No Loud Farting Please: Planting Lovage

lovage 02I thought a lot about what to choose as the final perennial vegetable for this month’s look at perennial vegetables.   I was all set to feature the Jerusalem Sunchoke, until I read further about the plant and discovered that its nickname is “fartichoke.” Yes, thats right. . . fartichoke.

Many, many stories abound about the horrifyingly gaseous effect that eating Sunchokes can have on one’s bowels. I also read that in Florida, it’s against the law to fart in a public place after 6 pm on a Sunday, and that in some countries, women are banned from farting loudly, otherwise known as ‘immodest flatulence.’ Based on this new information,  I’ve decided I do not want to be even remotely responsible for someone’s possible gastrointestinal apocalypse, criminal citation or even incarceration, so, for now at least, Sunchokes are sidelined.

Something a lot less flatulence-inducing is Lovage. Many people have never heard of this plant, but it’s been around for centuries.

If you like celery but find it hard to grow, then Lovage might be the plant for you.  Lovage is an easy-to-cultivate perennial herb that can be used whenever celery is desired. Lovage is big and beautiful enough to deserve a prominent spot in your yard (but not as a aggressive as the Sunchoke).  You’ll probably find that one Lovage plant produces more leaves than your household can use, so one plant is usually all you need.  Its leaves are shiny, dark green, and finely cut, and give off the peppery aroma of celery.  In late June or early July, yellow flowers spread big umbrella clusters above the lush foliage.

Lovage is another plant where every part of this plant is edible.  You can hill up the soil around the base of the stems to blanch them, and then harvest the stalks like celery.

The old fronds are inclined to turn yellow.  When that happens, simply clip off the entire stem and add it to your compost heap.

Lovage in the landscape with Sorrel

Lovage in the landscape with Sorrel

Keep plants mulched to conserve moisture, especially during summer dry spells.  In the fall, well-rotted manure (or compost ) should be scratched into the soil to provide the nutrients Lovage needs in order to thrive.  Root division in the spring can propagate new starts.

Type/Zone.  This is a warm season crop, hardy from Zone 3 and up

Timing.  Start indoors in the Spring or direct sow in the Fall.  If starting indoors, try to maintain a soil temperature of 60°F.  Once seedlings are big enough to handle, harden them off before transplanting to the garden.

lovage 03Starting.  Sow seeds ¼” deep, three or four seeds per pot, and thin to the strongest seedling.  Germination takes 10-14 days.  Keep soil moist until they are established, and transplant out at least 24″ apart.

lovage 6

Lovage in the Garden

Growing.  Choose the site for your Lovage with care, as they are long-lived perennials, and they grow tall.  They will tolerate partial shade to full sun. Lovage requires rich, moist soil with good drainage and partial shade.  Lovage develops a long taproot, so cultivate the bed deeply and dig in organic matter or compost to a depth of at least a foot before you set out your herbs. Allow for a spread of at least 3 feet. Lovage can eventually grow tall so think about using this as a backdrop in a bed. 

Companions.  Consider grouping Lovage together with other perennial food plants like asparagus and rhubarb in a permanent bed. Lovage also helps to promote vigorous growth in potatoes or other root vegetables. Plant in small patches or as a border.

Harvest.  After the plant has flowered, the leaves gain a bitter taste, so it is best harvested in early Summer and frozen as you would parsley.  Unless you want to harvest the seeds (which can be crushed and mixed with sea salt flakes to make a celery-type salt), cut down the flower clusters and stem at ground level as they start to go to seed.  The plant tends to lapse into a slow dormancy, or at least a ratty-looking stage, if allowed to ripen all its seed.  Once deadheaded, Lovage will continue to produce bright celery green foliage until hard frost, when it goes entirely dormant.Lovage3

lovage_stemsNotes:  To freeze Lovage – chop the leaves finely and distribute them in ice cube trays, then cover with water.  When the cubes are frozen, put them in zip lock bags.  Lovage does have a stronger flavor than celery, though, so only use about half as much in any given recipe.

 Chopping back a big plant may expose you to the sap, which can burn skin, so wear protection.