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Anise hyssop is a stiff, upright, leafy herb that can grow anywhere from two to 4 feet in height and can have a somewhat bushy appearance. Spear-shaped bright green, and sometimes maroon-tinged leaves grow on square stems, an indicator of its relation to the mint family. Anise hyssop leaves have a strong aroma, a combination of licorice and mint, a smell much like crushed fennel seeds. The taste is unlike most herbs, which tend to smell sweet but taste bitter on their own. Anise hyssop is surprisingly sweet all by itself. Mid to late-summer, four to six inch spikes of densely packed small, violet and indigo, two-lipped flowers bloom amid the green leafy stems. The scent of the flowers mirrors that of the leaves, and they retain their color and smell even when dried.
Anise hyssop is available through the summer and early fall.
Though it may be called ‘hyssop’, Anise hyssop is neither related to anise, nor hyssop. Botanically classified as Agastache foeniculum, Anise hyssop is a member of the mint family. The genus name came from the Greek ‘agan’ for many, and ‘stachys’ for spike of wheat, referring to the many blossoms of its spiky stalks. Foeniculum is the scientific name for fennel, which alludes to the scent of Anise hyssop. Its common name is derived from the sensory characteristics of this herb – both its anise-like fragrance and its blooms which are similar to those of the true hyssop. The fragrant herb is also known as Blue Giant hyssop, Fragrant Giant hyssop and licorice mint. Anise hyssop is well-known to gardeners for its bee-attracting qualities.
Research has shown that the essential oil of Anise hyssop has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Anise hyssop essential oil contains limonene, a compound that has been found to neutralize stomach acid and promote a healthy digestive tract. Anise hyssop has been commercially cultivated for methyl chavicol, a compound in its essential oil. Methyl chavicol is used to flavor beverages like root beer, liqueurs, and some perfumes.
Both the leaves and the flowers of Anise hyssop can be used fresh or dried. Make tea by steeping fresh leaves in hot water. The natural sweetness lends well to desserts, without the need for much additional sugar. Puree Anise hyssop into fruit mixes for jellies and jams. Both the leaves and the flowers of the Anise hyssop pair well with summer fruits like peaches, apricots and berries. Steep sprigs of Anise hyssop in milk or cream for panna cotta, ice creams or custards. The milk will be infused with the flavor of the leaves. Anise hyssop pairs well with chocolate; use to flavor hot chocolate or add to chocolate butter cookies. Keep Anise hyssop in the refrigerator for up to a week when kept in resealable plastic bag. Hang sprigs of Anise hyssop upside down to dry. Dried leaves and flowers retain their scent and can be included in potpourri.
Anise hyssop was used by Native Canadians and Americans for centuries as a condiment and dessert, and for medicinal purposes. The Woods Cree of Saskatchewan used the leaves for tea, as did the native tribes of Montana, who also used the plant as a flavoring agent. Native tribes valued the herb for its ability to aid in digestive troubles. Anise hyssop was burned as incense to treat depression as it had an “uplifting” scent. The Cheyenne used Anise hyssop tea to treat coughs and colds and a weak heart. Leaves were used in a steam bath to induce sweating and a poultice of leaves was used to treat fevers.
Anise hyssop is native to the prairies of the United States and Canada, specifically a region that reaches from Wisconsin in the upper mid-west, across to the west coast of British Columbia. Anise hyssop does not typically grow west of or in the Rocky Mountains, but it does grow on the plains in eastern Colorado. The annual herb grows best in temperate climates and is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 6, and can tolerate some environments down to Zone 9.
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Recipes that include Anise Hyssop. One is easiest, three is harder.