This striking member of the mint family takes its botanical name from the Greek words agan (very much) and stachys (an ear of corn or wheat), referring to the plant’s spiky blue-purple flowers. A favorite of hummingbirds and bees, anise hyssop is the source of a delicious, slightly anise-flavored honey. The herb is native to the midwestern United States and has naturalized throughout North and Central America.
Common Names: Anise Hyssop, Blue Giant Hyssop, Fennel Giant Hyssop
Description: Upright 3- to 6-foot-tall plant with slender stems and maroon-tinted leaves; dense, terminal spikes of bright blue flowers; toothed, opposite leaves; aromatic
Hardiness: To Zone 6
Flowering: Midsummer to late summer
Parts Used: Flowers and leaves
Range/Habitat: Naturalized throughout North America and Central America; dry, open areas, such as roadsides
Anise hyssop’s leaves and flowers have a very sweet, licorice-mint flavor that complements salads, dressings, fruits, soups, stews, and meats. Try adding a tablespoon or two of the fresh, minced leaves and flower buds to fruit desserts, especially those with peaches, nectarines, berries, and melons. Steep the leaves in milk or cream to make delicious ice creams and custards. The herb also makes a delightfully refreshing hot or iced tea.
Traditionally used by Native Americans to treat colds and coughs, the leaves of anise hyssop contain ingredients that increase perspiration (thus helping “break” a fever) and help clear bronchial congestion. The plant also might contain antiviral compounds useful in treating herpes. A related species, Agastache rugosa, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat heartburn, symptoms of gastric reflux, and other digestive problems such as bloating, nausea, and vomiting. A. rugosa is also used in a lotion applied to treat ringworm, a skin fungus.
How to grow it
An excellent garden border plant, anise hyssop prefers well-drained sandy loam and full sun but will tolerate somewhat poor soil and dry conditions. Plant it in spring. Pinch back plants early in the season to encourage branching. Harvest leaf sprigs just above a leaf joint in spring and summer; the leaves are most flavorful when the plant is in the early stages of bloom. Harvest young flowers in summer. Cut back plants by one-third after they finish blooming to encourage a second flush of bloom. Propagate by division, cuttings, or seed.