Celery can be grown in Wisconsin, but may be difficult to grow. And it’s an annual plant so once it’s harvested, its life is over.
An easy-to-grow herb called lovage tastes just like celery and it’s perennial so it continues to produce year after year. It dies back to ground level each winter and begins sprouting new shoots early the following spring.
Lovage leaves, stems and seeds all taste like celery. Drying it makes the flavor even more intense.
Stems are hollow and ribbed, just like celery. Near the top, they divide into smaller branches. By mid-summer, yellow umbrella-like flowers reminiscent of those of the dill plant bloom atop the stems. The seeds that form when the flowers fade resemble caraway seed.
Cutting stems low on the plant or cutting off the flowerheads encourages more branches to quickly form. Lovage can get to five feet tall and the more you cut it, the more it produces. Continue cutting it back throughout the summer even if you can’t use all that it produces so there will be fresh growth when you need it. Old leaves that are left on the plant turn yellow and lose their celery-like taste.
Lovage can be propagated by seed sown in late summer or by division. Since you probably only need one plant, a nursery seedling or a spring division from a friend is the best way to go.
Lovage is quite hardy and does just fine without winter protection in Wisconsin. It likes moist, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade.
Seeds can be dried right on the flowerhead in the garden. Gather them when the tiny fruits pop open. Spread them on newspaper to dry for a few extra days indoors before storing them in a glass jar.
Stems and leaves can be cut and hung upside down in a warm, shady spot to dry. Leaves will dry even faster if you remove them from the stems and dry them in a single layer on newspaper. When they are crisp, store them in a tightly sealed opaque container. Light will yellow the dried leaves.
Stems and leaves can also be frozen. Bundle a few stems and dunk them quickly into and out of boiling water followed by an immediate plunge into an ice water bath for two minutes. Drain them well and store them in plastic containers in the freezer. Thawed lovage isn’t as crispy as fresh so use it in soups and stews.
Lovage is used just as you would celery. Use leaves in salads, soups, stews and sauces. Seeds are used in brines, cheese spreads, salad dressings and sauces. Stems can be chopped in salads, candied, boiled and pureed, used in stuffing, with rice, or sautéed with other vegetables. You can even use lovage stems to make the kid favorite, ants on a log. Cut stems into pieces a few inches long. Fill the hollow with peanut butter and arrange a few raisins along the top.