Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anise hyssop - Herb of the Week

Last week I visited the Morton Arboretum and photographed a Golden Anise hyssop.  I love this plant, but had never seen a version with yellow leaves.  That was when I realized I had not done an herb of the week on this amazing bee and butterfly attracting plant.  


So this week’s Herb of the Week is 
                Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).

The Native Americans found many uses for this North American native plant. The Cheyenne drank a tea of this herb to relieve a "dispirited heart." The Cree included the flowers herb in medicine bundles, and the Ojibwa made a protective charm of it.  The dried plant has been burned as an incense. Because of its height it makes a great back border.  There are some who believe it has protective qualities and should be planted near the back door. It's a wonderful addition to the cottage garden.

This native perennial plant is 2-3½' tall, branching occasionally near the apex. The four-angled stems are light green.  The leaves are up to 4" long and 2" across, broadly lanceolate in shape they can end up a bit rounded in a mature plant.  They edges have a slight serration. They look a bit like catnip, another mint-family member, but larger.  The upper surface of the leaves is conspicuously veined and dull green, while the lower surface is white. The foliage has an anise scent. A member of the Mint family (Lamiaceae) they do have a square stem.  The small purple flowers are arranged in dense whorls that are crowded along the spike becoming more colorful toward its tips. The flowers bloom in scattered locations along the spikes for about 1-2 months from mid- to late summer. 

Almost any form of bee is drawn to Anise Hyssop flowers so watch if to see a parade of honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees, masked bees and Halictid bees along with and various butterflies, skippers, and moths. Deer, squirrels and other mammals  normally avoid consuming this plant as the anise scent of the foliage is repugnant to them. The anise scent may also deter some leaf-chewing insect species.

To Grow
The preference is full or partial sun, and will inhabit moist to dry conditions. The soil can consist of loam, clay-loam, or contain some rocky material. Anise Hyssop is generally disease resistant, but can drop leaves in a drought.  Occasionally, slugs and insects will feed on the leaves, creating holes. This member of the Mint family is more resistant to drought than many others.

Typical habitats include openings in dry upland forests, upland areas of prairies, scrubby barrens, and thickets. Cultivated forms of Anise Hyssop are often grown in flower gardens; these cultivars are often hybrids and vary in their fidelity to the wild forms of this plant. 

One popular variety of Anise hyssop Agastache scrophulariaefolia (Purple Giant Hyssop), has flowers with similar coloration to Anise Hyssop. However, the foliage of Purple Giant Hyssop doesn't have an anise scent and the undersides of its leaves are green, rather than white. Purple Giant Hyssop is hairier than Anise Hyssop, and it tends to be a taller plant. 

Anise hyssop is easily grown from seed, either by starting indoors as you would tomatoes or by sprinkling outside in spring or fall. Fall-planted seed will remain dormant and then sprout in the spring; this is the way mature plants sow their seed, after all. You can also winter sow Anise hyssop seeds. Your established anise hyssop will produce plenty of volunteer plants for you to share with friends or use to expand your planting. Fortunately, they’re extremely easy to transplant. Plantings can be increased by root division, too.
Seeds require light to germinate, so barely cover at room temperature to germinate 5-30 days. Keep soil moist but not sopping.  Don't put in direct sun. Transplant to 1 ft apart in rich soil and full sun or partial shade - stalks will be stronger in full sun. It might need staking in partial shade. It will thrive in full sun in well-drained garden soil

This perennial generally blooms the second year from seeds but might bloom the first year if it is happy. Cut it back by 1/3 after blooming, and it will get bushier and rebloom. Plants get 3-6 feet tall. Anise hyssop is hardy from zone 5 to 9.  It self-seeds readily and its roots travel underground, but it is not too aggressive. Deer avoid it, but rabbits generally do not.

To Use
Herb lovers claim it as a culinary herb, using the fresh or dried leaves in tea and crumbling the tangy flowers over fruit salad.  Bees love the flowers, and so do herb crafters, as blossoms retain their fragrance and color when dried.  As a result be sure to use it as a cut flower and in potpourri, and the flowers dry nicely to navy blue (the dried seed heads look pretty nice in the winter garden, too). 

This herb smells like black licorice and in fact has some chemicals in common with licorice, but the scent also has notes of lemon, pine, sage, black pepper, and camphor giving it a complex scent and flavor. The leaves or flowers are edible and can be used to sweeten tea or flavor sugar or quickbreads and muffins (add 1/2 cup chopped fresh flowers). Lightly minty with a note of licorice, this perennial's profusion of blossoms throughout a long growing season makes it an ideal edible flower. Trim the flower heads and use fresh or dried in a tisane (herb tea), or separate the tiny flowers from the main stem to dot over the top of a fruit salad or garnish a summer cucumber soup.

