Hyssop, King of Herbs

Little is heard about the use of hyssop in the kitchen, but as a medicinal herb, it has a long history. Its camphor-like smell reminds you of the sick room. A lot of legend surrounds hyssop, from the Bible to more modern times. Hyssop isn't used extensively in American cookery because of its strong, pungent taste. The Romans enjoyed the taste of hyssop, and it is often used in liqueurs. This article will discuss hyssop, it medicinal and culinary uses, its history, and how it is cultivated.

A History of Hyssop

Hyssop is known in herbal circles as The King of Herbs. The name hyssop stems from the Greek or Hebrew word adobe or ezob, meaning holy herb. It was used extensively to cleanse the human body, both inside and out. Hyssop was used to clean holy places, and the Bible tells us that hyssop was used by such powerful leaders as Jesus, Solomon, David and Moses. A long standing tradition of Tibetan priests has been in offering hyssop to deities during sacred and secret services As a cleansing aid, it was documented as early as the 17th century, where it was strewn about the sick room floor and also used in kitchens to improve the smell. Native to Europe and Asia, it was brought to America by colonists, who planted it in their kitchen gardens.

Medicinal Uses of Hyssop

As a medicinal herb, hyssop was used as a purgative, in tinctures and teas, and as a poultice. Dioscorides, considered one of the best herbalist is history, prescribed the herb in tea for cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. He advocated for hyssop for such things as plasters and chest rubs, and as an aromatic nasal and chest decongestant. As a poultice, it was used to help heal wounds and bruises. Legend says that hyssop will cure a wound made by a rusty object because penicillin grows upon its leaves. Modern herbalists attribute this characteristic to the volatile oils of hyssop. Modern herbalists say that hyssop is safe in any form, and a mild expectorant tea can be made from the flowers.

Culinary Uses of Hyssop

Hyssop has a minty taste. Flowers are used to flavor green salads, soups, fruit salads, lamb stew and poultry stuffing. It is used in the liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse. Hyssop is available commercially as a dried tea. You can use hyssop as a substitute in the kitchen for mint and costmary.

How Hyssop Is Grown

Hyssop is a compact and beautiful perennial. It is a member of the mint family, and as such is not normally affected by disease or insects. It is very aromatic in the garden, and a friend to bees. Honey from hyssop is considered to be unusually good. It grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet, and has a tendency to sprawl. Its leaves are 1 1/2 inches long, opposite and hairless. Flowers of blue and violet are bell shaped and tubular. Hyssop flowers in July and August.

It is best grown in light, well drained soil. It likes a soil with a pH balance of 6.7, and prefers full sun or partial shade.

It is easily grown from seed, cuttings and divisions. Sow seed in the spring about 1/4 inch deep in rows 2 feet apart. Thin when seedlings are young to a space of 1 foot apart. Prune the flowers on occasion to encourage growth. Hyssop is very low maintenance, but should be replaced after 4 or 5 years.

Harvesting and Storage

Cut the stems of hyssop if you wish to use it as a medicinal herb just before they flower and hang in bunches upside down in a warm dark place. A closet works well. Chop stems and flowers and dry appropriately. Store in a tightly covered glass or tin. When harvesting, cut only the green part of the plant. The woody stems have much less volatile oil.

Where To Buy Hyssop Seed

Agriseed.com is a unique website where buyers and sellers come together. You may find the seed there. Several online stores, such as seedrack.com and Gurneys.com do not have the seed at this time. Try a local herbal shop or health food store for the seed, or try to find someone that can give you a cutting.

Hyssop, although not well known, is a good herb for the herb gardener who has a wide range of interest. It is a good herb to have to attract bees, and the honey is delicious. If nothing else, the beautiful flowers of hyssop will enhance your flower and herb garden.

Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.