Lovage, Tansy & Yarrow
Yarrow, Tansy and Lovage are three inhabitants of old fashioned herb and
kitchen gardens. Yet each has herbal, culinary, ornamental, and gardening uses in a modern
Gardeners may want to reserve areas for one or more of these plants because each
plays host, home and food source for beneficial insects, which will then stick around to
prey upon pests in your garden. Thus they help replace the use of insecticides for the
conscientious and ecological gardener.
For an eye-catching display from July to October, group all three together. Plant
lovage (the tallest) in the center, surrounded by tansy (medium height), then by yarrow (shortest). The
above ground parts of all three die back every winter to re-grow the
LOVAGE Levisticum officianale (Carrot family)
Lovage is a perennial aromatic herb native to the mountains of France, Greece and the
Balkan states. The seeds, stems, leaves and roots are used for flavorings and food.
Greenish-yellow flower heads up to eight inches across are made up of hundreds of
tiny flowerlets, similar to Queen Annes lace. Lovage is the giant of the Umbelliferae
(carrot) family which includes carrot, parsley, celery, dill, fennel, angelica,
dong-gui and Queen Anne's lace. In the late fall the entire top dies back completely
to regrow the following spring.
Propagation: Lovage grows well in any deep, well drained soil, and loves
compost. It may be propagated by seed or root cuttings. Plant seeds in fall or spring,
allowing 4 weeks to emerge in spring. Keep soil moist.
In June, transplant seedlings to where they are to live. In late fall, 2-3 year
old roots may be dug and divided, replanting each piece that has a growing point.
Lovage tolerates a pH range of from 5.5 to 7.5, grows 4-6 feet high, and while it
does not seem to mind crowding, two feet between plants is recommended. Lovage enjoys
full sun or partial shade. Pinch back seed heads as they begin to form if you desire
larger roots to harvest.
Uses: Pick leaves and stems (celery-like leaf stalks) throughout the
growing season. Leaves can be used in broths, sauces and salads; stems as a vegetable in
soups and stir fries; roots can be chopped as a vegetable or grated into salads; seeds
are used in wine and refreshing summer drinks. Fresh leaves and peeled stalks can be
chopped into salads. Use half as much as you would celery.
Lovage broth: 4 cups of well flavored brown stock, seasoning, 5 tablespoons fresh or
dried chopped lovage leaves. Bring broth to a boil, add seasoning, add lovage and let
simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Serves 4.
Lovage is your ally in the battle against garden pests. The flower heads
(umbels) are made up of hundreds of tiny flowerlets that provide nectar to feed the
adults of tiny mosquito-sized parasitic wasps which will then lay their eggs in your soft-bodied garden
pests. When the egg hatches, it destroys the pest by eating it from the inside. The tiny
flowerlets allow the quarter inch long wasps to feed on nectar where larger flowers make
feeding difficult for the tiny wasps. So if you can get the adults to stick around by
providing them with a food source, you will notice less pest damage in your garden.
TANSY Tanacetum vulgare (Aster family)
Tansy is a hardy perennial, native to Europe. It is also found in the northeast US
from Maine to the Carolinas. The above ground parts completely die back in late fall,
but persist into late winter; they should be cut down by spring to make way for the new
growth. Pile the cut down old stalks where you would like to seed a new plot of tansy
Tansy grows four feet tall with coarsely divided leaves 3-5 inches long. Flat
clusters of button-like flower heads bloom from late July to September. In shape and
color tansy flowers look like the centers of daisies without the petals, only tansy has
heads of dozens of flowers on one stalk. Tansy has creeping rhizomes (underground stems)
which enable it to spread readily.
Tansy can be started from seed or from root divisions. Give young plants 12 to 18
inch spacing. Plants will self-sow. Not particular as to soil type, doing well in a
pH range of from 5 to 7. Likes moist, rich soil with good drainage. Prefers sun or
Drying: Flower stalks can be cut and hung to dry when in full bloom. Dried
leaves can be added to your pets bed to repel insects.
Garden Uses: Tansy repels borers when planted among young fruit trees. Tansy
is a good companion plant to raspberries, black-berries and grapes. It deters
cucumber beetle, squash bugs and Japanese beetles. It concentrates potassium making it a
good addition to the compost pile. Planted near a walkway, tansy releases its aroma each
time it is brushed against. Plant near the doorway to prevent flies from entering.
Beneficials: Tansy attracts dozens of ladybugs during certain weeks of the
growing season; they love to lay their eggs on tansy. These feeding ladybugs will stick around to feed
on the pests in your garden. The smokey-tar aroma of tansy makes it a moth and ant repellent—the
dried leaves are used in storing furs and woolens—and the flowers and leaves of the plant make
tansy a good border plant or backdrop to the garden.
Herbal Uses: Medicinal tea. Vermifuge (eliminates intestinal worms). Adds zip
to scrambled eggs, omelettes, fajitas, and poultry stuffings. Sharp flavor, use
YARROW Achillea millefolium
Originating in Europe, this hardy, highly viable aromatic perennial grows to 3 feet.
Flower heads vary from white to blue, yellow, salmon and red, depending upon individual
plant. Tiny flowers appear in flat clusters 3-4 inches across. Fine feathery
lace-like foliage completely covers the stalks. Yarrow has been found in 60,000 year
old Neanderthal burial caves, indicating its been used by humans for a very long time.
The Chinese I Ching uses 50 yarrow stalks tossed on the ground as a method of
divining the future. Forty six American Indian tribes also used it.
Propagates by seed or root division in either spring or fall. Clumps should be
divided every 3-4 years to stimulate growth. Prefers an acid soil of pH 4.5 to 7.
Extremely drought resistant, and will grow in gravel. Likes full sun.
Drying: Harvest plants as they come into bloom in June and July. Essential oil
content is maximum at the onset of flowering. Hang to dry. Yarrow continues to blossom
into October. To keep leaves from turing dark, dry quickly at 90-100 degrees out of
the direct sun.
In the kitchen yarrow is an occasional stand-in for cinnamon or nutmeg.
Garden Uses: During the gardening year, keep an eye on your yarrow. At some
point you will notice that it has attracted dozens of ladybugs. These feeding ladybugs
will stick around to feed on the pests in your garden.
Hoverflies, robber flies, 1/4 inch long chalcid wasps, and braconid wasps all use
yarrows nectar as a food source. Each of these will then stick around to attack your
Yarrow increases the essential oils of plants growing nearby.
Herbal Uses: The crushed leaves are an astringent (stops bleeding) and helps
cuts heal. Legend has it that the Greek god Achilles used it for healing his soldiers
after battle. It is also said to reduce inflammation, increase perspiration, relieve
indigestion and has diuretic effects.
Three-Fever Tea: Add 1 part elder flowers, 1 part yarrow leaves, and 1 part
peppermint to 2 cups of water. Pack into quart jar, cover with steeping water and let
set 3-4 hours. Pour out, add honey if desired. Enjoy hot or cold.