Each year the International Herb Association selects one herb to celebrate as the Herb of the Year. Selected plants much are outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: culinary, medicinal, or decorative. The 2019 Herb of the Year, Anise-Hyssop, scores well in all three categories.
Both the flowers and leaves of Anise-Hyssop are edible. The leaves have a pleasant mild licorice/anise flavor while the flowers add a hint of floral sweetness. Harvested fresh, leaves can be added to summer pasta dishes or cold vegetable soups. Fresh leaves and flowers are also excellent in salads, with fruit, in cold drinks, in jellies, or used as an attractive edible garnish.
When dried, Agastache makes a wonderful licorice/mint tea. To dry:
- Harvest in the morning after dew has dried but before the hot sun volatilizes fragrant oils.
- Sunlight destroys flavor so dry in a dark, warm location.
- Hang bunches upside down, bound with a rubber band, or dry individual leaves and flowers on drying screens.
Anise-Hyssop has tremendous value as a nectar-rich pollinator plant. While many beneficial pollinators are attracted to its flowers, of note is its appeal to honeybees. Many beekeepers will grow this plant near their hives because honey made by bees that feed on it is exceptionally flavorful.
Tea made from Anise-Hyssop leaves is believed to relieve coughs, clear congestion, ease digestive upset, and promote restful sleep. Historically, a poultice of the leaves was used to treat burns. Modern clinical research has shown that the oils contained in Agastache have antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Agastache foeniculum and A. scrophulariaefolia are two species of Agastache that are native to our Midwestern grasslands. Blue Hyssop (A. foeniculum) is highly decorative. It bears abundant blue spire flowers on 36” stems from mid to late summer. There are several cultivated forms, including ’Blue Fortune’, that have been selected for the profusion of bloom, superior flower color, and slightly smaller habits. Giant Purple Hyssop (A. scrophulariaefolia) bears 48”-60” spires of very pale lavender/near-white flowers that are not as showy as Blue Hyssop but offer all of the other attributes.
Left: Giant Purple Hyssop (A. scrophulariaefolia) | Right: Blue Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Both plants are excellent for attracting butterflies and beneficial pollinators to the garden. The seeds are also an important food source for native birds. Their fragrant foliage is left undisturbed by deer & rabbits.
Agastache tends to be a short-lived perennial, but it will self-sow readily on open ground. This makes Anise-Hyssop a good choice for a naturalized or cottage garden, where it can “dance” from place to place over the years.