How to Grow and Use Hyssop

Hyssopus officinalis

Want to play a little game?

Name a plant that boasts the ability to do wonders in the kitchen while bringing beauty to the garden and attracting bees, birds, and butterflies, and that is simultaneously hardy, adaptable, and easy to grow.

Take your time.

While you’re thinking… have you heard of hyssop?

A close up vertical image of blue Hyssopus officinalis flowers growing in the summer garden. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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This is the plant I had in mind! And we’ve got all the info on it below, from how to propagate it to how to use your harvest.

Here’s what’s ahead:

Cultivation and History

Hyssopus officinalis is native to the Mediterranean, including parts of southern Europe and western Asia.

But it has naturalized in North America, so you can find it growing on roadsides in southern Canada and parts of the northern US.

A close up horizontal image of the purple flowers of Hyssopus officinalis growing in the summer garden.

The word hyssop makes me think of biblical stories where a plant by this name was used as a cleansing herb in religious ceremonies. And some say ancient Romans used hyssop as a barrier to negativity.

But not so fast. While the Hebrew word for hyssop, “ezob,” and the Greek “hyssopos,” were used in scripture and translated to hyssop in English, some researchers argue that H. officinalis is not the plant in question.

Instead, they believe it was a different herb. Which one exactly? They can’t quite put their finger on it, but believe these translated words could refer to several different herbs including marjoram, rosemary, thyme, or even capers.

It might be Origanum vulgare or O. syriacum, which is sometimes called hyssop and has a variety of other common names including biblical hyssop, Lebanese or Syrian oregano, or za’atar after the herb-spice mix it is used in.

Nonetheless, and perhaps in spite of this potentially confusing mistranslation, true hyssop (H. officinalis) is a plant with a long history of use in food and folk medicine.

Leaves, flowers, and the essential oils they contain boast a variety of potential uses, in the past as well as today.

A close up horizontal image of a ceramic tea pot set on a wooden chopping board with sprigs of purple hyssop.

In the Middle Ages, the leaves were used as a stewing herb. 

A strong hyssop tea sweetened with honey appears in herbal medicine traditions as a remedy for nose, throat, and lung afflictions.

But hyssop isn’t merely a culinary or medicinal herb. It can also be a beautiful ornamental plant!

With its green leaves, colorful flowers, and attractiveness to pollinators, it looks great growing in rock gardens in a border, as a specimen plant, and in groups.

Its nectar makes delicious honey, so beekeepers love it, too.

Hyssop doesn’t spread as aggressively as others in its family (ahem, mint, definitely looking at you here), so you can interplant it without having to worry about it taking over.

Note that H. officinalis is often confused with anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum. Both are edible and beautiful, and you better believe that we have an article on anise hyssop too. But they aren’t the same species.

Want to learn more about the differences between these two plants, and maybe grow your own? Check out our guide to growing A. foeniculum here.

Propagation

Hyssop is easy to propagate, whether by dividing mature plants, taking cuttings, or sowing seed. We’ll cover each of these options.

From Cuttings

Take cuttings either in the late spring or early autumn. Snip six-inch stems, and strip the leaves from the bottom two inches. Pinch off the top of each, to encourage branching growth.

Place individual cuttings in small pots filled with a moist soilless medium, or a combination of half builder’s sand and half soilless medium.

Keep the medium moist but not wet by misting regularly. Roots will form within about a month.

Allow spring-started plants to develop branches, and roots that stretch to the bottom of the pot, before planting into your garden.

Or, if you took cuttings in the fall, keep them indoors through the winter before planting out the following spring.

By Division

Large, mature plants may be divided in the spring. On a cool day, or early in the morning, use a shovel to dig up the fibrous root ball and divide it in half, or into three pieces.

Replant the parent plant. Dig a hole the size of the root ball of each division, and loosen the soil on the bottom before planting.

Backfill with garden soil, but make sure the plants are not set too deep, and keep the soil away from the stems.

Water in well, and irrigate regularly until plants are established.

You can learn more about dividing perennials in our guide.

From Seed

You can collect the dry seed heads from existing plants, and store them in a dry, dark place over the winter.

A close up horizontal image of hyssop growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

Sow seeds out in your garden in the spring after the last frost, spacing the seeds an inch apart. Thin to six inches apart after seedlings sprout.

You can also sow seeds indoors about eight to ten weeks before the last average frost date.

These seeds need light to germinate, so whether you are sowing in the ground or in pots filled with soilless propagation medium, be sure to only cover them lightly.

