You may not have heard of lovage. It’s a lesser-known plant, but it actually has many culinary as well as medicinal uses. What is the flavor of lovage? It’s often described as being similar to celery. What is the herb lovage used for? In the kitchen, it’s a memorable addition to all kinds of dishes from soups to stews to meat main courses. In fact, it’s even been referred to as “the most intriguing and versatile of herbs” and it has a long history of culinary use in Europe going all the way back to the Roman Empire. (1)
What are some of the most well-known medicinal lovage benefits? It’s especially well-known for its use in reducing the inflammation and pain associated with urinary tract infections. As a warming herb that promotes the health of the digestive system, it’s also commonly employed for cases of indigestion, heartburn, stomach bloating, and intestinal gas. It’s also known to act as expectorant when it comes to respiratory problems and it can even promote regular menstrual cycles. (2)
Are you ready to learn more about this intriguing and versatile herb?
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is an herb belonging to the Apiaceae family, which is also known as the parsley or carrot family. The plant can grow to be up to six and a half feet hight and is native to Southern Europe. It has glossy, toothed compound leaves, greenish-yellow flowers and tiny oval seeds. The leaves and stalks can be used as a vegetable, as a flavoring to many dishes or as a tea. The root and underground stem (rhizome) are also used to make medicine. (3)
The leaves of the lovage plant look very similar to celery leaves or Italian parsley leaves. The stems appear similar to celery stems and the plant also smells quite similar to celery. However, lovage flavor is said to be sweeter, more peppery and generally more intense than celery.
Fresh lovage leaves produce up to 1 percent essential oil, while the dried leaf has about half of that amount. In terms of chemical components, the essential oil is composed mainly of phthalides (ligustilide, butylphthalide, sedanolide) with smaller quantities of carvacrol (also found in thyme and oregano oil), eugenol and α-terpineol. (4)
5 Lovage Benefits
In addition to its culinary usage, lovage medicinal uses are many, including:
1. Urinary Tract Infections
A urinary tract infection or UTI can be defined as is an infection in any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.
A scientific review of 17 clinical studies of a phytotherapeutic drug containing lovage (as well as rosemary) was published in 2013 and points towards lovage as an herbal ingredient that can help to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation in the urinary tract. (5)
In a scientific article published the World Journal of Urology, lovage makes the list of botanical medicines for the urinary tract. The article cites terpernoids and coumarins as the major active compounds in lovage (Levisticum officinale) root. It also goes on to say that, “clinically it acts as a more potent diuretic than parsley” and it is approved by the German Commission E for use in lower urinary tract infections and urinary gravel (urinary deposits or stones).
For urinary problems, a tea made with two to three grams of Levisticum officinale root and one cup of hot water covered for 15–20 minutes is recommended three times daily. Another option is a tincture, 0.5–2 ml three times daily. (6)
2. Upset Stomach
Have you ever experienced dyspepsia? Also called indigestion or upset stomach, dyspepsia is an unpleasant and extremely common health concern. In traditional medicine, Levisticum officinale has been used for centuries to soothe the digestive tract, decreasing pain, bloating and gas. Some sources say the plant has also been traditionally used to treat colic and gas in children. (7)
3. Dysmenorrhea and Irregular Periods
For women, lovage may be able to help with dysmenorrhea as well as irregular periods. According to traditional usage of the herb, it can act as an aid for women in the form of an emmenagogue, or agent that induces menstruation and regulates its flow. This can be very helpful in a situation where menstrual cycles are delayed and irregular. Levisticum officinale may also lessen the pain associated with dysmenorrhea. (8)
4. Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite can be defined as the absence of hunger or when your desire to eat is reduced. If your appetite isn’t at its usual healthy level, then incorporating lovage into your diet may help. As a bitter herb, Levisticum officinale can help to boost the appetite while also aiding digestion. In fact, experts include lovage on a list of herbs that have been used to stimulate appetite and/or treat stomach disorders. Other herbs that make the list include catnip, cardamom, chamomile, yarrow and spearmint. (9, 10)
Lovage benefits also are said to include its ability to help with respiratory conditions like bronchitis. How so? As a natural expectorant, it’s a medicinal herb that can help to loosen up and expel phlegm from the respiratory system. When someone has bronchitis, a buildup of phlegm and coughing are some of the main symptoms, so the herb can be a helpful and natural choice.
