Black Lovage

The vibrant yellow-green flowers srouting in glossy clumps on the East Suffolk verges were already inspiration enough, pushing their shoots up through the April mud to announce the spring like cow parsley's miscoloured cousin.


But when I found out the plant's name- Black Lovage- and a little bit about its history, my suspicion that there is more than a touch of magic lurking beneath the surface of almost everything was confirmed.


Also known as Alexanders, it was brought over to this country by the Romans as a food plant. The stems can be cooked like celery, and the flowering tops eaten like broccoli, while the leaves can be used in salads and soup (although I can't claim to have tried). In the summer the flowers give way to heads of black seeds which, in the 17th century, were crushed and used to treat all manner of stomach complaints.


And so, contained within this hardy roadside plant is a culinary and medical history. Next time you go for a walk, pick a few leaves and flowers, roll them between your fingers, and let the intriguing, acrid, myrrh- like smell transport you to another century.


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