Steep the leaves in milk for flavoring when making ice cream. You can make anise-hyssop honey by putting some dried leaves in a jar, pouring warm honey over them, and leaving them for a month for the honey to soak up the herb taste. Make some delicious butter cookies by adding 2 tablespoons of the fresh minced flowers to the dough. The flowers make a nice garnish for iced tea.

Steep 2 teaspoons of fresh or 1 teaspoon of dried herb in a mug of hot water for 7-10 minutes for a slightly sedating and tranquilizing tea.  The Cheyenne drank a tepid tea of anise hyssop to relieve the pain from coughing with chest colds. This herb produces sweating, and the Cheyenne also used it for sweatlodges. The Cree added it to regular tea to improve the taste, the Dakota and Omaha people flavored cooked foods with it, and the Iroquois made it into a wash against the itching of poison ivy.  It's also a traditional poultice for burns.

Medicinal Properties

Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum leaves have antibacterial properties and are taken as an infusion to alleviate coughs and colds. Anise is a carminative, warming digestive aid.

Anise hyssop clears excessive dampness in the stomach and spleen and heaviness in the chest. It is used as a preventive for heat stroke and summer colds.

The leaves are used topically as a compress for angina, burns, fever, headache, heatstroke, and herpes. The plant is excellent in baths and foot-baths for simply cooling off or for treating sunburn and fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot and yeast overgrowth. I use it in tinctures for colds, sore throats, flu, and respiratory problems. I also use it in salves for wound healing.


Strawberry Anise Hyssop Jelly
An Original Recipe by
Makes about 8-9 4-ounce jars (about 4 half pints)

4 lbs fresh strawberries
2 cups sugar
12-14 large (24-30 small) Anise Hyssop leaves gently rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained

Stack Anise Hyssop leaves on a cutting board and slice into wide 1/4-3/8" chiffonade.  Add to large 6-8 quart pot with the sugar, give it a stir. Wash, trim and chop your strawberries, adding them to the pot, and stirring occasionally as you work. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.  When the berries are starting to cook and just before they reach a simmer, give them a good smashing with a potato masher or back of a large spoon. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir gently, occasionally.

Remove from heat and begin draining berries in small batches.  Stir gently with fork and remove all of the Anise Hyssop herbs and unripened strawberries that did not cook down.  Do not press solids as you do not want any in your liquid. Return liquid to the stove on high heat and bring to a full boil. Boil liquid down by about half, stirring often. This will take about 20-25 minutes. 

Return the strawberry solids to the pot and add the lemon juice. Stir well and reduce heat until a gentle simmer can be maintained. Stir frequently so that it does not scorch until a small dab of jam placed on a frozen plate, and returned to the freezer for about a minute, is firm.  It will not gel but will have a nice, non-runny consistency. This will take about 5-7 minutes.

Not canning:  Pour into sterile hot jars and allow to cool before refrigerating. Use within 1-2 weeks.

Canning:  Pour into sterile hot 4 ounce jars, 3/8" headspace and process for 5 minutes.

You can make this in smaller batches by reducing the recipe and sticking to proportions:  1/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 4-6 Anise Hyssop leaves to each 1 lb of strawberries.

Anise Hyssop Syrup
20 leaves (1 handful) anise hyssop
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain and refrigerate.

Cough drops
You must make a syrup with sugar, not honey to make cough drops, but you can use raw sugar or brown sugar instead of white sugar and it will work just as well.

Instead of pouring your strained hot syrup into a bottle, keep boiling it. Every minute or so, drop a bit into cold water. When it forms a hard ball in the cold water, immediately take off the heat. Pour your very thick syrup into a buttered flat dish. Cool, then cut into small squares.

A dusting of powdered sugar will keep them from sticking. Store airtight in a cool place.

Strawberry Anise Cocktail
1/2 oz anise hyssop syrup
3 oz vermouth
1 oz vodka
2 ripe strawberries, washed and stems removed

Place ice and all ingredients except the strawberries into a cocktail shaker.  Place a fine mesh strainer over the cocktail shaker and press the strawberries through it with the back of a spoon to "juice" them into the shaker.  Shake until nice and cold and strain into a glass.


  1. I'm so glad you posted of this herb. I think I may still have a few seeds and put them to the test for my Texas garden. I hadn't had luck with them before, but perhaps this is another herb that should be planted during the fall here. Thanks!!

