Perennial Herbs - Growing Sorrel and Lovage in Your Herb Garden

, written by gb flag

Lovage flowerhead

Low maintenance, high flavor. How irresistible is that? Two perennial herbs that I wouldn't be without are lovage and sorrel. They come up every year, survive on little attention, and are among the first plants to provide fresh green leaves in spring.

They also pack powerful flavors. Lovage is tangy and pungent, like celery but richer and stronger. Sorrel – well, to me it tastes lemony, but some describe it more as an acid zing. Despite the difference, their uses are very similar: both are great in egg, fish or potato dishes, and both make a distinctive soup.

Even more happily, if you know about one, you pretty much know about the other. Both are very hardy, enjoy moist, fertile soil, and will grow in partial shade. Being hot and dry encourages them to run to seed, so they're happiest if their roots are kept damp by watering in dry weather and mulching with compost every spring.

Both form a clump up to two feet wide over several years, but rather than giving over precious ground to them in the veg patch, I've put mine at the back of flower beds, where their tall, but not very showy flower spikes give height, reaching up to six feet, during the summer.

Sorrel seedheads

How to Grow Sorrel

Although I like to grow sorrel as a perennial, you might not feel the same. It can grow to a couple of feet in diameter and develops a heavy root system, which makes it hard to dig up or divide. Leaves of established clumps also tend to be slightly coarser and pack more of an acidic punch. You wouldn't be alone if you preferred to grow it as an annual when the leaves are softer and more suitable for salads. Sow seed from March to May, and thin seedlings to around 4 inches (10 cms) apart, using the baby leaves for salad.

Cooking sorrel for the first time can result in a bit of a shock. I remember staring at the bottom of the pan and wondering how so much greenery had reduced itself to a mere green-brown smear. Like spinach, it cooks down to virtually nothing, so if you'd rather grow it annually, and not just for salad, you'll need quite a few plants.

Sorrel

If you want sorrel as a perennial, then it's a good idea to sow a number of seeds, either where you'd like them to grow or in pots, and then thin them out or transplant them to 12 inches (30cms) apart. In following years, as it spreads, you can remove middle clumps in order to arrive at 2-foot (60 cms) spacings. That way, you'll get plenty of leaves while the plants bulk up.

I'd recommend a couple of established clumps in order to ensure you have enough leaves to cook. Sorrel is generally pest-free but can fall prey to leaf miner which makes the leaves papery (pick these leaves off and burn or dispose of in the rubbish to prevent the pest spreading).

From about June, sorrel will begin to want to produce flower spikes. You can prolong leaf production by cutting off any shoots that start growing tall in their run up to seed, but as mine are grown as a perennial, I don't bother. You can't stop flower production forever. By July you'll have tall, rather stately spikes topped with insignificant red flowers. Once these are seeded, you'll find fresh leaves begin again from the base.

How to Grow Lovage

The powerful, distinctive flavor of lovage means that one plant is generally enough. Either buy a plant or sow seed from around March where you want it to grow, or in a 3-inch (7 cms) pot and transplant it once it's around 4 inches (10 cms) high.

Like sorrel, lovage can fall prey to a leaf miner. This one makes the leaves look brown and if this happens pick them off and put them in the fire or rubbish, rather than giving the pest a possible life-extension in the compost.

Lovage

Leaves get a bit sparse and ragged once the plant runs to seed, but cutting the stalks down at any time during the summer will encourage new leaves to grow from the base.

Both sorrel and lovage can be divided in autumn or spring if they get too big (it's a good idea to divide sorrel every four or five years as it does tend to get a bit tatty and less productive) but one final similarity between them is that they self-seed, which means you get to replenish your stock with minimal effort. Just transplant seedlings to the spot you'd prefer them to grow.

