Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis; Labiatae)

Description

A shrub-like, hardy perennial, semi-evergreen, to 1 ½ ft(45 cm) x 1 ft (30 cm) wide. Pink, white or blue-violet flowers in July. Leaves narrow, like rosemary, but much less leathery. Origin, Mediterranean area and east to Central Asia, date of introduction to Britain not definite.

Uses

The aromatic leaves have a mint-like odour, and are slightly bitter and peppery, so use in cooking should be

sparing. Hyssop is used in Chartreuse liqueur. Medicinally hyssop tea has some use for catarrh and for clearing up bruises, and a further use is in perfume, especially eau-de-cologne.

History

Thought to have been brought to Britain by the Romans, it was one of the herbs in a list made out by the Abbot of Cirencester in the 12th century; it is in some old Saxon manuscripts. Edgings to Elizabethan knot gardens were often of hyssop. Culpeper considered it ‘an excellent medicine for the quinsy, or swelling in the throat’.

Cultivation

Sow seed in April outdoors, thinning to 1 ft (30 cm) apart in rows ½ ft (45 cm) apart. Take 2-in. (5-cm) cuttings in April-May in peat/sand, and put in a cold frame. Pot up when rooted and plant out in autumn. Bough t-in plants are planted in autumn or spring. A heavy, wet soil and a cold winter are likely to kill it.

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