In former times, lovage cordial was a popular drink with country people, who took it for sore throats and quinsy. John Gerarde, who wrote his Herball in 1597, considered lovage to be one of the wonder drugs at that time.
Lovage, levisticum officinale, is a stout-stemmed hardy perennial herb which has always been a cultivated plant and looks attractive at the back of the herbaceous border. In the winter lovage dies right back, but as soon as spring comes it grows quickly to reach its full height of 5—6 ft (I .5— I .8 metres). The large leaves are deeply divided into three or more leaflets, looking very like celery or angelica leaves. The greeny-yellow flowers, which first appear in June, are in umbels and these are followed by oval-shaped pale brown fruits.
The whole plant, when bruised, is strongly aromatic and t has a warm, savoury taste.
In the kitchen lovage makes a delicious soup on its own, or it can be added to other vegetable soups, meat stews and casseroles. It adds an unusual flavour to green salads and savoury egg dishes and, added to oatmeal, Iovage makes tasty oatcakes to eat with cheese.
Lovage is an easy herb to grow and once established will self-sow in a good season. It is propagated by seed or division of roots in spring. For best results sow the seed as soon as it is ripe and when the seedlings are large enough to handle transfer them to their flowering position I 8 in (46 cm) apart. Lovage produces luxuriant growth if planted in rich well- drained soil in a sunny spot.
All parts of the plant can be used in the home but nowadays only the leaves are used to any extent. Lovage leaves should be gathered for drying before the flowers come out and, for a good season’s picking, the first flowers to appear should be cut off. The leaves should be picked first thing in the morning. Because they are large and fleshy, they need careful drying. They are then stored in the usual way.
It is important that lovage should never be taken by anyone suffering from a kidney complaint or during pregnancy. Lovage stimulates the digestion and can be a useful remedy for an upset stomach, mild cases of diarrhoea, and for getting rid of flatulence. It is well known for the cleansing effect it has on the whole system. Lovage is taken as an infusion made with the dried leaves which tastes more like a broth than a tea.
* To make an infusion: Pour I cup of boiling water on to 1—2 teaspoons of dried herb and leave to in fuse for 10 minutes, then strain. Take a small glassful as required and make a fresh infusion each time. Lovage broth is also good for nursing mothers as it helps to stimulate the production of milk.
Lovage is an antiseptic herb and a weak infusion can be made for soothing and healing sore feet. Gently bathe the feet in the infusion until relief is obtained. Lovage infusion made with distilled water is an effective lotion and can be used as an antiseptic for bathing cuts and abrasions.
A poultice made with lovage leaves is said to bring boils and virulent spots to a head.
* To make a poultice: Use well-crushed fresh or dried leaves. MeIt sufficient lard or shortening in a pan for the herb to take up without burning. Add the leaves and press down well. Heat until the lovage is crisp. Spread the hot mixture between 2 pieces of muslin or cheesecloth and place as soon as can be borne on to the affected part. Continue with the poultice until the boil has burst or relief is felt.
Lovage is a deodorant herb and is useful for keeping the skin free from impurities. To increase the effect on the skin, lovage can be taken internally at the same time. A strong infusion of lovage can be used regularly as a complexion lotion. This will keep the skin free from spots and will also fade freckles.
* To make a strong infusion: Pour 2 cups of boiling water on to a large handful of lovage leaves and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and pour into stoppered bottles. The lotion will keep for a few days in a cool place or in the refrigerator but whenever possible use freshly made lotion, as it is far more effective. Dab cold lotion on to the blemishes or freckles daily.
The strong infusion can be added to the bath water for a relaxing cleansing bath, while an infusion made with a mixture of herbs will soothe and soften the skin as well as adding a lovely mingling of scents.
* To make an instant herbal bath: Fill a square of muslin or cheesecloth with fresh chopped or dried lovage leaves and hang it underneath the hot tap (faucet) so that the water flows through the herb.
Lovage can be used in a mixture of herbs in the form of compresses to soothe tired eyes and puffy eyelids.
* To make an eye compress: Add only a small amount of lovage to chamomile and fennel, marigold and summer savory. Mix the herbs together and pour a cupful of boiling distilled water on to a heaped teaspoon of the herbs. Leave to infuse for 5 minutes then strain and leave until lukewarm. Cut pieces of lint and dip them into the infusion. Place the compresses over closed eyes and lie down and relax for 10 minutes. After removing the compresses splash the eyelids with cold water to tighten up the skin.
Place 1 large, chopped onion and 1 tablespoon oil in a pan, cook until transparent. Add 2 chopped potatoes, 2 tablespoons fresh or green dried lovage and 2½ cups chicken stock, Simmer for 10- 15 minutes. Leave to cool, then blend in a food processor. Return to the heat adding milk to taste. Serve hot.