Levisticum officinale syn Ligusticum levisticum (Apiaceae, Celery Family)
For hours after handling this herb, your hands are likely to retain a rich combination scent of celery, parsley, pepper and vegemite. The German name for it, Liebstockel or Maggikraut gives more of a clue on how to use it in the kitchen, for in 1885, one Swiss gentleman, Julius Maggi used it to make his first batch of Maggi flavouring. A long time before this, in 1801 the Germans who had settled in Pennsylvania were using the hollow leaf stems of the plant as a drinking straw according to Stearn's American Herbal which was written around that time. After reading this I immediately thought it would make a great drinking straw for a 'Bloody Mary' cocktail with the complimentary flavour it has for that particular drink.
The botanical name is derived from the Italian Province of Liguria where it was found growing in abundance and is thus called in Greek, Ligustikas. In ancient times both Greek and Roman cooks were familiar with it as a flavouring agent. The English name was derived from old French and was once known by the charming Loveache pronounced Loveaitch.
Another species found growing on the wild east coast of Scotland called Ligusticum scoticum is also used in cooking and my Scots recipe book includes one for Pheasant and Lovage Crumble, a great winter sounding dish.
From a horticultural point of view, I am unable to provide Lovage with ideal growing conditions such as a cool damp meadow beside a stream where it may reach up to 2 metres in height when showing off its dish telescope like flowers. Mine rarely reaches more than 30 cm in height but the flavour is still there and that is what matters. In warm climates it may also be plagued by insect problems such as leaf miner, aphids and mealy bugs which congregate around the stem base. On digging up my plants this week to divide and propagate I found the whole plant to be infested with nematode (eel-worm) but I did manage to save a few pieces with clean roots which will go into a new position before long. This is a herb I can't live without, so it will live to see another day.
Lovage showing root knot nematode damage