Last Chance Foods: A Romance with Lovage

Lovage is a strange, oft-overlooked herb. Easily confused for parsley, it tastes strongly of its relative celery. In early spring, lovage plants produce their first and lushest growth, according to farmer Bill Maxwell of Maxwell’s Farm in Changewater, N.J. Maxwell has been selling lovage at farmers' markets in Union Square and Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza for several years and notes that it’s been growing in popularity.

“The first time I grew it and snipped it off and smelled it, it reminded me of my grandmother’s chicken soup,” said Maxwell.

Rachel Wharton, deputy editor of the magazines Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, compares lovage to wild celery, or celery that’s gone to seed.

“I think one of the most endearing things about lovage is its name,” said Wharton (pictured below by Carolyn Fong). “It kind of sounds like some old Victorian term for cleavage.”

She traced the origins of the name back to the Latin word for Liguria, Italy, where the plant was once widely grown. There’s some speculation that the name also stems from a medieval term for parsley. But Wharton attributes “lovage” to the plant’s French name, "livéche," which sounds similar.

“In a lot of my more researched books, no one was mentioning the love-ache thing, so I was thinking probably there was no romantic story,” she explained. Rachel Wharton

While her 1975 edition of "The Joy of Cooking" recommended candying the stems and pickling the fruit, Wharton prefers more conventional preparations.

“People pretty much use it now the way you’d use celery or parsley,” she said. In particular, she recommends using the leaf in a chopped green salad, on top of soup, or as a garnish for pasta.

For gardeners out there, it’s worth noting that lovage can be invasive and is likely to be very productive. Maxwell explained that it is it not an ideal container plant since it has a relatively long taproot.

Francine Stephens of Franny’s restaurant in Brooklyn turned to lovage when looking to recreate a classic New York beverage.

“I must have had one of those Doctor Brown’s celery sodas, and thought, you know, I want to try my own hand at this,” she said. “Celery is such a watery vegetable, so immediately we thought of lovage.”

For celery soda and cocktails, Stephens first creates a lovage-infused simple syrup. She chops a bunch of lovage into about inch-long segments, and makes a simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water. Stephens then pours the hot liquid over half the bunch and lets it come to room temperature. Finally, she adds the last half of the lovage before refrigerating the syrup or a day or two to allow it to fully infuse.

Try two recipes using lovage — "Celery Soda" and Franny’s “Prosecco and Wild Celery” cocktail — below.

Celery Soda

  • 1 oz celery simple
  • ¾ oz lime
  • 2 dashes celery bitters
  • club soda
  • roll, garnish with lovage leaf

Prosecco and Wild Celery

  • In flute, ¼ to ½ oz lovage syrup
  • 2-3 dashes celery bitters (Larder)
  • Top off with prosecco, lovage leaf garnish