03 July 2018
Anise hyssop ~ a family favorite
I wish I could insert a “scratch and sniff” here . . one fragrant whiff, and you would swoon! Outside the Southeast Wise Women offices, the purple double-lipped flowers of anise hyssop are blooming this June. She belongs in the mint family, with the characteristic square stem with opposite leaves. I love to pick a leaf for visitors to taste and wait for their exclamation of surprise that an herb can be so delicious! As the name suggests, her leaves are aromatic, with the sweet flavor of anise.
To be clear, this is neither star anise (Illicium verum) of the Schisandra family, nor hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) of the mint family. Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, is a beloved ornamental pollinator plant and a medicinal mint in her own right. The root of the species name, foeniculum, means fennel. Although botanically unrelated, fennel also has a taste similar to anise.
When I see her blooming, I often think of my son because he is so fond of anise hyssop. As a young boy helping me with herbal medicine harvests, he began wrapping her leaves around peppermint and lemon balm leaves for a fresh herbal treat. Still a family favorite, his hand instinctively reaches for anise hyssop leaves while we chat near the garden.
It's hard to believe he's now grown into a young man of 18, red curls towering over me. Just this month, after 12 years of homeschooling, he graduated with a high school diploma fulfilling all the state requirements—including recent years of dual enrollment at AB Tech. We had our own graduation ceremony on the porch to mark the occasion.
After celebrating his accomplishments, I found myself wanting to recognize my own journey that culminated in his graduation. I imagined donning the cap and gown myself to celebrate my dozen years administrating this homeschool, as a single mother supermom running businesses and supporting my family. What we women accomplish!
After my son's father left when my child was five, it quickly dawned on me that single mothers everywhere are astounding. I felt the impulse to bow down in homage to the challenges they face and overcome every day. It was hard enough for me to keep it all together—and factors such as race, poverty, and isolation can add much greater challenges. Never mind the all-too-common criticism of our parenting! Ah, the strength and self-love it takes to believe in ourselves . . .
Amidst the overwhelm, I've always found times of solace in nature and the plants. As I gaze at the garden today, I’m grateful that my anise hyssop now comes back year after year. It took time to feel out the spots where she would be happiest, in a mix of partial shade as well as sun.
I love a cup of anise hyssop tea to soothe frayed nerves or an upset stomach. Her aroma comes from the essential oils in the interstitial fluid between the cell walls. This means her essential oils come out readily and are easily extracted in teas, unlike most water-based herbal extractions which require an infusion with a brew time of 4-8 hours.
Anise hyssop has historically been used for respiratory system support, coughs, and wounds. Mostly I simply enjoy the fresh medicine of her smell and flavor—which lifts my spirit, calming and grounding me.
The mint family, Lamiaceae, formerly called Labiatae (still my prefered term, referring to her double-lipped flowers!), is a key family for herbalists to know. Once you positively identify a plant as being in the mint family, you know that it is edible. I love that!
Anise hyssop has many “cousins” in the mint family including peppermint, spearmint and applemint as well culinary herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary. Among the medicinal mint family members, my herbal allies include motherwort, skullcap and lemon balm. Anise hyssop is still my favorite to eat fresh from the garden—while all those in the mint family are edible, to me, this one is surely the most delectable!