Lovage or Love’s Ache

Levisticum officinale photographed by H. Zell

Levisticum officinale photographed by H. Zell

The lovage plant (Levisticum officinale) has been cultivated for medicinal and culinary use for many years – so long, in fact, that the exact native region of the plant is unknown because humans were so swift to spread it across the globe. With a taste reminiscent of celery, the leaves, roots, and seeds have been used as a folk medicine for ailments from kidney stones to migraines. Contemporary research shows the root has high diuretic properties and its tea is effective for expelling gas in both children and adults.

But the entomological breakdown of the name shows that the plant was known for its abilities in love. From Wikipedia:

The name ‘lovage’ is from “love-ache”, ache being a medieval name for parsley; this is a folk-etymological corruption of the older French name levesche, from late Latin levisticum, in turn thought to be a corruption of the earlier Latin ligusticum, “of Liguria” (northwest Italy), where the herb was grown extensively. [In]  Italian [it is] levistico or sedano di monte, French livèche, Romanian leuştean, Hungarian lestyán, Russian любисток lyubeestok, etc. In Bulgaria, it is known as девесил deveseel. The Czech name is libeček, and the Polish name is lubczyk, both meaning ‘love herb’. The name in Swedish is libbsticka. The official German name is Liebstöckel, literally ‘love stick’.

Indeed, lovage has been noted as an aphrodisiac since ancient times – the Emperor Charlemange even planted the love herb throughout his garden.  Apparently, a potion brewed from the roots of the plant and given to a woman would “melt” her frigid disposition and make her agreeable to… well, let’s call it wooing. Soaking in a warm bath sprinkled with lovage leaves would leave you irresistible to others.

Practically speaking, lovage makes an effective deodorant: in the medieval age people would line their shoes with lovage leaves to combat foot odor and and washing in a decoction of the plant would reduce rather unappealing smells stemming from a time when people thought bathing was unhealthy and tended not to do it. Perhaps this is why it worked so well in love potions.

Old English alcoholic cordial, originally distilled in Devon from local herbs and spices.

Old English alcoholic cordial, originally distilled in Devon from local herbs and spices. waitrosedirect.com

Don’t think of the love potion as a relic of the past; the modern craft cocktail functions in much the same way. And lovage is making a comeback in the bar scene. While lovage was a type of cordial “much in vogue” before the 20th century (even Culpeper recommended taking half a dram of dried root in wine) it fell out of favor during the first World War. Now bartenders are going back to the old recipes to find new ideas. Whether a ingredient in a modern Bloody Mary or infused in Prosecco or mixed with rail Brandy, lovage is working its love magic with a healthy dash of alcohol to help it along.

Of course no love herb would be complete without some effect on the female reproductive system and lovage is no different. It is known to “mightily provoke” woman’s courses according to Culpeper and Mrs. Grieve noted that:

the leaves eaten as a salad, or infused dry as a tea, used to be accounted a good emmenagogue

This of course means that lovage is a plant that should be avoided during pregnancy. However, for those who are not pregnant it has also been reported as a remedy for PMS.

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