By Helen Gazeley

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Comments

 
"Very good article Helen, thank you. I just want to note that there is also a variety of sorrel that is v e r y slow to go to seed. I got mine as a division from a friend last fall and this year it has not yet seeded, while the normal sorrel seeded about 6 weeks ago. Unfortunately, I do not know the variety because neither did she ;o) But it might be worthwhile to keep a look out if you want leaves longer in the year. I also discovered, that if you want to make a soup from sorrel, but are turned off by the drab color that follows as soon as you heat it, to include about 30% dandelion with it. "
Marsha on Friday 6 September 2013
"Hi, Marsha - thanks for that. You're right, sorrel can look a bit unappetising after cooking (still tastes good though) so that's a useful tip about the dandelions."
Helen on Friday 6 September 2013
"That variety of sorrel is called Profusion and us only available from Richter's catalog. Worth every dime to buy a bunch of plants and just keep dividing them. I personally to not believe inthe absurd idea that a company can own a variety, but I do avoid selling protected varieties,hiving them away instead. Profusion's leaves stay tender longer, and they do not self-seed. "
Eric Belsey on Friday 6 September 2013
"Did you know that in old Rome kitchens lovage was one of the main herb ingredient? In Apicius book "De re coquinaria" from the first century AD, lovage is mentioned first in majority of recipes. They didn't use to much of onion and garlic, but lovage and other herbs supplied all the necessary punch. It taste like Magi condiment and can support umami taste."
Mikulas on Friday 6 September 2013
"Yes, lovage tastes so much like Maggi, that the common German name for the plant is Maggikraut i.e., Maggi herb."
Marsha on Saturday 7 September 2013
"Thank you, Eric. I don't think it's available here in the UK - if anyone knows a source, perhaps they could let us know. Mikulas and Marsha - I've never tried Maggi, think I'll have to go and buy some. "
Helen Gazeley on Saturday 7 September 2013
"I grow sorrel as a perenial. Seems like a pretty durable herb as it's been around for 5 years. When it was roughly relocated it set back a bit but soon bounced back. The best use I have found for it is piled on fish fillets that are heading for the oven. This keeps the sorrel from breaking down into soup and adds a nice lemon flavour to the fish. Lovage I also had as a hardy perenial but eventually disposed of it as I never found a way to use it that appealed to my taste. "
Bill in Ontario Canada on Friday 20 September 2013
"Lovage is lovely chopped up and added to home-made cheese biscuits. "
Helen Gazeley on Friday 20 September 2013
""Great article and having just made a pea, lettuce and sorrel soup (I did make it with chicken stock in) but it was delicious. So much so that I was inspired to look up sorrel online and here I am thinking of getting it planted as a perennial in the hedgerow we have. yummy.Thanks ""
andy on Monday 7 July 2014
"Do you know, that there is a very pretty sorrel variety -red veined sorrel? I am growing it first time this year."
Daiva on Saturday 18 April 2015
"Red-veined sorrel is stunning. It's contrasting red veins and bright, zingy-green leaves make it a really decorative addition to any vegetable plot, especially a potager."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 19 April 2015
"Thank you, Ben. It is great, because I have so many little seedlings pop up -will have to share with my neighbors and friends."
Daiva on Sunday 19 April 2015
"... and it tastes and looks great raw in salads! "
marsha on Monday 20 April 2015
"There is a great recipe from Ottolenghi for a sorrel pesto which I've been making these last few years. Fresh sorrel and plain yogurt with a little garlic, olive oil, and salt. A dip or a sauce. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/may/10/sorrel-recipes-yotam-ottolenghi"
Sandra on Wednesday 6 May 2015
"Sorrel pesto sounds delicious Sandra. Will give it a try."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 7 May 2015
"Helen, My husbands family makes a hungarian dish shouska (not sure of spelling) with sorrel. Right now he is having a problem with leafminer. Do you have any suggestions on how to ride the pest from his plants?"
Tory on Tuesday 19 May 2015
"Hi Tory. There are lots of different types of leaf miner, usually cause by the larvae of moths. If you can, remove the affected leaves and squash any larvae you see. If the problem is more extensive than just a few leaves, you'll still have to keep removing the affected leaves. Weed around the plants too, so there's nowhere for the leaf miners to hide! In severe infestations you may need to lift the plants up, dig over the soil to expose the pest to birds and the winter frosts, then start again on a fresh piece of ground the following spring. Sorry there's no easy fix!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 21 May 2015
"I had lovage in my garden and it grew up to 6' for many years and seeded. Now it only grows a foot each summer and does not seed. I would like to bring it back not sure how or to start over. Any suggestions?"
Maurice on Saturday 20 May 2017
"Hi Maurice. I'm not sure what could be going on here. Lovage is a very prolific self-seeder and does grow very tall, so the fact it is only reaching a foot each summer implies the conditions it is growing in have deteriorated. Perhaps the soil is getting very low in nutrients or it has become very dry where you are growing it (something growing nearby/overshadowing the growing area?). Lovage is a perennial but it may be that the original plants are reaching the end of their life. I would suggest trying to plant new plants in a new area. Or you could try digging up clumps and dividing them into separate chunks to re-plant."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 May 2017
"I have a variety of sorrel with small, arrow-head shaped leaves, It only grows about 30 cm even when it flowers, and the flowers are mostly green. Lovely taste, excellent in salad. Will certainly try the pesto!"
Denise on Thursday 1 June 2017
"Is there a sorrel plant that is edible but has stems that look like thin rhubarb? The leaves are large on my plant. I'm concerned, is it really sorrel? Aren't rhubarb leaves poisinous? "
Elizabeth on Friday 2 June 2017
"Sorrel is usually very fleshy - and looks a bit like spinach. It sounds like you may have something else growing as well. Yes, the leaves of rhubarb have a high level of oxalic acid, which shouldn't be consumed."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 June 2017
"hi, someone gave me a seed packet of Lovage. I started it at the end of June by putting them in a napkin which I kept moist. After 2 weeks, its the beginning of July, I saw that the seeds were soft and swollen, so I kept them in the moist napkin, cut the napkin in half, and planted them in 2 different places. Do you think it will germinate? any other details about growing and caring for Lovage?? thanks!"
Ellen on Monday 3 July 2017
"Hi Ellen. It's a difficult one to know whether or not they will germinate. It sounds like you've given them a head start by soaking them, so they may well germinate very soon. For more on lovage check out our Lovage Growing Guide. Just search 'lovage' in the top-right search box on this page."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 4 July 2017
"another question. I've been reading about Japanese Knotweed. I think thats what I have, but it says that it can be cooked, so I want to make sure that I have the right thing. Is the Japanese knotweed like any other plant which I could mistakenly mix it up? I want to be sure before I try it in cooking. thanks!"
Ellen on Tuesday 4 July 2017
"Hi Ellen. I'm afraid it's very much subjective as to what plant looks like an another, and I'd hate to say it's very distinctive and then have you come to harm by eating something that looks broadly similar! It may be worth doing an image search for Japanese knotweed on a search engine, and studying it closely from there. Some of the pictures are very clearly annotated so you can be clearer as to what is definitely Japanese knotweed. Bear in mind that not all parts of the plant are edible, so please take care."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 6 July 2017

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