A member of the mint family, hyssop makes an attractive garden plant with its showy flower spikes and dark green leaves. Some gardeners grow the plant for its use as a bitter cooking herb while others grow it simply for the flowers that last all summer and into the fall. The plant also works well as an insect deterrent near some types of vegetables. Whatever the reason for planting, hyssop adds texture and form to any space it grows in.
Mentioned in the Bible's Old Testament, hyssop is a native of Southern Europe as well as central Asia. The Roman army likely spread the plant throughout the rest of Europe where if flourished and is still used for a variety of cooking and medicinal purposes to this day. Some varieties of hyssop also grow as native plants in North America, including varieties such as anise hyssop and threadleaf hyssop.
A perennial plant, hyssop grows up to 3 feet in height with narrow, dark green leaves on woody stems with beautiful 3- to 6-inch flower spikes on top. The flowers come in shades of blue, pink and purple, blooming all summer and into the fall. While the flowers do not offer a floral scent, the entire plant features a pleasing camphorous, minty aroma.
Hyssop seeds usually get started indoors 10 weeks before the last expected frost to get a jump on the season. Seeds may also be planted directly into the ground in a sunny location in well-drained soil after the threat of frost passes in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10. While the plant requires regular watering until it is established, hyssop tends to be more tolerant to drought than other members of the mint family.
The plant makes a lovely addition to any garden that needs a bit of color all summer long. The plant also works well near cabbage plants where it helps keep moths and aphids away. Both the leaves and flowers are used for spices and teas to soothe sore throats or lessen the symptoms of the common cold. Others use it to contain coughs, asthma and bronchitis. Oils made from the plant are used to relieve tension and act as flavoring for liquors.
Cooking and Harvesting
The plant should be harvested right before the flowers begin to open. The leaves and flower buds, somewhat bitter in taste, may be used fresh or dried in soups, stews and salads. The herb also adds flavors to potato or bean dishes and goes well with meat. Sometimes hyssop is used in place of sage. While the taste of the two are similar, hyssop's fragrance is quite different than sage.
Bees flock to hyssop as do butterflies and other pollen-oriented insects. Small mammals and other insects tend to stay away from the plant due to its strong aroma. Some plants, such as anise hyssop, act as host plants for butterfly larva.