If sowing indoors, keep the medium moist, and place your pots in a well-lit 65 to 70°F space.

Seeds will germinate within 14 to 21 days.

You can transplant the seedlings out into the garden once the risk of frost has passed in your area and the plants have two sets of true leaves. Space transplants six inches apart.

Harden the seedlings off first by setting them outdoors every day for a couple hours and slowly increasing the amount of time each day before bringing them back in.

How to Grow

Hyssop is a hardy and adaptable plant that thrives in Zones 4 to 9.

It prefers well-draining, fertile loam, but it will tolerate poor, dry, sandy soil as well. Hyssop does well in a generous pH range of 6.6 to 8.5.

A close up horizontal image of a small Hyssopus officinalis plant growing in the garden.

It loves full days of warm sun but will tolerate partial shade. For the best growth, make sure your plant gets at least six hours of sun.

This plant requires regular water until it is established, after which point it is very drought tolerant.

A close up horizontal image of a butterfly feeding on hyssop blooms pictured on a soft focus background.

Plants still appreciate watering when the soil dries out though, so make sure to regularly check the soil moisture down to two inches. If the soil is dry, water. If the soil is damp, check back in the next day or two.

Fertilize in the spring with a general purpose plant food, such as this organic 3-3-5 (NPK) formulation from AgroThrive, available at Arbico Organics.

A close up square image of a plastic bottle of AgroThrive Organic Fruit and Flower Liquid Fertilizer isolated on a white background.

AgroThrive Liquid Fertilizer

Hyssop does well in containers too, and can be kept in a cool, sunny room in the house. Make sure the container is at least 10 inches deep, and keep a close eye on soil moisture.

Growing Tips

  • Grow in full sun.
  • Water regularly until established, then check soil moisture before watering.
  • Fertilize in the spring with a general purpose fertilizer.

Pruning and Maintenance

Let the dried stems and leaves stand over the winter. Cut everything back to two inches from the ground in the spring, and again after flowering if you wish, to encourage a compact habit and to keep the plant from becoming spindly.

A close up vertical image of the dried flower heads of Hyssopus officinalis growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

This plant self seeds readily, so it is a good idea to deadhead if you don’t want little hyssops sprouting up all over your garden.

If you are using your plant as an herb, replace mature specimens with fresh plants – either grown from cuttings or seed – every four or five years. Plants become woody and quality decreases with age.

A horizontal image of a stand of hyssop flowers growing outside a residence.

If these plants are merely ornamental, they can live long, bushy lives as hardy, woody plants and don’t need replacing.

Varieties and Cultivars to Select

When searching for hyssop seeds or plants, make sure they are true H. officinalis, not anise hyssop! Both are beautiful but they are completely different plants.

A close up square image of Hyssopus officinalis flowers growing in a sunny garden.

H. officinalis Seeds

You can find seeds available in a variety of packet sizes at Eden Brothers.

H. officinalis is available in a variety of colors besides blue-violet, including deep blue, pink, and white. Keep a look out for these cultivated varieties at your local plant nursery.

‘Caeruleus’ bears deep blue blooms on a compact, two feet high plant with gray-green leaves.

‘Sissinghurst’ is another blue flowered variety that grows to one foot high and has large, bright leaves.

A close up horizontal image of light pink/purple hyssop flowers growing in a wildflower meadow.

‘Roseus’ has pretty rose-pink flowers on dark green foliage, and grows up to two feet.

H. officinalis f. albus features white blooms on compact plants growing to two feet tall.

f you want a shorter variety, check out H. officinalis ssp. arisatus, which is also sometimes known as dwarf hyssop and only grows to one foot.

A close up horizontal image of white Hyssopus officialis flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

While more compact, it still features those pretty flowers and aromatic leaves. It’s a great choice for rock gardens and as an edging plant, and does well in pots too!

Managing Pests and Disease

Thanks to the aromatic oils this plant contains, it naturally repels most pest insects. It will even help to keep pests such as cabbage moth larvae, flea beetles, and slugs away from nearby plants.

The diseases that do occasionally affect hyssop are mainly a result of poor soil drainage.

If your plant has yellow, wilting leaves, dig it up and check the roots. If root rot is the issue, the root ends will be brown and mushy.

Trim off any affected roots, and replant in soil amended with sand or small pebbles to improve drainage.

Although rare, powdery mildew can affect hyssop foliage as well. If it does, check out our article on organic ways to deal with powdery mildew for more information and treatment options.

