Hyssop: planting, care, benefits & propagation
Hyssop is a low-maintenance and robust herb. It also has deterring effects on some pests, which makes it a practical must for every garden.
Hyssop, which bears the botanical name Hyssopus officinalis, belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). This family includes many popular herbs, such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) or thyme (Thymus officinalis). A total of six species belong to the genus Hyssopus. Most of the hyssop species are native to Russia.
Since the hyssop is partially woody in growth, it is a semi-shrub. Therefore, it should be pruned regularly so that it retains its shape. Other than that, this herb is extremely easy to care for and, thanks to its intense aroma, it even repels some garden pests. This is why hyssop proves to be a suitable plant neighbour of other plant species, that are more susceptible to pest infestations. What is more, hyssop blooms in gorgeous blue to violet flowers, which add to its decorative value. The flowering period of hyssop is also extremely long and lasts from June to September.
Growing hyssop: in a garden bed or in a pot?
Hyssop prefers a sunny location on permeable and, if possible, calcareous soil with a good amount of nutrients. It is not recommended to grow hyssop in open areas with strong winds. Before planting this herb, heavy soils should be loosened up with sand to avoid waterlogging. Of course, hyssop can also be cultivated in pots or containers on the terrace or balcony. Always choose a slightly larger pot: smaller pots can quickly become too narrow for this fast-growing herb.
There are several ways to propagate hyssop easily and quickly:
Growing hyssop from seeds
In order to prevent the small seedlings from freezing to death, it is advised to sow hyssop out in the open from the beginning of May onwards. It is also possible to start the young plants from seeds indoors on the windowsill. If the seeds are sown in a seed tray from mid-May, more vigorous young plants can be planted out after the Ice Saints in mid-May.
Propagating hyssop with cuttings
In spring or summer, young shoots of about 5 cm length can be cut off from the mother plant and then placed in special substrate for cutting propagation. It is advantageous if no flowers or flower buds have yet formed, as this costs unnecessary energy and makes rooting of the cuttings more difficult. For the time when the cuttings have not yet taken root, they should be kept in a place with increased humidity – for example in a propagator with a plastic cover.
Propagating hyssop by layering
Since hyssop is a half-shrub, it is not possible to propagate it by division. However, another option for hyssop propagation is the so-called layering. To do this, bend down relatively strong but flexible shoots of the plant and fix them in the ground, for example with a wire. The tip of the shoot should protrude vertically from the ground and soil should be piled up at the point of bending. Roots can then form on the shoot at the point where it is tied down and the newly formed hyssop can be replanted in any place after it has been separated from the mother plant.
Watering and fertilising hyssop
Hyssop plants can even cope with a dry place in the alpine garden. If it is grown in a normal garden bed, it is therefore not necessary to water it. If it is grown in a pot, however, occasional watering is required from time to time. Keep in mind that waterlogging should be avoided at all costs in order not to provoke an infestation with the life-threatening root rot.
Hyssop is truly a low-maintenance plant and that applies even to its nutrient needs. It is sufficient to fertilise your hyssop plant just once a year.
Hyssop is a half-shrub which means that it is partially woody. In order to prevent the plant from losing its shape and the shoots becoming sparse and bare, annual pruning is recommended. The plant can be shortened to a height of 10 cm. However, do not cut into the hard and wooden parts of the plant because the hyssop can no longer sprout from there. Pruning can be done in autumn, but it is even better to do it in spring before new shoots appear. In this way, there is no risk of the winter frost penetrating the vulnerable parts of the plant and possibly causing them to die.
Regardless of whether the hyssop is cut in autumn or only in spring, it should be covered to protect it from winter. The half-shrub is relatively hardy, but long and severe frosts can still have a negative impact on its wellbeing and growth.
Harvesting and storing hyssop
As such, hyssop can be harvested continuously, provided that fresh shoots and leaves are on the plant. However, as with so many other herbs, the herb is most aromatic when harvested just before the long flowering period from June to September. You can pluck off either the leaves or harvest the entire shoots of hyssop.
When it comes to the aroma of hyssop, it remains the strongest if the leaves are used fresh right after harvest. Of course, the harvested hyssop can also be stored and used later, too. Here are some tips on how to store hyssop:
If hyssop is dried at room temperature in a dry place, it can be used as a dried spice for several months. There are two ways to do this. Either whole shoots are harvested or individual leaves are plucked. While the whole shoots can be hung up, the hyssop leaves should be spread out on a towel to dry. It is important to note that there will be a slight loss of aroma as a result of the drying process, though.
Another option is to simply freeze the leaves of hyssop. In this way, the herb is available in a more or less harvest-fresh state and without any significant loss of aroma intensity.
Like almost all Mediterranean herbs, hyssop can also be preserved in oil or vinegar. The shoots must be completely coated in liquid so that the harvested parts of the plant do not start to mould. After about two weeks, the oil or vinegar will have absorbed the hyssop aroma. Then, they can be used in various ways in the kitchen, for example as a spicy tarragon oil or vinegar for cooking, marinating or as salad dressing.
Hyssop: uses and benefits
What are the best ways to use this spicy herb, which unfortunately finds its way to our gardens all too rarely? Because of its strong aroma with a slightly bitter note, hyssop is great to use in sauces, salads and various meat dishes. The beautiful flowers of the hyssop are also edible and make a stylish addition to your plate. There is a pleasant side effect of hyssop consumption too: just like the closely related sage, hyssop has a soothing effect on inflammation. It is also said to have a calming effect on sensitive areas of the stomach and the intestinal tract. Although hyssop has long been used as a medicinal plant, it is not anymore, as it can trigger cramps (when consumed in higher doses).
Hyssop has one other special property, which makes it a great plant to grow in the garden bed. It can be used as a natural pesticide. Its intense smell and high content of its specific components have a deterring effect on some pests such as caterpillars, snails or aphids. If other plants are susceptible to these pests, it can sometimes help to plant a hyssop in a close proximity to them.