Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a large, vigorous plant, first producing a flush of edible leaves in spring, then sending up impressive flower stalks that can reach 2m (6ft) tall in mid- to late summer. The greeny-yellow flowerheads are popular with bees and are followed by edible seeds.
Lovage - Levisticum officinale
As well as being an impressive plant, lovage offers several different harvests. The young leaves are the most widely used part – they can be picked in spring and summer and have a mild, sweet celery flavour with a hint of aniseed. Chopped leaves can be added to salads, as well as many cooked dishes, including soups and stews. The young stalks can also be blanched like celery, cooked or candied like angelica, and the seeds can be used in baking. Even the roots are edible.
Month by Month
There is only one type of lovage available, Levisticum officinale, which is widely sold as seeds or young plants. Growing lovage from seed is relatively simple, but as one plant is usually all you need, buying a young plant is an easier and quicker option, and often worth the small extra cost.
Lovage is a perennial, so will live for several years and can grow quite large over time – up to 1m (3¼ft) across, with flower stems up to 2m (6½ft) tall. Make sure you have enough space for it. Lovage can be planted in containers but grows best in the ground.
You can see many herbs, including lovage, growing in the herb displays at all the RHS gardens, so do visit to see how they are grown and pick up useful tips.
What and where to buy
Lovage seeds are widely available in garden centres and from online seed suppliers. Young plants are also sold by most gardening retailers from spring to early autumn.
Alternatively, if you know someone who already grows lovage, they may be happy to give you ripe seeds in late summer or even self-seeded plants.
Sow lovage seeds in spring indoors or outside. Alternatively, buy young plants in spring or early summer. Plants grown from seed will need more attention and will be slower to get established – you should be able to start harvesting a few leaves by the following spring, while newly bought young plants can usually be lightly cropped in their first summer.
Sow lovage seeds in spring – only a few though, as one plant usually provides enough leafy harvests.
Newly bought lovage plants can be planted outdoors ideally in late spring or early summer. With young plants grown from seed indoors (see above), once they are growing strongly and their roots fill the pot, harden them off carefully, to make the transition to life outdoors as smooth as possible.
Choose a planting site in light shade for preference, although lovage will also be fine in full sun. Most soils are suitable, but lovage grows best in rich soil that receives regular rainfall but doesn’t get waterlogged, so dig a bucket or two of garden compost or well-rotted manure into the planting area. Also make sure there is plenty of space for the plant to grow – lovage can reach up to 1m (3ft) wide.
Lovage can be planted in a large container, although it will grow more vigorously in the ground. Choose a heavy pot that won’t blow over, as the tall flower stems can make lightweight pots unstable. The container should be at least 30cm (1ft) wide, with plenty of drainage holes in the base. Fill it with a peat-free soil-based John Innes No. 3 compost and plant the lovage in the centre, then water well.
Lovage should be planted on its own rather than in a mixed herb container, as its strong growth would soon overwhelm other less vigorous companions.
Once established, lovage needs little maintenance to grow well. Harvest the young leaves regularly through spring and summer, to encourage more to grow. If your plant stops producing new leaves in summer, cut back the old foliage to stimulate a flush of new growth.
Water newly planted lovage regularly for the first few months, until settled in and growing strongly.
Like its near-relative celery, lovage likes plenty of moisture in the soil, but not waterlogged conditions. Plants may need additional watering in hot summer weather, especially if growing in full sun or free-draining soil.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, around the clump in late winter or early spring, to help hold moisture in the soil.
Lovage is a robust and resilient plant and doesn’t usually need feeding. But if your plant isn’t thriving, you can apply a general purpose feed in early spring.
Keep young lovage plants weed-free, to reduce competition for light, water and nutrients. Once established, lovage generally forms a robust leafy clump that shades out any nearby weeds.
Given the chance, lovage is a prolific self-seeder. So weed out any unwanted seedlings in early summer, before they get established, or pot them up and share them with friends. Remove the seedheads before they ripen if you want to prevent self-seeding.
Protecting from pests
Protect seedlings and young plants from slugs and snails.
Lovage is easy to grow from seeds collected when ripe in late summer or autumn. See our guide to collecting seeds and our step-by-step guide to sowing seeds indoors. But you may not even need to sow them, as lovage will self-seed readily, so you’ll often find young seedlings popping up near established plants from early summer onwards. Simply move these young plants to wherever you want them to grow or pot them up and share them with friends.
Alternatively, large clumps of lovage can be divided in spring – see our guide to dividing perennials.
Pruning and Training
To encourage lots of fresh leaves, harvest young leaves regularly in spring and summer. You can also remove the flower stems when they start to form, if you wish, to encourage leafy growth and keep plants compact.
Lovage naturally starts to die back in autumn. Cut down the spent flower stems and old leaves to just above ground level, either in autumn or in early spring before new growth start.
Lovage is mainly grown for its leaves, which taste rather like celery, but sweeter, with a hint of parsley and aniseed.
Harvest the young leaves regularly, so more are produced. Use them fresh, finely chopped in salads, soups and stews, and to complement potatoes and eggs.
Stop picking the leaves once plants start to flower in late summer, as they turn bitter. Or remove the flower stalk to prolong harvests.
The seeds can be used in baking, in a similar way to fennel seeds.
You can also harvest young, blanched stems, to eat like celery. Loosely wrap a strip of thick paper around a few of the stems, when they’re about 30cm (1ft) tall, and hold in place with twine. Leave a third of the stems exposed. This is a similar process to blanching celery, a near relative.
Unblanched stems can also be cooked and have a robust celery flavour.
Once established, lovage is usually vigorous, healthy and trouble free. Minor problems may occasionally occur, including:
The soft leaves of young plants may be nibbled by slugs and snails, so protect if necessary
Leaves may also attract celery leaf mining fly, in which case simply remove affected leaves
Lovage can self-seed readily – if you don’t want more plants, weed out any seedlings in spring and summer, or remove the seedheads before the seeds ripen
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