Anise Hyssop

It is a mystery to me why Anise Hyssop is not planted in every culinary herb garden in the Americas. I invite you to join me in changing this.           -  September 1, 2014

For culinary applications

Anise Hyssop is a surprisingly delicious alternative to many recipes that call for mint or basil, (the exception being tomato dishes, where basil rules). The leaves and flowers are mildly sweet and delicately anise flavored. Anise hyssop is a soul-match to fruit of every season, finding nuances where mint is often too dominant.  As for savory uses, I have yet to find an Asian-themed dish, lamb chop, roast duck or vege stir-fry that it doesn't compliment. 

Easy to grow

 Anise hyssop is a hardy perennial that is indigenous to North America and has long been appreciated by Native Americans. It produces some of spring’s earliest greens and thrives with indigenous vitality. By early summer one plant, if pinched back will produce a prodigious quantity of leaves and spikes of buds that flower till frost. The nectar-rich flowers attract beneficial pollinators and butterflies. 

Cultivars range in shade from pink to lavender to indigo blue. The plant is so beautiful and sturdy it is regularly used by landscapers. For this reason some are better than others for culinary applications. My un scientific theory is that the more deep the blue the better the taste. Nibble a bit of leaf before buying. 

Anise Hyssop through the year

  • Chop leaves into tabouli and other grain salads 

  • Combine leaves & buds with butter to season carrots, beets, pea pods or parsnips

  • Wrap a leaf around a slice of fig

  • Combine whole young leaves with fresh basil, dill umbels, and chives to make a resinous herb salad spiked with balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese crisps. 

  • Stir chopped leaves into streusel batter and bake atop rhubarb

  • Scatter chopped fresh leaves and flowers over watermelon, then with feta.

  • Layer leaves over a slice of prosciutto, roll it up and slice into pinwheels

  • Repeat, this time with a slice of ripe pear in the center of the prosciutto.

  • Macerate a julienne of the leaves with stone fruits: apricots, cherries, and peaches. 

  • Wrap leaf around a baton of Parmesan, or good aged cow or sheep's cheese 

  • Stir flowers and buds into shortbread cookie dough.

  • Stir leaves, buds, glacéed apricots and pistachios into biscotti batter and serve with aged sheep's milk cheese

  • Dry leaves and store in airtight tin to make tea

  • Chop leaves into citrus salsas of Meyer lemon, tangerine or grapefruit   

  • Macerate leaves in a simple syrup then churn into an emerald sorbet, serve in combination with another fruit sorbet or ice cream

  • Drag leaves, flowers and buds in egg white diluted with 50% water, then coat with extra fine sugar, shake off excess, and then freeze dry. Serve sugared leaves with whole strands of red currants.

  • Leaves will keep fresh for weeks in the refrigerator when stored between moist paper towels sealed in plastic bag.

  • Add flowering spikes of anise hyssop to bouquets of wild flowers.

  • Chew on a leaf after drinking coffee to freshen breath.

Notes for the Gardener

The Anise hyssop is neither a fennel nor a Hyssop plant. Its botanical name is Agastache foeniculum. It likes a sunny spot, though does just fine in partial shade. It thrives in all kinds of soil and it is drought resistant.  It does not spread rapaciously like mint but its seeds will self sow around the original crown, and this way the plant can be invited to gradually fill out its area. Otherwise, the new plantlets can be eaten or dug up and given to others.

The plant grows to 2 to 3 feet high and bushes out over time.  Pinching back will enhance this. It starts blooming in early summer and continues through till frost. The blooms attract native honeybees and butterflies. The plant dies back to the crown at frost, and all but disappears. In the spring its first purple leaves are one of my garden’s earliest arrivals. 

To harvest leaves: The leaves grow on brachiated stems that will send out two more leaf bearing stems each time a leading stem is pinched.   In spring you can start pinching back after the main stem starts its third set of leaves. The leaves are tender and most flavorful just after growing to about 1" to 1.5" long. Use young leaves with fresh fruit and uncooked applications. The mature leaves are also flavorful but texturally work better if they are cooked or dried for tea. The flowers and buds are especially delicious and the whole flowering spike can be freeze dried 

Image by Robert Bottman