Lovage is an outstanding herb that many gardeners don’t know about. It was found in almost every kitchen garden during the Middle Ages but somehow got lost and almost forgotten over time.
Thankfully, chefs and gardeners have once again picked up on the excellent flavor and easy-to-grow habit of this celery-like herb. It’s a great choice for any herb, vegetable, or kitchen garden and even has some ornamental appeal.
Here’s a complete guide to growing your own lovage plant, including planting it from seed, care tips, and how to harvest.
What is Lovage?
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a perennial herb that belongs to the Apiaceae plant family. This makes it closely related to other herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and fennel as well as vegetables like carrots and celery.
In fact, lovage is sometimes called mountain celery because it looks and tastes a lot like this much-used vegetable.
Lovage plants are native to parts of Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. It has a long history of use as both a medicinal and culinary herb, especially in ancient Greece and Rome and much of Europe during the Middle Ages.
The plants are herbaceous perennials, meaning they die back to the ground in winter and sprout up again in spring. They can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3-9.
Lovage is still a popular herb in other parts of the world but has yet to gain widespread recognition in the U.S. Once you grow it, though, you’ll be telling your friends about it!
Lovage has quite a presence in the garden, since plants can grow up to 6 feet tall when fully mature. The medium green leaves look almost exactly like celery leaves or flat parsley, and bright yellow, fragrant flowers appear in midsummer.
The entire lovage plant is edible. The leaves can be harvested as an herb. The stalks can be harvested and used as a celery replacement. Roots, seeds, and flowers are also edible.
Reasons to Grow Lovage Plant
Many gardeners come to enjoy growing lovage for the bright, citrusy, celery-like flavor it has. There’s no other herb quite like it, and it makes a great addition to both cooked and raw dishes.
Lovage is also an ancient remedy for an upset stomach and skin woes, so you can grow it as a medicinal herb as well.
Because lovage grows so large and is perennial, you typically only need one or two plants to give you a large harvest. Plants can be divided when they are a few years old and also sprout readily from seed, so you shouldn’t ever run out of this herb.
Another benefit is that lovage is extremely easy to grow and very low maintenance. It usually doesn’t have any pest or disease problems and grows quickly.
Plants even attract beneficial insects to the garden, which makes it a perfect complement for many different vegetables.
If all that weren’t enough, lovage is also very good for you. It’s packed full of vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients with an especially high amount of vitamin C and B vitamins.
Lovage is a good companion plant for many different vegetables, including potatoes. It attracts beneficial insects, like predatory wasps, that will get rid of pesky insects that eat your plants.
How to Start Lovage from Seed
Starting from seed is the best way for many gardeners to grow a lovage plant. Since it’s not as popular as many other herbs, it can be difficult to find any seedlings for sale nearby.
You can try looking online to find a nursery that will ship seedlings for you to transplant, but buying a packet of seeds is just as easy and very cost effective.
One important tip is to look for seeds that are under a year old. Lovage seeds don’t store very well, so germination will be the best when the seeds are as fresh as possible.
Growing from Seed Indoors
Plan to start your seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring. Starting seeds inside gives plants a headstart and will allow you to harvest more during the first season.
Here’s a list of what supplies you’ll need:
- Lovage seeds
- Seed starting tray
- Good quality seed starting mix
- Plastic tray covers (optional)
- Grow lights (optional but strongly recommended)
Start by mixing your seed starting medium with enough water to get it damp. Then, fill up your tray(s) with the seed mix and level off the top of the soil. You can lightly tap the trays on a hard surface to get rid of any air pockets, and add more soil as necessary.
Lovage seeds should be sown ¼ inch deep. Because germination can be poor, you may want to sow 2-3 seeds in each cell to increase your chances of getting one to sprout.
Cover the seeds lightly with more soil mix and water them gently. If you have plastic covers, place them over your trays to help maintain the moisture level.
Although many plants germinate best with warm temperatures, lovage has an ideal germination temperature of around 60°F. For this reason, it’s best to place the tray somewhere cool, though you don’t want them anywhere that gets much below 60°F.
