Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
aka Blue Giant Hyssop, Fragrant Giant Hyssop, Lavender Giant Hyssop, Wonder Honey Plant, Licorice Mint
About This Plant
Anise Hyssop is a short-lived herbaceous perennial from the Mint family with blue flowers, fragrant foliage, and the characteristic square stems that the Mint family is known for. It is upright and clump-forming, generally growing 2-4 feet tall and 1-1 ½ feet wide. It has a small taproot with spreading rhizomes and is branched at the top. Its dull green leaves are ovate to broad-lanceolate, up to four inches long with toothed margins and a whitish tint to the underside.
The tiny flowers occur in dense, wand-like whorls tightly packed together that are 3-6 inches long. It’s bright lavender flowers become more colorful near the tip and often bloom in its first year. Blooms start in June and last all season until frost. Plants will be stronger and have more blooms if you cut back the flower stalks as they fade. Flowers are edible and the flower spikes can be cut to use fresh or dried in flower arrangements. Blossoms retain their color and fragrance when dried. A single plant may produce up to 90,000 individual flowers making it a premier plant for feeding pollinators such as bees, butterflies, beetles and hummingbirds. One acre of Anise Hyssop can support 100 honeybee hives. Bees make a light fragrant honey from its nectar. Its dried seed heads look good in the Winter garden and serve as bird feeders for Goldfinches and other birds. Its foliage remains looking attractive throughout the season and sometimes has a purplish cast on the new growth. Its leaves are aromatic with a licorice-like scent and are used in culinary creations.
Anise Hyssop is hardy in USDA zones 4-9. It is easy to grow and is resistant to cold and heat but dies back in freezing winter. It tolerates full sun to partial shade and a wide range of soils as long as there is good drainage. It can also tolerate drought once established. Pest leave it alone but it may develop root rot in wet soils or powdery mildew and leaf spots in humid climates. Deer won’t bother it, but rabbits will.
Anise Hyssop’s vigorous root system enables it to naturalize in open spaces. It can be grown in masses, drifts, or in small clumps. It also grows well in containers. It works well in the middle or back of perennial borders, native, or wildflower gardens. Plants readily self-sow but undesired seedings are easy to pull.
Despite the common name, it is not closely related to Hyssop.
Anise Hyssop is easily started from seed. Seeds can be started indoors eight weeks before last frost or can be planted outside in the Spring or Fall. If planting in the Fall seeds will remain dormant until Spring. Cold, moist stratification improves germination. Seeds require light to germinate so barely cover them. Seeds should germinate in 1-4 weeks. Plants can be increased by root division as well which is best done in Spring or late Fall as Winter dormancy begins.
Once seedlings have their first pair of true leaves, they are large enough to handle and can be transplanted 1-1 ½ feet apart. They tend to wilt quickly when moved but recover in a few days.
Anise Hyssop likes full sun but will tolerate light shade. It likes compost rich, sandy, well-drained soil. It’s a slow grower and is easily challenged by weeds and other plants. A “tough love” approach works best–full sun and not too much water or fertilizer. Leaves can drop during droughts but bounce back. Pruning just above the leaf node results in more bushy growth. Deadhead spent flowers to promote additional bloom. Roots grow quickly, much like its mint relatives, so trim them back before it becomes invasive. Plants also readily self sow. It’s best to give it a drift of its own where it can spread unchecked as it does in the wild. Plants sometimes require staking as they mature. Plants can be overwintered by covering in a layer of mulch.
Leaves can be harvested at any time but their oil content is highest just after full bloom.
To collect seed, allow the flower spikes to dry on the plants. Bag the spikes to capture ripening seed or remove the spikes from the plants to collect the seeds.
- Culinary–teas, jellies, in salads
- Dried leaves can be used in potpourri
- Fresh flower arrangements or dried
- Food for bees, butterflies, beetles, and hummingbirds along with seed-loving birds such as Goldfinches
- In perennial borders, native, or wildflower gardens, xeriscaping, butterfly gardens
- Cleansing and purification
Anise Hyssop’s versatile licorice-scented leaves are used in herbal teas, cakes, cookies, jellies, fruit bowls and to flavor vanilla ice cream or cream cheese. They also pair well with savory dishes such as squash, sweet potatoes and carrots. Fresh, minced leaves complement rice, some fish, chicken, and pork dishes. A savory seasoning can be made with the leaves chopped with other herbs such as thyme for a rub on poultry. Leaves can also be chopped and added to salads.
Anise Hyssop’s scent is uplifting and believed to enliven the mood and gladden the spirit. Native Americans used it to treat melancholy and depression. It can be included in aromatic medicine bundles or burned as a way of purification. It was used as a cleansing agent in the Middle East and the dried plant was used as a brush to clean temples. The branches of Anise Hyssop can be used to sprinkle water when asperging people and sacred spaces, including the cleansing of your own home.
Anise Hyssop’s high concentration of essential oils make it antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. Often, the leaves are brewed into a tea. It’s been used for cough, sore throats, wounds, and diarrhea. It is said to help alleviate fever and encourage relaxation and sleep. Native Americans used a poultice of the leaves to treat burns, rashes, and all types of inflamed or irritated skin.
Anise Hyssop is native to the prairies, dry upland forested areas, plains and fields in the upper Midwest and Great Plains of the U.S. from northern Colorado to Wisconsin into Canada from Ontario west to British Columbia.