HISTORICAL HINTS: Lovage, which is also called mountain celery, belongs to the Apiaceae family and is native of south-western Asia, even if now it is grown in all temperate regions of the world, including Australia and sometimes it vegetates also at high levels. Lovage was used by the ancient Greeks who chewed its seeds to help digestion and relieve flatulence; for the same reason Romans passed on the use of this herb to Benedictine monks and, in Europe, lovage decoction was considered aphrodisiac; that’s why all witches had to store some. Probably the name comes from the Latin 'ligusticum' or 'from the Liguirian region' where it abundantly grows. It is believed to have been brought to Europe by Benedictine monks and that was very appreciated in the court of Charlemagne. Since its leaves are antiseptic and deodorant on skin, during the Middle Age is was common to put some leaves into travellers' shoes to relieve their tired feet and eliminate bad smell.
THE PLANT - Lovage (Levisticum officinale W.D.J. Koch, 1824), also known as the mountain celery is a perennial plant of the Apiaceae family. Lovage is a perennial rustic plant whose stem can reach two m of height. Its leaves remind us of celery as regards as look and taste.
It has tiny yellow-greenish flowers gathered in umbrellas. It can grow until 1800 m on the sea level and it is a very rustic plant; it is possible to find it also in abandoned soils and in kitchen gardens. In Italy it is a rare species.
PROPERTIES - Lovage roots, thanks to their essential oil, have different beneficial properties among which a diuretic effect by eliminating water, not mineral salts! It has to be reminded, though, that its essential oil may have irritating action on kidneys parenchyma. The plant is used to treat puffiness of the oedema type as, for example, feet oedema, gravel, water retention. Popular medicine use Lovage also as antispasmodic, emmenagogue and as a nervous tonic and to favour sweating.
CULINARY USE - Lovage leaves, with a celery-like smell but more pleasant, can be used in risotto, stock, meat, stewed meat, chicken, cod; mature ground seeds can be added in bread, sweets, liqueurs, salads, smashed potatoes. Lovage is also used instead of an Indian spice, the Ajowan, which is not very common in Europe.