Growing lovage from seed allows you to be involved every step of the way and ensures that your plants are healthy and completely organic. Germination is slow, but plants are easy to grow once they get started.
Lovage seeds germinate slowly and can take 10-20 days. Have patience since germination can be erratic. You’ll likely see some seedlings come up early and others come up in the next few weeks.
Once you do see sprouts, remove the plastic covers if you had them on, and place the plant trays under grow lights.
If you planted more than one seed per cell, thin out the seedlings when they get a few inches tall.
Water your seedlings when the soil is almost dry, but avoid getting the leaves wet. Run a fan a few times a day to help prevent fungal diseases like damping off. Be sure to harden off your seedlings 1-2 weeks before transplanting them to your garden.
Growing from Seed Outdoors
Lovage plants can also be started from seed sown directly into your garden (or containers). You have two options for this: spring sowing or fall sowing.
In the spring, you can sow seeds early. They will most likely start to germinate when soil temperature hits around 60°F. In fall, sow seeds late but before the ground freezes. They will sprout on their own the following spring.
Before planting your seeds, prepare your garden bed by weeding and removing rocks and debris. Mix some compost or well-rotted manure deep into the soil, and add any other amendments that are needed.
Rake the top of the soil smooth, and sow seeds shallowly, about ¼ inch deep. If you’re planting in the spring, water the newly seeded area and keep it just damp (not soggy) as the seeds germinate.
Germination takes 10-20 days but may take even longer if soil temperatures are cold. Start looking for sprouts from fall-planted seeds when the weather gets to 50-60°F.
Once your seedlings are up and a few inches tall, thin them to their correct spacing, which is usually at least 2 feet apart.
Planting Lovage in Your Garden
When to Plant
If you bought seedlings or started them on your own indoors, you can harden them off and plant them after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. It’s best to wait until nighttime temperatures are at least above 40°F.
To harden off your plants, start by taking them outside on a nice day and placing them in a sheltered spot. Be sure to bring them back inside before it gets cold at night.
Continue to take your plants out during the day for one week, gradually letting them stay out longer each day. Then, start leaving them out overnight as long as freezing temperatures aren’t called for.
At the end of the second week, your seedlings will be ready to transplant!
Where to Plant + Growing Conditions
Lovage needs a full sun location to thrive, although partial shade is a better option in hotter climates. The plants grow best in cool weather, so providing some afternoon shade if your summers get hot is a good idea.
Because lovage is a perennial plant, take more care than usual when choosing and preparing your growing side. It can be divided later but doesn’t really like being moved around.
Lovage makes a good companion for other perennial edibles like rhubarb. Just make sure you space plants properly, since they can all grow very large and crowd each other out.
Ideally, grow lovage alongside other perennial edibles like asparagus and rhubarb. At the very least, plant it somewhere there’s a permanent bed and a low chance of it getting disturbed down the road.
As you pick out a spot, remember that lovage usually grows 4-6 feet tall, so make sure it won’t be shading out your other plants later.
As far as soil goes, plants will do best in a spot that’s well-drained and fertile. Make sure you add compost, rotted manure, or some other type of organic matter or fertilizer before planting, since your plants will be there for the next several years.
Work any amendments deep, since lovage sends down long taproots, and you want the nutrients to be available to the roots of your plants.
If you prefer to create a container garden, lovage can be grown in pots, although you’ll need to choose deep ones to allow for the long taproot. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep and have drainage holes in the bottom.
How to Plant Lovage
Once you have your garden area or containers ready, planting lovage is a simple matter.
Each plant should be spaced 2-3 feet apart, so plan accordingly. Then, dig holes that are just as deep and slightly wider than the root ball of your plants. Place each seedling in its own hole, and fill in around it with soil.
When you’ve finished planting, water your new seedlings in well and watch them grow!
Lovage grows pretty quickly for a perennial, especially if you got your seeds started indoors. Don’t be surprised if your plants get several feet tall during their first growing season!
