Do you want to attract pollinators to your garden? Are you dabbling in edible and medicinal herbs, but want to grow only the most versatile—and attractive—plants? Perhaps you're just looking for a little extra kick to your mojitos. (Admit it...we're all looking for reasons to try out new summer beverage recipes!) If any of these apply, you'll definitely want to consider anise hyssop.
Agastache foeniculum is not related to anise, nor is it a close relative of hyssop. Anise hyssop is a member of the mint family, as indicated by its square stem. The medium green serrated leaves are familiar to anyone who's enjoyed a mint garnish to their adult beverage. It's called "anise hyssop" for its mild licorice flavor and aroma.
At first glance, many admirers strolling past a garden bursting with showy anise hyssop will mistake the plant for lavender. Though the leaf shapes are quite different, both lavender and anise hyssop bear tiny purple or deep blue flowers on a central spike. Still, it's no surprise that anise hyssop is often called "lavender hyssop". Because, after all, life isn't confusing enough!
Where should I plant anise hyssop?
This native North American perennial thrives in zones 4 to 8, as long as it gets full sun or partial shade. Anise hyssop does well along your garden's margins, as it's deep roots allow it to tolerate drier, less fertile soil. It will also tolerate wetter locations in well-drained soil.
Anise hyssop isn't too picky about its pH requirements. It's known to do well anywhere between 5 and 8 pH, though its ideal range is between 6.5 and 7.
At an average peak height of 30 to 36 inches and a with of one to three feet at its clumping base, anise hyssop is a great background plant for your garden. New-growth leaves often display tinges of deep purple, and mature leaves retain their vigor throughout the season.
Anise hyssop will bloom June through September with little maintenance. Deadheading helps encourage continuous blooms, and some gardeners prune their plants to encourage a bushier, fuller shape during the growing season. Unlike lavender and other woody herbs, anise hyssop wilts to the ground at first fall frost, regrowing from its rhizomes the following spring. (Anise hyssop will reseed itself, but it also reproduces through its rhizomes, tuberous roots that store energy.)
How to grow anise hyssop
Are you sold on this showy, gregarious perennial? Before we tell you about its uses, you'll want to know how easy it is to grow.
It's best to start seeds indoors, in peat pots, six weeks before the last frost. Use a fingertip to place seeds directly on the surface of the substrate; anise hyssop seeds require sunlight to germinate.
Spray daily with a misting bottle, and don't let the peat dry out. Anise hyssop seeds typically germinate in 7-10 days.
Once your seedlings are at least a few inches tall, slice the sides of the peat pot and plant the pot into moist, well-draining soil, about 12" apart.
You can direct sow outdoors after all chance of frost has passed and daily temperatures reach about 65°F. As with indoor sowing, press seeds into finely raked, moist soil. Don't let the soil dry out; once established, anise hyssop tolerates dry soil.
Frost will cause the foliage and stems to wilt and brown. Trimming off dead material after first frost will make way for new growth in the spring, and mulching will cover up any unsightly, exhausted plants, but it's not necessary.
After three to five years, you'll want to dig and divide these perennials by their rhizomes to reinvigorate growth. Each spring, as new growth appears on the woodier parts of the stem, some gardeners like to prune and shape their anise hyssop plants to encourage thicker, bushier growth.
Pests and diseases
Here's our shortest section: Aside from potential crown rot from poorly-drained soil, anise hyssop is a hardy plant that isn't particularly vulnerable to pests and diseases common in the garden environment.
Anise hyssop's versatility in the garden is due more to its wide tolerances of soil types and available moisture than it is to any symbiotic relationships to other plants. Like that friend who meshes with any crowd, anise hyssop gets along with other herbs and ornamentals.
Its upward-reaching leaves and flowers make it a striking neighbor to echinaceas, and its light green, softly textured leaves make a nice contrast to tougher-leafed herbs like sage, rosemary, and lavender.
While some plants don't want to be anywhere near alliums, anise hyssop will happily hang out next to chives, society garlic and other edible and ornamentals in this group.
