Perennial Edibles

Perennial crops bear a delectable harvest year after year without replanting.

By Ellen Ecker Ogden

Photography by Rob Cardillo

Levisticum officinale
From the unassuming green fronds that emerge slowly in early spring, lovage rapidly unfolds into a dramatically statuesque plant that towers above everything else in the herb garden. "Lovage lends stature to the herb garden and is extremely ornamental," says Rose Marie Nichols McGee, president of Nichols Garden Nursery, a seed and herb retailer. If planted in rich, well-drained soil, the plant can grow to 3 feet across with thick, tubular stems as tall as 7 feet. "Keep it on the edge of the garden, or it will shade surrounding plants," Nichols McGee says. She advises against growing lovage in a container, because the root system is massive.
Widely planted in Europe, lovage was originally cultivated for its aromatic roots and, to a lesser degree, its leaves and seeds. Lovage leaves impart a celery flavor with a strong hint of licorice. This distinctive taste works with tomatoes in a cold soup or blended into a cream sauce to bake over scalloped potatoes. A little lovage goes a long way, which is ironic considering the size of the plant. One plant is plenty for the average family. Rather than starting from seed, purchase a plant from an herb specialist.
Lovage is susceptible to aphids, which should be hosed off the plant promptly. Occasionally, leafminers tunnel into the foliage, causing white blotches. Remove and destroy the affected leaves.