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Lovage

Levisticum officinale

  • Name also: Garden Lovage
  • Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 100–250 cm (40–100 in.). Stem branched, glossy, glabrous, bluish, hollow, joints with septa. With herb-like fragrance.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (outer corollas slightly zygomorphic), greenish–yellow, 3–5 mm (0.12–0.2 in.) wide; petals 5, entire–notched, tip recurved. Sepals absent. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a compound umbel, secondary umbels 10–20. Primary umbel’s bracts descending oblique, secondary umbel’s bracteoles with united base.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, leaf-base sheath-like. Blade narrowly triangular, 1–2 times pinnate. Leaflets obovate, with tapered base, sparsely large-toothed or 3-lobed, shiny.
  • Fruit: Egg-shaped, slightly flat-backed, 2-sectioned, low-ridged, narrowly winged, yellow–brown, 5–7 mm (0.2–0.28 in.) long schizocarp.
  • Habitat: Wild in yards, gardens, against walls, wasteland. Also a culinary herb.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Lovage is not native to Finland but rather the Persian region. It survives, however, for a very long time as a left-over from old gardens, and it has almost returned to its natural state in its old habitats. Although it is able to ripen its seeds in the Finnish climate it doesn’t seem to spread very widely. Lovage is easy to cultivate from seed or from shoots. In its first year it cannot be used much without damaging its growth, but later it produces an abundant crop of leaves, and one plant is enough to fulfil the needs of a very large household.

Lovage is a reputable medicinal plant which has been cultivated in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages in central Europe. It has been used to treat stomach complaints, gout, pains, depression and snake-bite, and this was later expanded further to include bronchitis and flatulence. Nowadays the plant’s bitter root is used to make the homeopathic remedy which is sold as Lecusticum. Lovage’s scientific name is a reference to its medicinal properties and comes from the Latin word levare, meaning ‘to alleviate’.

In Finland most lovage is found in the south-west of the country around Turku. The plant’s leaves, flowers and fruits can be used as culinary seasoning in place of stock cubes and salt, and the flavour has been described as a cross between celery, parsley, leek and parsnip, and the plant’s leaf-stalks can even be eaten like celery. Its typical fragrance is a product of its essential oil, which has led to the plant being used on one hand in beauty treatment and love potions, and on the other hand to repel rats and other vermin. It often used to be grown beside the door, where it was believed to repel witches, snakes and other uninvited guests. On the other hand it attracts a modest number of butterflies, like many other members of the Carrot family.

Other species from the same family

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