Thursday, April 14, 2011

Herb of the Week - Lovage and Smallage

I could not decide between two celery-flavored herbs, so this week I thought I would do both (especially since the post is a day late!

Herb of the Week this week is: Lovage and Smallage

Smallage (Apium graveolens) is considered "wild celery" and has a more intense celery flavor and aroma the the related large modern stalks of celery with leaves that look like parsley.  Lovage (Levisticum officinale) has a broader deeply cut leaf with a similar strong celery flavor that can be found in the stalks, leaves and seeds.  You only need a little to bring that celery flavor.


Lovage has been used since Roman times as a medicinal herb, while Smallage as wild celery is believed to have been worn around the neck of King Tutankhaman.  The celery we know today was created by breeding the Smallage in the 17th and 18th centuries.

To Grow

Smallage is a biennial, like parsley so the second year is when you will get seeds.  You can grow it from seed started indoors, then plant the seedlings in full sun once the thread of frost has passed.  They are planted in a trench or row so the soil can be mounded around them and the entier plant can be harvest as wanted.  You do not need to let the all go to seed, only a few.  You can grow the plant from seed you harvest, so do not be afraid to let it go to seed the second year.  You do not want to let it get big, so 15 inches is good before using or havesting.

Lovage is best started from plants (and only one plant is needed for the average family), but it is a perennial, so once established it will return each year.  This plant prefers a bit of shade and should be protected from full sun or the leaves will yellow and burn.  You can share the plant with divisions done int he spring or fall.  This plant likes a moist soil, especially int he heat of the summer.  It can get 2 to 3 feet tall and will flower in umbels like dill which feature white flowers in late spring, early summer.  Space the plants 24 inches as the are club-growers and will round out.  It is a nice companion plant to fennel, hyssop and catmint.

Lovage will die back to ground at the end of the season, so don't panic if you don't see what was so tall at the end of the season.

To use

With Smallage cut the individual stalks as needed and harvest the seeds by cutting the stalk and hanging to upside down to dry with the seed head covered.

Use fresh Smallage leaves in salads and sauces, and add the seeds to stews and casseroles.The stalks can have a harsh taste and used in French cuisine, but usually blanched first to draw away the bitterness and make them more sweet like their commercial cousins.

Smallage seeds have been studied for the ability to lower blood pressure and positive results have been found in tests using rats.  I believe this makes the case for adding it to your diet in moderation as an edible herbs with positive health properties.

For Lovage you want to harvest the roots in the fall or spring (when you would also dig out divisions) using a sharp spade or garden fork.  Any time during the growing season you can harvest the leaves and stems.  If saving the seed (which is a great substitute for celery seed) you can cut the stem as the seeds begin to turn golden or tie them with cheese cloth and allow to mature further before hanging upside down for a final drying.

After several seasons dig up your Lovage in the spring and divide the root, or find and transplant new self-sown seedlings. You can preserve or use the root by washing it, and cutting it into small pieces. Dry the pieces on a screen and store away from light. Your Lovage plant will do much better after division.

Lovage is best used fresh, but you can freeze the leaves and stems. Blanch a handful of leaves in boiling water VERY quickly then quickly throw into a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes. Drain, place in plastic freezer bags and freeze. The frozen Lovage can be minced and used in cooked dishes. Lovage has a strong taste so use sparingly, increasing the amount only if you are sure it will not overpower the dish.

Add a teaspoon of fresh minced Lovage to your chicken soup during the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking. Lovage is perfect in soups and long cook dishes in place of celery.You can also add it to hot or chilled vegetable, meat, potato or tomato soups. Add one to two tablespoons of minced fresh Lovage to your meatloaf recipes. Harvest Lovage seeds to use whole or ground in cakes, meats, biscuits, breads, sauces, cheeses, salad dressings, or pickles. Add fresh leaves to your favorite potato salad or coleslaw too.
Cut up in stuffing is is a compliment to poultry.  You can use it anywhere the strong flavor of celery is desired.  You can also use the seeds and roots in foot and body baths.  All the parts can be used to make tea which is great for treating winter illnesses and respiratory issues.

In the spring, once your plants are established you can cut the stalks of lovage and eat them raw or blanch them for a spring vegetable.  Add a few leaves to a salad for a an aromatic enhancement.


Pink Risotto with Smallage (serves 4)

1 largeish bunch of Smallage
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 green garlic stalks, cleaned as leeks and chopped, discarding the dark green leaves
1 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley
3 canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for table

Finely dice the smallage stalks and leaves, (reserving a few of the leaves), by cutting the stalks lengthwise into thin strips, then bunching the strips together and cutting them crosswise. In a small saute pan, combine the olive oil, garlic, and parsley. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until garlic is opaque. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cover over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Set aside off the heat. Bring the broth to boil in a saucepan. Turn off the heat and keep on the stove with the lid on. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the diced celery and leaves, except for the reserved leaves, and toss in the butter. Cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add enough broth to just cover the rice and celery and bring to a simmer. Keep the lid partially on the saucepan and stir often, until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, just enough to cover, and stir frequently, until the rice is al dente and the risotto is creamy and liquid. This should take approximately 18 minutes. In the final few minutes of cooking, stir in the remaining celery leaves. Off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoons of butter and the grated Parmesan cheese. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Grind a little black pepper over the top and stir again. Serve in shallow pasta bowls with extra grated Parmesan cheese at the table.

Peas & Carrots with Lovage

1 pound of fresh or frozen peas
1 1/2 pounds of  baby carrots - sliced
2 tablespoons of chopped Lovage
3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
3 tablespoons of regular yogurt
1 teaspoon of mustard

Combine the peas and carrots and steam for 10-15 minutes.  Set aside.  Mix the other ingredients thoroughly, then add the peas and carrots. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely, and serve as a cool and refreshing side dish. 

Lovage and Smallage are flavors I use to enhance my soup mixes and soup seasonings.  You will see it listed as celery or celery seed.


  1. Thank you for an interesting overview of the lovage plant which we have grown for several years since being given a root by a Dutch family member. The cold peas & carrot recipe we shall certainly try.
    Kind regards, Geoff and Flo from North Yorkshire

  2. Thanks for the informative post. My lovage plants are in their 22nd year, and grow to over 6 feet tall, with shoots over 1 inch in diameter at the base.


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