Harvesting and Preserving

Harvest leaves from your plant before it blooms, preferably in the morning just after the dew dries for the best taste. These are best used fresh, but they may be dried and frozen to use later too.

A close up horizontal image of freshly harvested hyssop flower stems in a wicker basket pictured on a soft focus background.

Harvest the flowers while they are still fresh and colorful.

To dry whole bundles of leafy stems and flowers, hang them upside down in a dark, well ventilated area.

A close up horizontal image of herbs hanging on a wooden wall to dry.

You can also spread leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet and pop it in the freezer, then transfer the frozen leaves into plastic bags or airtight containers. They can be stored in the freezer for up to a year.

Recipes and Cooking Ideas

The foliage can be used to flavor marinades, meats, soups, sauces, salads, and stews. Use it like rosemary, but be aware that it is quite a strong herb despite its sweet scent – a little bit can have a big impact!

A close up horizontal image of dried hyssop leaves and flowers in a wooden spoon set on a wooden surface.

It is described as tasting a bit like mint but with a warm, slightly bitter, floral undertone.

When adding hyssop to soups and sauces, put leaves into a cheesecloth bag and allow the flavor to infuse the food as it cooks rather than adding the leaves directly.

Crunching down on an entire fresh leaf isn’t pleasant, but when infused it adds a nice flavor.

Sprinkle dried, crushed leaves lightly over roasted vegetables and dips, pasta dishes, lemon roast chicken, or lamb dishes.

Because it is quite a strong herb, it cuts through fatty proteins well, and pairs nicely with venison and other gamey meats.

Mix fresh, finely chopped hyssop leaves with butter for a tasty addition served on meats and vegetables.

Use fresh or dried leaves and flowers to make tea. Or, if you prefer something stronger, hyssop oil is used to flavor Chartreuse and Benedictine liqueur, as well as absinthe.

The oil itself is antibacterial, insecticidal, and antifungal.

To make a hyssop tincture, fill a jar halfway with finely chopped leaves, cover with vodka or another high-proof spirit, and seal it.

A close up horizontal image of a small bottle of essential oil set on a wooden surface surrounded with sprigs of hyssop.

Leave the jar in a warm place for ten to forty days, shaking every day to agitate the mixture, then filter with cheesecloth or something similar to remove all bits of the herb. Store in dark-colored bottles in a dark, cool place.

Hyssop flowers have a milder flavor than the foliage, so you can add these to salads for a pretty and tasty garnish.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Herbaceous perennial herbFlower/Foliage Color:Blue, pink, purple, white/green
Native to:Southern Europe, western AsiaMaintenance:Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone):4-9Soil Type:Loam
Bloom Time:Spring-fallSoil pH:6.6-8.5
Exposure:Full sun to part shadeSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:6 inchesAttracts:Bees, butterflies, birds
Planting Depth:1/4 inch (seeds); depth of root ball (transplants)Companion Planting:Cabbage, grapes
Height:1-2 feetAvoid Planting With:Radishes
Spread:1-1.5 feetUses:Bank stabilization, container and pollinator gardens, edible leaves
Water Needs:Low to moderateFamily:Lamiaceae
Tolerance:Deer, drought, rocky soil, sandy soilGenus:Hyssopus
Common Pests and Disease:Cabbage maggots, flea beetles, slugs; Powdery mildew, root rotSpecies:Officinalis

Pretty Tasty

Even if you don’t want to use hyssop in your cooking, this hardy plant deserves a place in your garden.

Give it that sunny, maybe rocky or dry spot that few other plants would be happy with, and let hyssop transform it into a fragrant area visited by the bees and birds.

A close up horizontal image of purple hyssop flowers (Hyssopus officinalis) growing in a sunny garden.

If you already have hyssop in your garden, have you ever featured it as an herb in your cooking? Leave your favorite recipes in the comments below – I’d love to learn how you use it, if you have any suggestions!

Did you know hyssop is related to a huge variety of other useful, fragrant, beautiful plants besides mint?

Think lavender, sage, and salvia. We’ve got articles on the lot, so check out our other guides to growing herbs starting with these articles:

About Sylvia Dekker

Sylvia Dekker is a nature-inspired creative with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, a history of Canadian province-hopping, and a life filled with brown thumbs, bee stings, and tan lines. When Sylvia travels, on mountain or steppe, she harvests knowledge, experiences, and honey, goes starry-eyed over each tiny plant, and writes about it all.

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