to flavor foods, especially meats, and to make herbal tea. Both its seeds and rhizomes, which are underground stems, are used as flavors in liqueurs and confectionery.
Lovage has a sweet taste comparable to celery. The flowering tops are harvested for their essential oil, which is used in flavoring and perfumery.
There is a long history of using the plant and its parts for medicinal purposes. Before using lovage for any medicinal reason, always make sure to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
You’ll notice quite a few supplements including lovage on the market. However, it’s important to note that in the United States, dietary supplements are not regulated.
This means that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed.
If you’re taking any medications, lovage may have potential interactions with them that need to be cleared by your doctor or pharmacist before you start consuming it regularly.
How to Plant and Grow Lovage
Lovage prefers full sun to light shade and rich, moisture-laden, organic soil. Before you plant, consider how much space can be devoted to growing this attractive herb.
Mature plants will reach 4 to 7 feet tall, which makes it the perfect backdrop for any garden. Grows well in large containers, too! Read our article How to Start an Herb Garden for more information.
Note: In mid-summer, the greenish-yellow flowers of lovage attract a large number of beneficial insects and pollinators.
How to Plant Lovage Seeds
Lovage grows well from seed. When the soil temperature reaches 60°F outside, direct-sow lovage seeds. The seeds should be scattered over the prepared soil and lightly covered with sand.
Alternatively, start indoors 6-8 weeks before planting outside. Sow 1/4 inch deep. Seeds will germinate in 10-14 days.
When there is no longer any risk of frost and your seedlings have at least two sets of true leaves you can transplant them into the garden.
Fill your soil with compost, well-rotted manure, or an all-purpose organic fertilizer to promote healthy growth, and dig a hole the size of the root ball. Make sure the soil is well watered and tamped down.
How to Harvest and Store Lovage
Lovage may be harvested after the first growing season. As with most culinary herbs, cut in the morning after the dew has dried. Do not wash the leaves or aromatic oils will be lost.
Lovage is best used fresh but can be stored frozen in plastic bags or dried. To dry, tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang them upside down in a well-ventilated, dark room (watch How to Dry Herbs — video).
Seed Saving Instructions for Lovage Plant
Plants produce huge heads of seeds. Allow them to dry; remove and collect. Seed heads may also be bagged to capture ripening seeds.
Common Insect and Disease Problems in Lovage
Lovage is vulnerable to attack from leafminers, which are small maggots that tunnel inside leaves. These tunnels zigzag just beneath the surface of the leaf.
Most of the time, only a few leaves are affected, and the rest of the plant is unharmed. Identify and remove infected leaves, then dispose of them. This will dispose of the maggots as well.
Aphids can also occasionally be a problem, as can parsley worms.
The lovage plant is rarely bothered by plant diseases, but keep an eye out for early blight or leaf spots that may sometimes occur.