  2. Not well versed in Texas growing, but I know from a friend of mine that she plants many herbs I would grow in the spring during the fall to take advantage of the weather change you have in the fall. Give it a try!

  3. Great post! I enjoyed reading all the information on this bee magnet. I have this planted throughout my garden and bees just love this herb. It blooms in the fall and I love the way it moves in the wind. I have heard of the golden leaf one and wanted to start it from seed , but have not had the room in my yard, however, knowing me it will happen someday:-) thank you for providing all this information-robbie

  4. Hi! I love your jam recipe. May I share it on my website?

    Thank you!

  5. That is not really my recipe, so I suggest you ask permission of the person I got it from -- Christine at

    If that is gone, then you can credit us both and link back here if you like.

  6. Hi Marcy--- thank you so much for your blog! I bought Anise-Hyssop a few years ago and it is growing & spreading wonderfully but unlike other herbs, I didn't really know how to use this one. I appreciate what you've included & appreciate this beautiful plant much, much more now, rather than looking at it,saying, "How pretty" Karen

  7. Thank you, Anise Hyssop is one of my favorite herbs, so easy to grow and I have grown it for several years in a cottage garden by my back door, just as you suggest. I use it to add flavor to other more bland herbal teas and it settles my stomach and relaxes me, too.

  8. I was given an anise hyssop plant last year, and I love that it attracts bees and butterflies. I had no idea, however, of how to utilize the leaves and flowers until I read it here in your blog. Thank you so much for highlighting this wonderful herb!

  9. Thanks for the recipes for my cherished 10-year-old anise hyssop. Growing near it is its identical twin, to look at it, but the taste of the newcomer couldn't be more different. You can't decide if it's cool or hot, so until I find out its real name, it's "fire & ice." I don't remember planting it: could it be a mutation, or cross pollination? Does anyone know what the "fire & ice" newcomer might be?

    1. As with all plants, there are continuous new introductions to the cultivated world of Hyssop. Agastache repestris is also called licorice mint and grows 42 inches tall with coral flowers. Honey Bee White is a 4-foot wide bush that is one of the taller species, while similarly the big bush Anise Hyssop will achieve 4 feet in height with a similar width. Agastache plant types for the edges of perennial beds include the orange large-flowered Acapulco series, Agastache barberi, and orange-yellow blooming Coronado Hyssop, each of which only top out at 15 inches in height. Some other types of Agastache to try by their common cultivation names: Blue Boa; Cotton Candy; Black Adder; Sumer Sky; Blue Fortune; The Kudos Series (Coral, Ambrosia and Mandarin); Golden Jubilee. My guess is you have a cultivar from the above list and when it made a new plant (probably from seed) it revereted to the style of plant it came from.

  10. I grow anise hyssop and lemon balm in my yard. I don't know if my perception is correct or not, but I feel that over the years, both herbs seem to lose a little bit of their characteristics and become more similar to each other. For example, the anise hyssop leaves were more of a triangular shape when I first bought the plant, but the leaves have become rounder in shape (I'm referring to the self-seeded volunteers). Lemon balm on the other hand seem to have less of the lemon smell. I wonder if it's possible for anise hyssop to cross breed with lemon balm as they are both from mint family. Thanks.

  11. I grow anise hyssop and lemon balm in my yard. I don't know if my perception is correct or not, but I feel that over the years, both herbs seem to lose a little bit of their characteristics and become more similar to each other. For example, the anise hyssop leaves were more of a triangular shape when I first bought the plant, but have become rounder in shape (I'm referring to the self-seeded volunteers). Lemon balm on the other hand seem to have less of the lemon smell. I wonder if it's possible for anise hyssop to cross breed with lemon balm as they are both from the mint family. Thanks.

    1. Although they are not considered mints directly meaning not in the Menthe group, both anise hyssop and lemon balm have a square stem which puts them in the mint family. All mints can cross pollinate and should be planted well away from each other, so your thoughts are probably perfectly correct.

  12. I purchased an anise hyssop this year from our local nursery, I planted It in a pot and am thinking of transplanting it in the front yard and was wondering if it will deter the deer from the garden based on what you have said.

  13. When something is a deer deterent that means two things, the plant itself has a scent and flavor that deer do not like and will avoid. This scent can also cause deer to avoid the general area that a plant is located. One plant in your garden will not keep the deer from your garden. A perimeter of deterent plants around your garden will keep them from entering, but it does not sound like youhave that many.

  14. I made some simple syrup tonight, it's delicious!


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