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Garden Journal

Anise hyssop an ingredient with many uses

By Paul Barbano | Aug 27, 2014
Often called licorice mint, anise hyssop brews into a pleasant, slightly licorice-flavored tea.

On hot summer days, few things beat iced tea from the garden. If you don’t have the energy, and who does, to actually get up and boil water and brew tea, you can use a tincture. Hoping of course you foresaw this coming and boiled down or concentrated brewed herbal tea then stored the concentrate in the refrigerator. Or you could reach further back in time and brew a mixture of honey, water and vinegar, slowly boiled down to a syrup, with added herbs that goes by the melodic name of an herb oxymel. And one of the best teas, tinctures or oxymels is also one of the easiest to grow, the native American herb Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). One can imagine being at a health spa sipping an oxymel of anise hyssop, if you please.

Often called licorice mint, anise hyssop brews into a pleasant, slightly licorice-flavored tea. Anise hyssop tea is a traditional drink among Native Americans of the northern plains. The Iroquois used anise hyssop to make a wash to treat poison ivy.

In addition to tea or oxymels, anise hyssop can be made into a sweet syrup to pour over fruit or a sweet-sour sauce to go with game and lamb. It can even be mixed with blueberries for blueberry hyssop ice cream. This is one of the easiest-to-grow perennials. Choose a dry, well-drained spot. The seeds need light to germinate, so simply press them into the soil.

Your seeds should sprout in seven to 10 days. Once your plants are established, thin them out so that the plants are at least a foot apart. It is winter hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Once established, it will reseed year after year, but never becomes invasive or overwhelming.

Seed is widely available, but always be sure to go by the scientific name Agastache foeniculum.  Sources include Veseys, 800-363-7333; www.veseys.com; Kitchen Garden Seeds, 23 Tulip Dr., Bantam, CT 06750, 860-567-6086; www.kitchengardenseeds.com; or Thompson & Morgan Seedsmen Inc., P.O. Box 1308, Jackson, NJ 08527, 800-274-7333, www.thompsonmorgan.com.

Because it is an attractive plant in its own right, you can put anise hyssop in flowerbeds where its upright, two- to four-foot tall clumps bloom middle to late summer. The flowers are  impressive lavender to purple blooms on spikes three to six inches long.

The flowers have no scent; it is the leaves that smell like anise. But the flowers attract bees, making them a good food source for honey bees, which often go on to pollinate nearby crops. It also draws hummingbirds and butterflies to the flowers.

In addition to spreading by seed, your anise hyssop plants will spread by underground shoots or rhizomes, forming large clumps of plants.

Just about everything on this plant is useful. Besides teas, tinctures and oxymels, the leaves can be made into jellies or added to potpourris. Even the seeds are useful in baked goods from cookies to cakes and breads.

If you want a continuous supply of flowers, then deadhead spent blossoms so new flowers will appear. But if you are growing Anise hyssop for its aromatic leaves you have little to do but sit back and drink its healthy tea. Or tincture. Or oxymel.

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