Nobody gets along with everyone, and anise hyssop's fragrance, while attractive to people, is known to repel deer and rabbits. Consider using anise hyssop as a boundary plant for your vegetable garden. Or simply make a big pitcher of those mojitos, turn your hose sprayer to its "water cannon" setting, sit on the porch and fire (and sip) away.
Benefit to pollinators
Do you want to see more honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds in your yard? Anise hyssop is a wonderful nectar plant that attracts dozens of varieties of beneficial insects. Plant your anise hyssop with oregano, borage, coriander, and burnet, and you'll have a stunning mix of colors and textures in your herb garden, abuzz with happy pollinators.
Decorative and culinary uses
Anise hyssop spikes make excellent fresh cut flowers, especially in wildflower arrangements. They're stunning when dried, though the fragrance is strongest in the leaves.
Air-dry and crumble the leaves to add color and scent to potpourris and sachets, or chop up fresh leaves to add to teas and fruit salads for a mild, minty-licorice flavor. To dry the leaves and flowers, hang them upside-down by their stalks in a dark, dry, well-ventilated spot. When you can "break" the leaves, they're sufficiently dessicated for storage. Re-use empty spice jars and store in a cool, dry place away from cooking surfaces.
Leaves and flower spikes will stay fresh for up to a week in the refrigerator when stored in a resealable plastic bag.
Add dried leaves to marinades for venison or lamb.
Do you love mint jelly? Try making a batch with anise hyssop leaves.
Similar to stevia, another member of the mint family, anise hyssop is a natural sweetener, reducing the need for added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup in home-made baked goods and ice cream recipes.
Anise hyssop as a medicinal herb
Europe's true hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) has a celebrated history as a medicinal herb. The unrelated North American wildflower has its own history among First Nation people, who used anise hyssop for a variety of ailments.
Widespread across North America east of the Rockies, anise hyssop is traditionally valued by Native Americans as an expectorant, antidepressant and wound salve, and added them to steam in their sweat ceremonies to induce perspiration.
Poultices made of the crushed leaves were used to treat burns and fevers, and baths in water infused with the herb allegedly treated poison ivy, sunburn, yeast infections and fungus.
Modern clinical research has identified limonene as an active ingredient in the plant, reducing stomach acids and aiding in healthy digestion. Aboriginal tribes had long used anise hyssop for these reasons as well as the plant's ability to reduce gas and bloat.
Those who enjoy hot or cold teas made from steeped leaves might report feeling relaxed as well as refreshed. Anise hyssop contains methyl eugenol, a natural oil known for its sedative properties.
Essential oils are gaining acceptance in mainstream modern culture, and those made from the leaves, flowers or root of anise hyssop are currently marketed as an antibacterial, antiviral and diaphoretic. Anise hyssop is also thought to aid in healthy heart function.
While researching anise hyssop's medicinal uses, be sure to double-check the Latin name on all labels and literature. Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) and Hyssopus officinalis (hyssop) and anise (Pimpinella anisum) are three completely different plants, with unique properties.
As with all herbal remedies, dosages are difficult to determine and any prescription, over-the-counter or alternative treatment may interact negatively with other medications and pre-existing conditions. It's wise to consult with a physician prior to taking any medicinal herb or supplement.
Sourcing your seed
Whether you swipe a rhizome from a neighbor's garden or grow your anise hyssop from seed, you'll want to start with healthy parent plants. Seed Needs ships fresh seeds that haven't been gathering dust in a warehouse for years, and we source our seeds from healthy, GMO-free plants.
Are you thinking of adding a little sweetness and color to your life? Do you want a natural source of herbal remedies right outside your kitchen door? In addition to this versatile herb, we've got an abundance of edible and medicinal plants in our collection, as well as seeds for your vegetable garden, ornamental beds and even custom seed packets as favors for your wedding or special event.
And don't forget to bookmark our blog, full of gardening tips and recipes to get you geared up for the season!