Another reason that lovage can possibly help with respiratory problems like bronchitis is due to the fact that extracts of the Levisticum officinale plant naturally contain active components that fight off bacteria, particularly gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria are capable of causing respiratory infections including certain types of pneumonia. (11, 12)
History & Interesting Facts
Lovage grows best on sunny mountain slopes. The plant typically flowers in the summer and has a yellow-green blossom. The leaves are typically picked in the spring or early summer while the seeds are collected in late summer and the roots are gathered in the fall. It’s considered a pollinator plant.
In foods and beverages, Levisticum officinale is used as a flavor component. Celery leaves are a common lovage substitute in recipes. In manufacturing, lovage is used as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. It can also be added to homemade skin cleansers and bath water. (13)
The ancient Greeks and Romans were fans of lovage. The herb was mentioned in the works of Pliny, Galen, Dioscorides and Apicius. It has also been used in traditional medicine as a treatment for boils, malaria, pleurisy, migraine headaches, and throat aches. (14)
How to Use Lovage
If you’re wondering where to buy lovage, you can find it fresh or dried at some grocery and health stores as well as online. It can be eaten cooked or raw. With its intense flavor, it’s best used in smaller amounts.
While we don’t see it used very prominently in American kitchens, it’s a more popular choice in Southern and Central European cuisines. How can you use it exactly? The list is pretty endless but includes chicken dishes, fish dishes, eggs, soups, stews and salads. It’s also great in pasta sauces and marinades and braises. If you want the lovage flavor to be more pronounced, wait to add it to a dish towards the end of cooking time. For a less obvious hint of this herb, add it at the start.
What is the taste of lovage? It’s a bold flavor uniquely it’s own, but sometimes compared to celery and parsley. For that reason, it’s an herb that goes well with foods that pair well with celery and/or parsley such as eggs, carrots, fish, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, and greens like spinach and arugula. You can also try using the fresh leaves where you would normally use a topping of fresh parsley.
The roots can be peeled to remove the bitter skin and then used as a vegetable. The roots can also be pickled. If you’re going to use lovage leaves raw, it is best if they are young and very fresh. If you have older, tougher leaves, then it’s best to use them in a cooked recipe.
Fresh lovage can typically last up to a week if stored in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. If you want to store it for a longer period of time, then you can either dry it or chop it up, add a bit of water and freeze it.
For medicinal purposes, this herbal remedy is mainly used as a tea or tincture.
Interested in growing lovage? You can purchase lovage seeds or plants to add this herb to your garden’s plant lineup. Is lovage a perennial? Yes, it most certainly is and it’s known for its ability to survive winters in even very cold climates. (15)
Possible Side Effects and Caution
Lovage is generally considered safe for most people, especially when used in normal food amounts. However, it may increase sensitivity to sunlight, especially with long-term use. It is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women or anyone who suffers from kidney problems.
It’s also possible that lovage will increase the amount of sodium in the body resulting in a rise in blood pressure. It’s known to interact with diuretic drugs, often referred to as water pills. Taking lovage and diuretics at the same time may cause the body to lose too much water, so it is best not to take both at the same time. (16)
Speak with your doctor before using this herb medicinally if you are currently taking any medications or being treated for any medical conditions.
Lovage Key Points
- Levisticum officinale is a plant that has both culinary and medicinal uses dating back to ancient times.
- It is similar in taste to celery but with a stronger, sweeter flavor and it is often used in soups, stews, sauces and all kinds of fish and meat dishes.
- Medicinally, it is traditionally known to be used for many common health conditions including digestive troubles, respiratory ailments and menstrual troubles.
- Thanks to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, diuretic and warming properties, this herb is being studied more and more for its potential health benefits in humans.