Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis: “Ancient Herb, New Friend“
Hyssop is not the most commonly grown herb. Others such as oregano and mint usually win the popularity contests. But that doesn’t have to be. A perennial herb, hyssop has a beautiful dark green color and a compact, bushy habit. With small, pointed leaves and charming flower spikes, the herb is both flavorful and aromatic. Oh, and did I mention well-behaved? What’s not to like?
Please keep reading to learn about hyssop, your new favorite garden herb.
Native to southern Europe and the Middle East, hyssop has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes. In ancient times, the herb was a treatment for everything from head lice to shortness of breath. Today herbalists recommend hyssop tea to help relieve respiratory infections, the common cold, and sore throats. The herb has astringent properties as well, and can be applied to bruises, wounds, and cuts.
A member of the mint family, hyssop has distinctly scented leaves: Some find the smell to be sweet, others say it’s fresh and aromatic with a medicinal, camphor-like odor. A traditional practice in Europe, or so the story goes, was to press hyssop flowers into psalm books, then sniff the pages during services to stay awake in church.
Distinguished also by a profusion of purple, pink, white, or purple-blue flowers that bloom from summer to fall, hyssop also is appreciated by beekeepers (for making aromatic honey). Quietly dependable and easily grown from seed, hyssop will flower the first year. This is one herb you need to make room for in your garden.
Feeling under the weather? Brew up a cup of hyssop tea by pouring eight ounces of boiling water over one tablespoon of dried hyssop flowers (or three tablespoons of fresh hyssop flowers). Steep the flowers in a covered container for 10 minutes. Strain, then add a squeeze of lemon and honey to taste.
- Hyssop’s colorful flower spikes are extremely attractive to bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies; the herb’s foliage helps repel cabbage moths and flea beetles.
- Plant hyssop in a pollinator or herb garden, or as a companion plant in vegetable gardens. It also makes a great border plant when backed by lavender and rosemary.
- For aromatic uses, pick the youngest leaves possible and do not wash the leaves after picking (or you will lose the aromatic oils).
Keep It Alive
- Hyssop appreciates full sun to part sun (too much shade makes it lanky) and will grow two to three feet high.
- Like other Mediterranean herbs, hyssop likes a warm position and well-draining alkaline soil. Before planting, mix in handfuls of organic compost to ensure good drainage.
- Few pests or diseases bother hyssop.
- After flowering, prune to the first set of hyssop’s leaves to maintain an attractive shape and to promote flowering for next year.
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Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for hyssop with our Hyssop: A Field Guide.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.
Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.