GAR­DEN­ING AND BIRDS

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT -

There’s a gi­ant herb in my gar­den. It comes up ev­ery year with lush, green, cel­ery-like leaves and hol­low stems, thrust­ing its way up next to the roses. By this time of the year it’s a tow­er­ing 2m high. Each stem is crowned with masses of small yel­low flow­ers that swarm with pol­li­na­tors.

It is lo­vage (Le­vis­ticum of­fic­niale), which looks like a cross be­tween pars­ley and cel­ery with a bit of Jack and the beanstalk thrown in. It is part of the cel­ery fam­ily (Api­aceae) but a lot eas­ier to grow than cel­ery, which can be tem­per­a­men­tal. Ev­ery part is ed­i­ble and this herb, which is na­tive to Europe and West Asia, has been long cul­ti­vated for its ed­i­ble and medic­i­nal prop­er­ties.

We are lucky in Tas­ma­nia as lo­vage de­vel­ops its best flavour in cool cli­mates. And that flavour is strong, much like pungent cel­ery with a touch of aniseed. Not ev­ery­one likes it. I’ve seen gar­den vis­i­tors who taste its fresh green leaves screw up their faces. Try the young leaves and ten­der stems, which are milder in flavour, to gar­nish sal­ads. It can be added to cooked dishes to give a cel­ery flavour and the fleshy car­rot-like roots used as a vegie. Even the plen­ti­ful seeds can be har­vested to grind as a spice to add to sweet and savoury dishes. I haven’t tried this but the young stems can be can­died, too.

Grow­ing tips

Sow seed in spring or early sum­mer. To get fresh new growth, cut back some ma­ture stems later in sum­mer. Lo­vage can be prop­a­gated in the mid­dle of the year when it’s died down for win­ter. Sim­ply dig it up, di­vide the root with a sharp spade, re­plant half and re­lo­cate the other. Once grow­ing, leave it in the soil to reshoot in spring. It ap­pre­ci­ates fer­tile soil. Dig in com­post or aged ma­nure be­fore plant­ing and al­low at least 60cm be­tween it and its neigh­bours so it has room to grow. Po­si­tion it so it doesn’t over­shadow sun lovers and is pro­tected from wind. At 1.5m-2m high it is one for the back of the herb gar­den. It does best in full sun but is happy with part sun. Lo­vage pro­duces flat heads of small yel­low flow­ers. It has few pest or dis­ease problems but watch for snails and slugs.

Medic­i­nal uses

Lo­vage is val­ued by herbal­ists as a nat­u­ral an­tibi­otic. It is used for throat gar­gles and for congestion and rec­om­mended to aid di­ges­tion. It is used to re­move odours. If your hands smell — for ex­am­ple af­ter han­dling strongly scented foods such as fish or onion — rub them with lo­vage tea made by steep­ing the leaves in boil­ing wa­ter for seven min­utes.

It is also dis­tilled for its es­sen­tial oil and is an in­gre­di­ent in per­fumes. An ex­tract from the root is used in per­fumes or soaps. My plant could have a very busy ca­reer in­deed but for now, I am happy to have it grow­ing for the acid-yel­low colour of its flow­ers and to watch the happy pol­li­na­tors at work.

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