What is Maggikraut : All about Liebstöckel or Lovage
When my friend Edie told me about Maggikraut, I didn’t believe her. In my world, Maggi exists in liquid form to add flavor to soups and stews. Didn’t I just visit Spicey’s Spice Museum in Hamburg and see the Maggi exhibit (yes, I do realize that the previous sentence makes me sound like a nerd, but we all know how much I love small museums). Turns out, we are both right, and lately I’ve come to appreciate the leafy flavorful Maggikraut in my garden too! What is Maggikraut? Maggikraut aka Liebstöckel in German and Lovage in English, is a fairly easy to grow herb that looks a lot like flat-leaf parsley or celery leaves, and tastes, surprisingly, like less salty Maggi.
What is Maggikraut?
The ancient Romans found Levisticum officinale in Persia, and liked it so much, they took it along everywhere they settled in Northern Europe. The leafy plant remains most popular in Germany, where it’s called Liebstöckel. And why wouldn’t it be popular? This relative of parsley and member of the carrot family is edible from leaves to root, making it an incredibly useful plant. Use the leaves and stems as an herb to brighten up soups and stews with a bright flavor that reminds me of celery with a hint of anise. Anywhere you would add celery, you can add Maggikraut… just maybe a little less. (I even read a suggestion that the stems can be used as a straw for your bloody mary… I haven’t tested that yet). The seeds act like a spice, and mostly find their way into herbal liqueurs.
The Lovage root is, well, an ugly little bulbous thing with lots of wiggley looking projections. If you don’t want to leave it in the ground to come up again next year, you can clean it, trim it, and use it like you would celery root. Save those trimmed off bits for your stocks! (Apparently 100 years ago people considered Candied Lovage Root quite the treat, but I might just stick with Gummi Bears)
But the love for this plant goes beyond the dinner table!
Hildegard of Bingen included lubestuckel in her classic Work on health and healing, Physica, saying it can be cooked with other herbs and wine to make a potion that soothes coughs (the vapors are also good for horses with a cough).
In the Middle Ages Liebstöckel plays an essential role in Love Potions. Best results come when you dig up the roots, boil them on Johannisnacht St John’s Eve, June 23rd. (St John the Baptist represents fertility, since his parents older when he was born). Then you take the potion to the church on Maria Himmelfahrt, the Assumption of Mary, on August 15th for blessing. (Results may vary) Don’t trust love potions? It’s said that a young woman should wear a bunch of Liebstöckel at her bosom to beguile men, and men wearing the herb will be irresistible to women. (I’m not sure how that would work out today, but you might attract a few chefs…)
OH! And for you ladies who want a big family? Chewing Lovage leaves on Seven Brothers Day (July 10) in the same year that you marry will insure that you have seven sons. (My Opa was one of 9 boys…..hmmm…)
References in herbal texts say Maggikraut can also be used as a digestive to calm the stomach, a diuretic, and as a cure for gas. Mixing it into a cow’s feed helps the milk flow. Also chewing the seeds apparently helps keep you awake during long church services.)
In practical terms, travelers would put Lovage in their shoes to prevent foot pain (and stinky shoes).
And my favorite tip, spreading the oil from Maggikraut seeds on your feet scares snakes away, and prevents snakebite when you are out for a stroll.
Why do Germans call Lovage Maggikraut?
I really wanted this to be an exciting story… but it’s rather simple. In 1886, when the instant flavorings craze was taking off to improve the flavor of the bland industrial diet, Julius Maggi invented his famous Maggi Flüssige Würze (Maggi Soup Seasoning). People who tasted it said … “wow, this tastes a lot like Liebestöckel”! And instead of calling Herr Maggi’s invention Flüssige Liebestöckel, the herb got the nickname Maggikraut. Fun fact, you won’t find any Maggikraut in Maggi.
Quick note- When people mention Maggi, they are usually referring to the liquid seasoning. The dark brown liquid resembles Soy Sauce, and generally gets used the same way. Pour each of the liquids into bowls, and you’d have a tricky time telling them apart. (At the same time, making that comparison has started more unreasonable arguments on Facebook than my Oma’s Potato Salad recipe…). How are they different? Soy Sauce is made from soy… Maggi on the other hand comes from fermented wheat protein and is loaded with glutamic acids, and tastes more meaty. Both contain loads of sodium (so use sparingly). Oddly, Maggikraut tastes like Maggi, but without the salt.
How to Grow Maggikraut
Maggikraut grows bigger than you might expect, topping at out 6- 8 Feet! (I’m keeping mine in a pot). And the pretty yellow flowers attract all sorts of pollinators.
Fortunately, Maggikraut/Lovage grows without a lot of care. It likes sun, but grows in partial shade if you live somewhere warm. Make sure your soil is nutrient-rich, and give the plant a lot of water and space (it does get big). Learn more here- How to grow Lovage