Hyssop and Hyssop: Which One Should You Grow in Your Garden?

You know the saying, "you learn something new every day"?  Well, it's true.  A few years ago I traded a friend something (probably homemade jam) for some plant starts.  He gave me three Echinacea and three hyssop plants; none of them had labels.  My husband and I bought our house soon after that and I happily planted my six new plants, along with the rest I'd dug up from my old garden.

I hadn't considered using any of them medicinally until last week.  Fortunately, two weeks ago, I had one of those ah-ha moments when I was with a couple herbalist friends (my herbalism teachers, to be exact).  This ah-ha moment also clarified another small garden mystery involving another plant given to me by a friend.  This plant was also unmarked, but I had a clue as to what it was.

My friend Christina gifted me the plant as we both chased around our one-year-olds in her backyard.  The only thing I remember her saying was that it was some kind of hyssop.  It looked nothing like the hyssop plants I already had; but being a plant lover, I happily accepted the gift and gave it a home in my garden.  Oddly enough, Christina had also given me another hyssop (same as the first three) for my birthday this spring.

All of this was in the back of my mind when the ah-ha moment happened on my friend Missy's front porch a couple weeks ago.  Missy has a weekly market on her front porch and I was there selling my handmade body care products, Missy was selling her herbal remedies, and Gradey was selling medicinal and culinary herbs. 

I was browsing Gradey's diverse plant selection and one plant caught my eye.  It was labelled Anise Hyssop.  I looked at it a little sideways because it didn't look anything like the hyssop I had growing in my garden; it was actually the same plant that Christina had given me that afternoon in her backyard.  "Hmmmm...!" I thought to myself.  So, I asked Gradey about the plant.

Missy piped in that she had the other hyssop growing in her garden, so we walked over to check it out.  Sure enough, it was the same as the other four plants I have.  I looked at the plant label and said, "Ah-ha! Mystery solved!"

Although there are both called hyssop, one plant is in the genus Agastache and the other is Hyssopus.  I would have realized this sooner or later since I've been taught to be 100% sure of my plant ID and reference at least three source before using any plant medicinally.  This was also a great reminder that common names can be confusing since there is often more than one common name per plant and that same name may be used for other plants as well.

Now on to my research! 

Hyssopus officinalis

In the garden, hyssop's spikes of purple flowers are loved by bees!  Hyssop is a small woody shrub with narrow leaves.  A member of the mint family, it has opposite leaves and is very aromatic.  It likes sun and can handle dry conditions.  Hyssop looks beautiful with white, yellow, red and orange flowers, as well as silvery plants.  Try planting it next to feverfew, California poppy, calendula, yarrow, nasturtiums, or catnip.

Hyssop's anti-viral properties are most commonly used for respiratory issues such as coughs, bronchitis, and the common cold.  In her book, "The Gift of Healing Herbs", Robin Rose Bennett describes it's use as a topical wound and bruise healer.  "Magic and Medicine of Plants" also mentions it's use for cuts and bruises, and pain. 

Use hyssop's flowering tops internally as a tea, tincture, or in cough syrup and externally as a poultice or compress.

  Proof that the bees like Hyssopus officinalis! This was one of the plants I traded for a few years ago.

Proof that the bees like Hyssopus officinalis! This was one of the plants I traded for a few years ago.

  H. officinalis growing in my herb spiral (this one was a birthday gift this spring)

H. officinalis growing in my herb spiral (this one was a birthday gift this spring)

  H. officinalis acting as a trellis for a winter squash. They seemed happy together!

H. officinalis acting as a trellis for a winter squash. They seemed happy together!

Agastache foeniculum

Anise hyssop is a perennial plant and like Hyssopus officinalis, it is also in the mint family.  It grows about 2-4' tall and 1' wide and has lavender flowers from June to September.  It likes full sun but will tolerate some shade.  Anise hyssop is deer and drought resistant and attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  It can be a short-lived perennial, but easily reseeds.  Plant it next to round flowers such as daisies, black-eyed Susans, echinacea, yarrow, and feverfew. 

The leaves have a strong anise or black licorice scent and can be used in the kitchen as a seasoning, tea, and in salad.  Add the flowers to a bouquet, dry flower arrangement, or your lemonade or iced tea.

Historically, anise hyssop has been used for coughs, chest colds, fevers, wounds, diarrhea, and a wash for itching and poison ivy.  In his book "Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West", Michael Moore says it can be used similarly to Hedge Nettle.  In addition to a few of the above uses, Moore also mentions that it is a moderate sedative.

  Agastache foeniculum, planted this spring.

Agastache foeniculum, planted this spring.

  Close up of a young A. foeniculum.

Close up of a young A. foeniculum.

Sources:

  • The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett

  • Landscaping with Herbs by Nancy Ondra

  • Magic and Medicine of Plants, Reader's Digest

  • Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

  • New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann

  • Wikipedia and http://www.alchemy-works.com (I prefer to use books for my three sources, but will occasionally search online as well. In this case, I couldn't find much info on Agastache foeniculum in my home library.)

I'd love to hear from you!  Do you have Hyssopus officinalis or Agastache foeniculum in your garden?  What are your favorite ways to use them?  What plants do you pair them with in your garden?

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


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