Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a delight to the senses; its purple flowers, fragrant scent, and sweet-yet-spicy anise/licorice flavor make this herb a treat to know and to grow. Anise Hyssop is a generous, abundant plant and a wonderful addition to nearly any garden. It’s prolific, easy to tend, and provides much appreciated sustenance for pollinators. It dries well, and the leaves make a delicious tea. The flowers retain their color and shape and can be used to decorate food and drink, or for crafts, like everlasting arrangements. In addition to its edible, practical, and aesthetic qualities, it is also a powerful medicinal ally!
Etymology & Botany
Though both are in the Mint, or Lamiaceae family, don’t confuse Anise Hyssop with Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), another medicinal herb with different actions and indications. The name ‘hyssop’ comes from the Old English ysope, deriving from the Latin hysopus, and most likely the Greek hyssopos. The word describes any of several aromatic herbs used both medicinally and in ceremonial purification rites. ‘Anise’ refers to the distinct Fennel-like scent and flavor of the herb. 4
It is a hardy, perennial herb in zones 3-9; it grows from 2 – 4 ft tall and about 1 ft wide in a branching, upright shape. Its flowers appear in wand-like verticillasters, or false whorls, with bright purple blooms that become more colorful near the tip. The plant blooms continuously from June to September; a single plant may produce upwards of 90,000 individual flowers. Anise Hyssop’s heart-shaped, serrated leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, and its root system produces a taproot. 5
It has been appreciated, harvested, cultivated, and used for medicine and food by different peoples across millenia. The following is a brief overview of the recorded origins of indigenous and historic engagement with Anise Hyssop.
Anise Hyssop is native to the prairies, dry forested areas, and plains of the North American Midwest into Canada. 3
Though the recorded history of Anise Hyssop is sparse, Indigenous tribes used a poultice of the leaves to treat burns and rashes, and an infusion of the leaves to treat cold, flu, fever, diarrhea and sore throat. An infusion of Anise Hyssop and Elk Mint is a traditional remedy for colds and chest pain used by the Chippewa tribe. It was also used by First Nation Peoples to treat melancholy and depression; the uplifting scent was thought to enliven the mood and gladden the spirit. It was often included in aromatic medicine bundles, and was burned in ceremony to both purify and call in positive influences. 1
Herbal Indications of Anise Hyssop
Anise Hyssop is bitter, pungent, and dry energetically and slightly warming in temperature. It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, carminative, and expectorant, as well as soothing & cough suppressing. 2
Respiratory Ally for Colds & Flus
Its main medicinal indication is as a respiratory remedy for coughs, colds, sore throat, and flu. Anise Hyssop has expectorant action, so it’s helpful in relieving congestion and clearing the sinuses of mucus. It also has throat soothing, cough suppressant properties and is reported to alleviate the pain associated with wracking cough and chest colds. Ingested as a hot tea, it will act as a diaphoretic, reducing fever. A tea made from both the leaves and flowers will contain methyl eugenol, an essential oil that has mild sedative action, which encourages overall relaxation of the airways and body. 1
Antimicrobial and Anti-inflammatory Properties
Anise Hyssop is antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal due to its high concentration of essential oils. This herb will reduce bacterial and viral load in cases of illness, and will be effective topically for skin and wound healing. It can also be employed in cases of fungal infections, both topically and internally. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it beneficial for treating burns, rashes, and poison ivy. Anise Hyssop makes a great wash for irritating plant oils, reducing rash occurrence and the itching associated with poison ivy and poison oak. In addition, it may be used for cold sores and for herpes simplex due to its antiviral action. 2
Like most aromatic herbs in the Mint family, Anise Hyssop has carminative properties, meaning it reduces or prevents excess gas in the intestines. Rich in volatile oils, it works by gently irritating the gastric mucosa which increases peristalsis and regulates gut contractions. This settles the gut by relieving cramping and aiding in the expulsion of gas. Anise Hyssop’s bitter properties help to relax the smooth muscles of the intestines and increase bile production, which helps to break down fats and tough-to-digest foods. Traditionally, it was used to treat diarrhea, especially that caused by bacteria or virus. 4
Contraindications of Anise Hyssop
It is considered a safe and well-tolerated herb; there are no current contraindications. As with any herb or supplement, consult an informed herbalist and primary healthcare practitioner before use.
