The Romans are said to have introduced hyssop wherever they settled, valuing it as both a ceremonial and healing plant.
Hyssop comes to us originally from the mediterranean and has been a beloved medicinal plant for thousands of years. It now grows easily around the world and has been naturalized throughout a lot of North America.
This easy-to-grow and abundant plant can be used for many common maladies and even as a food spice. Even bees love hyssop. Robert Dale Rogers says that “bees love the plant, and early apiarists rubbed their hives with the herb to encourage bees to stay put.”
Energetically hyssop can be explained as a warming and stimulating herb with a pungent taste. We use it to warm up the body and get things moving! Think of it for moving stagnation like stuck mucous, delayed menses or congealed blood (bruises).
Here’s a closer look at how herbalists use this beautiful plant.
Credit: Sten Porse
Colds, Flu, Fevers, Bronchitis
Hyssop is probably most famously known as an herb for helping with symptoms of a cold or flu. It is often used for children, but is very appropriate for adults as well.
As a stimulating diaphoretic it warms the body, pushing out coldness and opening the pores. This is especially ideal for when a person feels cold and is shivering with a slight fever.
For thousands of years hyssop has been used for coughs with congested mucus. It both stimulates mucus and expectorates mucus, which enables the lungs and coughing mechanisms to rid it from the body. Herbalist Nicholas Schnell recommends it for chronic sinus infections.
In colds, accompanied with coughs and pectoral difficulty, where any degree of fever is present, the somewhat old-fashioned combination of hyssop with horehound has scarcely even yet been superseded by a more serviceable remedy; the two agents are combined in equal proportions, and given, in the form of infusion, as freely and copiously as the patient can be prevailed upon to take it; the addition of honey to this infusion is, in many cases, found to augment its power, and, a consideration with patients possessing delicate stomachs, to some extent to cover the taste of the medicine.
Hatfield Botanic Pharmacopoeia, 1886
In cough and cold prescriptions, particularly for whooping cough, and in other troubles of infancy. The 1 ounce to 1 pint infusion is given in wineglass doses, or according to age.
Harold Ward, The Herbal Manual, 1936
Hyssop has been shown to have antiviral properties and is being studied for applications against HIV and herpes.
Test-tube studies show that hyssop stops the production of HIV without damaging the infected cells. These results have encouraged some people living with HIV to try the plant as an antiviral. Anecdotal reports suggest that the plant is effective in treating HIV-related infections and increasing CD4+ cell counts.
A Practice Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living with HIV
Canadian Aids Treatment Information Exchange
Credit: H. Zell
For pain relief, from bruises to arthritis
Hyssop is well known for its ability to lessen pain.
While arnica may be the modern-day favorite for bruises, Felter and Lloyd have high praise for hyssop’s abilities.
The leaves, applied to bruises, speedily relieve the pain, and disperse every spot or mark from the parts affected.
King’s American Dispensatory, 1898
When used for arthritic pain historical texts mention warm teas but also warm baths infused in hyssop. Older literature also mentions hyssop for toothaches.
As an emmenagogue
Emmenagogue herbs help to move symptoms of a stagnant pelvis, which can be delayed menses, excessive menstrual cramping and scanty menses.
Because hyssop is an emmenagogue it should not be used in pregnancy.
For promoting digestion
Like many mint family plants, hyssop can be used to promote digestion, especially stagnant digestion in which food feels stuck and heavy. It can be taken as a tea to promote digestion, as part of a bitters blend or even used as a food spice.
Hyssop has a strong pungent taste with hints of camphor. It will give a distinctive taste to your culinary dishes. Start with very small amounts to avoid transforming a delicious dish into a “medicinal” dish.
“When it is eaten the liver becomes lively and it cleanses the lungs somewhat. He who coughs and has a pain in the liver, or who suffers from congestion in the lungs, or who suffers both conditions should eat hyssop with meats or lard, and he will be better.”
Hildegard von Bingen
Hyssop has long been used to flavor liqueurs, from the infamous absinthe to the secretive recipe of Chartreuse.
[Hyssop is] an essential but overlooked ingredient in absinthe (all the focus is on the fennel, anise and wormwood, but any good absinthe has an appreciable quantity of lemon balm and hyssop).
jim mcdonald, herbalist
Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany
Hyssop is originally from the middle east and southern Europe but has spread to many places around the world as a garden herb. It is very easy to grow and is hardy to zone two.
It is a mint family plant and has a square stem with opposite leaves.
Flowers range from white (rare) to pink to blue to lavender. They have the characteristic mint family flower shape.
Credit: H. Zell
It grows as a fairly large bush or shrub and is a woody perennial.
Hyssop is ideally harvested just as it is going to flower when its essential oils are at their highest. The aerial portions are harvested, cutting just above the woody stems. They can then be dried for teas or prepared in any of the following ways.
Hyssop is commonly drank as a tea and can also be made into a syrup.
It can be prepared as a tincture or glycerite extraction. It was one of the herbs used to flavor the liqueur Chartreuse.
The fresh herb can be used sparingly in cooking. Check out the Herbalpedia entry for lots of different recipes using hyssop.
Maude Grieve says it was used as a bath herb for rheumatism, although a large quantity was needed.
Its aromatic qualities made it a popular strewing herb.
Hyssop is safe for most people to use. It should be avoided in pregnancy, and extremely large doses, especially of the essential oil, have been known to cause convulsions.
Hyssop has been loved for centuries for its ability to address many common problems such as cold and flu symptoms and acute and chronic pain. This herb warms the body and is used for a variety of ailments when things are stuck: from congested mucus, to delayed menses, to bruises and fevers.
You can easily find this herb in commerce or, if you have a garden, it can be easily grown into a beautiful bush.