I've had a lovage plant ever since we planted our first herb garden, something like six or seven years ago. I'd read about it in an herb encyclopedia and was intrigued. But for some reason, I'd never used the herb until I found a recipe in Barbara Kafka's Soup: A Way of Life and, last night, made a batch of lovage and potato soup.
I can confidently predict that I will be using lovage all summer and fall, and that I'll be drying its leaves to use in winter.
Lovage is a perennial that can be started from seed or by division from an established plant (I just gave my daughter a plant from division). I started mine from seed, not having even heard of the herb, let alone known anyone who had some in the garden. (You can get seed from Richter's.) It grows to be a bushy, tall plant, up to two feet wide and five feet tall. After the first year, we moved it from the herb garden to our vegetable garden.
It's one of the first perennials to come back in the spring, and a welcome sight it is after winter. The leaves are reminiscent of celery leaves, which is appropriate, since lovage has a celery-like taste, though more concentrated--or as my daughter said, "It's celery on steroids!" Others have noted the presence, too, of a taste similar to parsley, but lovage also has a deeper underlying flavor that's hard to characterize. Every part of the lovage plant can be used, from the roots to the seeds. Its stems are hollow, and I found a recipe here for bloody marys in which the stems are used as straws.
Lovage can be used anywhere celery is used, with the caveat that it doesn't taste exactly like celery, and that a light touch is probably advisable. As we sat down to dinner last night, my husband inhaled the aroma of the soup and said, "It smells just like celery." He ate a spoonful and said, "Yep, it tastes like celery." And then after several more spoonfuls: "I was wrong. It's better than celery." That, I think, is due to the complexity of flavor that you don't get with celery.
I haven't been to a farmer's market in a while, so I don't know if you can find lovage there or not. I never saw any when we used to go regularly, but that may have changed by now. I do hope you can find some!
Here's the recipe I adapted from Kafka's.
Lovage and potato soup
2 T. unsalted butter
1 cup thinly sliced leeks, or two onions, chopped
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 cup loosely packed lovage leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the leeks or onion and saute at a fairly low heat until very soft and beginning to brown, which could take up to twenty minutes, probably less for leeks.
Add the potato slices and stock. Simmer the soup, uncovered, until the potatoes are very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. With a wire whisk, gently whisk the potatoes to break them up (how much is up to you). Now add the chopped lovage leaves and simmer until they are tender. Smaller, younger leaves take less time than larger, older leaves, so how long this will take is variable. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.