Hyssop plant is an aromatic herb and member of the Lamiaceae family, along with basil, sage, rosemary and thyme. The plant has been harvested for its medicinal value and fragrance for hundreds of years. It has a minty flavor, though significantly more bitter than its cousin peppermint. Hyssop is an easy herb to grow and requires almost no maintenance in temperate regions.
The earliest reference to the hyssop plant dates back to the 7th century. The plant was originally strewn across floors in sickrooms and kitchens for its strong aroma that is similar to camphor. The name hyssop originates from the Hebrew word "esob," which means “holy herb.” This most likely comes from the plants' use in the Bible as a cleansing agent. It was later used in the 17th and 18th century as a purgative, sweat reducer and cure for dropsy, jaundice and sore throat.
Hyssop is an evergreen, perennial herb that typically reaches about 2 feet in height and diameter. It can, however, be easily trimmed to maintain any desired height. The plant is formed by multiple, upright, green stems that grow straight up. Hyssop produces small, blue flowers during summer that form directly on the stems of the plant. Each flower is inconspicuous individually, but together they add a great deal of color to their environment.
The hyssop plant is native to the dry, rocky terrain of southern Europe and temperate Asia. It has since naturalized in the United States and numerous other countries in both east and west Europe. Hyssop is typically found in fields and clearings due to its need for full sunlight. It is also found at forest edges, as it can grow in partial shade, though flowering and growth rate are reduced.
A poultice of ground hyssop leaves is often used to promote the healing of bruises, black eyes and superficial wounds. The herb can also be used to reduce nausea and to clear up lung congestion. Hyssop is often used in cooking, and can be found in salad, soup, stew, tea or stuffing. It is used in the production of liquor as well, most famously Absinthe, Benedictine and Chartreuse. Hyssop can also be used to cleanse the skin when made into a facial mask.
Hyssop prefers to be watered once per week throughout the year, and fertilized once per year in early spring, just before new growth begins. A balanced 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer applied according to the manufacturer's directions is ideal. Hyssop plants must be pruned once each month to remove the old flower heads and make room for new growth. Alternatively, hyssop plants can be cut to the ground once per year in late winter.