Methods of Medicinal Use
Like all plants, it has infinite possibilities for use and application! Here are some of the more common methods we use in modern day, western herbalism.
Anise Hyssop Tea
Tea is the preferred method for alleviating fever and encouraging relaxation and sleep. Used in combination with demulcent Licorice root, Anise Hyssop tea is especially effective for lung conditions such as bronchitis and respiratory tract infections. Adding a small amount of honey may lend additional help soothing dry coughs.
To make Anise Hyssop tea:
- Pour about 12 ounces of just boiled water over about 1 tbsp dried or 2 tbsp fresh Anise Hyssop leaf and flower, cover, and let steep for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain, and savor the spicy, sweet scent and flavor of Anise Hyssop in your cup! It also makes a wonderful after-dinner digestive.
A tincture of Anise Hyssop is a wonderful, portable option to have on hand for issues like cold or flu, congestion, fever, sore throat, gassy digestion, and bloating. A few drops will also calm the nerves and lift the spirit. For physical ailments, I recommend 10-20 drops at a time, 2-3 times per day or until symptoms are relieved. For emotional, energetic use, start with just 1-3 drops, 2-3 times per day. When taking tinctures, I recommend allowing yourself even just 1 or 2 minutes to sit quietly and experience the herb. Make it a little personal ritual.
Tinctures are usually an alcohol (80 proof vodka, grain alcohol, or other clear booze) extraction of a plant, however, vegetable glycerine or apple cider vinegar can be used in place of alcohol. To prepare an Anise Hyssop tincture:
- Pour menstruum of choice over fresh (1:2 herb to liquid ratio) or dried leaves and flower (1:5 herb to liquid ratio).
- Keep in a sealed, preferably glass, container for at least 6 weeks, shaking every day.
- Strain, label, and bottle.
Anise Hyssop Oil or Balm
It makes a lovely skin oil or balm, as it’s useful for irritated, inflamed, and infected skin. To make a simple oil, pour oil of choice (I like using olive, jojoba, hempseed, or apricot kernel oil) over dried leaf and flower in a preferably glass jar, so that the herb is completely submerged. Seal the jar tightly and shake well daily for 2-3 weeks, keeping the jar on a sunny, warm windowsill, then strain the herbs out using cheesecloth.
To make a simple balm:
- Melt a tablespoon of shaved beeswax for every 4 ounces of strained Anise Hyssop oil on low heat on the stovetop, using a double boiler.
- Once the beeswax is melted, pour into small glass or metal tins and allow to cool.
- Apply your new oil or salve liberally to irritated skin or over sore muscles!
Sourcing Anise Hyssop
It grows abundantly, and blooms from early summer to fall. See if you can find some growing in your yard, garden, or on local, organic farms or in pollutant-free meadows. If you can’t find it growing near you, or if it isn’t in season, you can order dried Anise Hyssop from reputable sources on the internet or, ideally, from small, local makers and businesses, like a neighborhood herb store or health food co-op. Better yet, try growing your own! The Alchemist’s Kitchen carries Anise Hyssop seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Company. Let it grace your home or garden; this herb makes a beautiful, fragrant, and delicious addition to any space.
- Deer, Thea Sumer. “Anise Hyssop: Agastache foeniculum, A Perennial Native” – Link
- Holy Basil Farm. “Medicinal Herb Profile: Anise Hyssop” – Link
- Johnson’s Garden Plants. “Anise-Hyssop (Agastache ssp)” – Link
- Madison Area Permaculture Guild. “Anise Hyssop” – Link
- Mahr, Susan. “Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum” – Link