Hyssop (hyssopus officinalis)

A member of the mint family, hyssop bears soft, hairy gray leaves and double-lipped blue flowers that are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. In times past, people placed branches of this strongly aromatic and antiseptic herb on the floors of sickrooms and kitchens. It was so highly regarded as a medicinal panacea that, according to an old saying, “Whoever rivals hyssop’s virtues, knows too much.”

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460–377 BCE) named the plant hyssopus, from the Hebrew ezob, meaning “holy herb” — although it is not the same hyssop mentioned in the Bible. The biblical hyssop is believed to be another member of the mint family, Origanum syriacum.


Plant profile

Common Name: Hyssop

Description: Compact perennial, 2 to 3 feet tall, with opposite gray leaves and dense spikes of blue double-lipped flowers; highly aromatic

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Lamiaceae

Flowering: Early to midsummer

Parts Used: Flowers and leaves

Range/Habitat: Grows freely in the Mediterranean region, especially in the Balkans and in Turkey

Culinary use

Hyssop tastes like a combination of sage and mint. Traditionally, people used it to flavor soups and meat dishes. Try adding small amounts of this strong-flavored herb to bean dishes, salads, and fruit dishes. Hyssop is an ingredient in Chartreuse liqueur and a renowned flavoring for honey in France.

Medicinal use

Hyssop contains flavonoids, tannins, resins, and terpenes, including marrubiin, which is a strong expectorant. The plant also contains compounds that have antiviral, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Herbal practitioners use hyssop to relieve the symptoms of colds, flus, and other respiratory infections, as well as asthma in both children and adults. It is also useful for treating indigestion, gas, bloating, and colic. Externally, a poultice of crushed hyssop leaves can soothe skin inflammations, cuts, and bruises.

Caution: Hyssop should not be used during pregnancy.

How to grow it

Hyssop is easy to grow in a sunny, dry location. In early spring, sow seeds ¼ inch deep; thin seedlings to about 1 foot apart. For medicinal use, harvest the flowering tips just before the blooms begin to open. Propagate hyssop by seed, root division, or cuttings.