Lovage Plant Care
The most important task after planting any type of seedling is keeping it well-watered until plants have time to get their roots established. Do this for your lovage and keep it weeded as well, especially for the first few weeks.
Unlike other Mediterranean herbs, lovage prefers soil that stays consistently moist. Watering your plants during dry spells will keep your plants healthy and also keep the leaves from getting bitter.
To help with soil moisture and weed suppression, apply a light mulch around your plants in early summer. (Mulching in spring usually just attracts slugs.)
During the growing season, you won’t need to do much else for your plants besides harvesting them as desired. If you are growing lovage mainly for the leaves, clip off flower heads as they appear to delay flowering.
Once your plants flower, the leaves will become very bitter and practically inedible. However, you can let your plants bloom at some point to attract beneficial insects and eventually produce seeds.
Lovage will die back to the ground in the winter.
If you are growing plants in containers, place them in an insulated spot, like a garage, over the winter months. In zones with colder winters, applying a layer of mulch over the roots of plants in the ground will help them through frigid temperatures.
Adding a layer of compost or an organic fertilizer each spring will keep your plants provided with nutrients. If you want more plants, collect seeds in the fall to plant or divide mature plants in the spring.
Pests and Problems
The one “pest” you may see on your plants is the beneficial swallowtail caterpillar. Leave them be, if possible, or relocate them to another plant in the same family (parsley, dill, cilantro, etc.).
Like other aromatic plants, lovage has few insect or disease problems to worry about. It can be occasionally affected by chewing insects like leaf miners or aphids, but they usually won’t do serious damage.
Swallowtail caterpillars (also known as parsley worms) are another critter that may show up and chew through the leaves of lovage. These caterpillars eventually morph into the beneficial swallowtail butterfly, so leave them alone or gently relocate them if you can.
Lovage rarely has disease problems but can be attacked by fungal pathogens in very damp conditions. Plant in well-drained soil and space plants properly to avoid this.
How to Harvest Lovage
The leaves of lovage can be harvested during the first growing season, but wait until your plants have gotten a few feet tall before you pick any. After the first year, you are free to harvest leaves, stems, and roots.
Leaves– Small, new leaves will be the most tender, while larger ones add great flavor to stews and soups. Harvest in the morning after the dew has evaporated for the best quality leaves. Also, make sure you do your harvesting in spring and early summer before the plants flower.
To harvest leaves, snip off the outer leaf stalks first, leaving the inner ones to keep growing. Take individual leaves, or cut off whole sections right under where the leaves stop growing. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them.
The entire lovage plant has its own unique flavor but is still very reminiscent of celery. You can use it as a replacement for celery in recipes, or discover new ways to bring out the flavor of this herb.
Stalks– After the first year, you can harvest stalks from your plants as well as leaves. Once again, you’ll want to harvest outer ones first, and always leave at least ½ of the plant intact.
To pick stalks, cut them off right above ground level with a clean pair of garden clippers. Plan to use them soon after harvesting for the best flavor and freshness.
Roots– Lovage roots can be harvested just before plants flower and be either cooked with or dried. Only harvest them from 2 or 3 year-old plants.
To get to the roots, you’ll need to gently dig up your plants. At this time, you can simply harvest the whole plant- roots, stalks, and leaves- or you can carefully cut off no more than half of the roots and replant.
Seeds– Lovage seeds are edible, and you can also use them to propagate new plants. To harvest them, wait until plants have finished flowering and developed seed heads. Once the seeds have turned a tan color, cut off the heads and place them in a paper bag to dry.
Once the seeds are fully dried, store them in airtight containers and use as soon as possible. Germination for lovage seeds drops dramatically once they get more than a year old.
Companions for Your Lovage Plant
As you can see, there are many reasons to grow your own lovage plant. It’s very easy to care for and a fantastic plant all on its own, but it also makes a good companion plant for tuber crops like potatoes.
Other good companions for lovage are herbs like parsley, hyssop, fennel, and even catnip. Or plant it with other perennial vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb for an established edible perennial bed.
You can even stick some lovage in your landscape and allow its statuesque nature to shine!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.