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Hyssop (Hyssopus) is a genus of about 10-12 species of herbaceous or semi-woody plants in the family Lamiaceae, native from the Mediterranean east to central Asia. They are aromatic, with erect branched stems up to 60 cm long covered with fine hairs at the tips. The leaves are narrow oblong, 2-5 cm long. The small blue flowers are borne on the upper part of the branches during summer. By far the best-known species is the Herb Hyssop (H. officinalis), widely cultivated outside its native area in the Mediterranean.
Cultivation and uses
The name 'hyssop' can be traced back almost unchanged through the Greek hyssopos. In the New Testament, a sponge soaked in sour wine or vinegar was stuck on a branch of hyssop and offered to Jesus of Nazareth on the cross just before he died (which may indicate that the cross was not as high as sometimes portrayed). Both Matthew and Mark mention the occasion but refer to the plant using the general term "kalamos", which is translated as "reed" or "stick". Its purgative properties are mentioned in the Book of Psalms. 
Traditionally, hyssop has been used as a strewing herb, and many of its historical healing properties that had been previously dismissed as superstition are once again being acknowledged.
The seeds are sown in spring and the seedlings planted out 40-50 cm apart. Hyssop can also be propagated from heel cuttings or root division in spring or autumn. Hyssop should be grown in full sun on well drained soil, and will benefit from occasional clipping. It is short-lived, and the plants will need to be replaced every few years. Ideal for use as a low hedge or border within the herb garden.
Hyssop is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Cabbage Moth.
Hyssop leaves have a slightly bitter minty flavour and can be added to soups, salads or meats, although should be used sparingly as the flavour is very strong. Hyssop also has medicinal properties which are listed as including expectorant, carminative, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, promotes sweating, anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, antispasmodic. Its active constituents are volatile oil, flavonoids, tannins and bitter substance (marrubin). A strong tea made from the leaves and flowering tops is used in lung, nose and throat congestion and catarrhal complaints, and externally it can be applied to bruises, to reduce the swelling and discolouration. An old English country remedy for cuts and wounds suffered while working in the fields was to apply a poultice of bruised hyssop leaves and sugar in order to reduce the risk of tetanus infection. An essential oil made from hyssop is believed to increase alertness and is a gently relaxing nerve tonic suitable for treating nervous exhaustion, overwork, anxiety and depression. The Herb Society's "Complete Medicinal Herbal" cautions however that "the essential oil contains the ketone pino-camphone which in high doses can cause convulsions. Do not take more than the recommended dose."
Hyssop also has uses in the garden, it is said to be a good companion plant to cabbage, partly because it will lure away the Cabbage White butterfly, and according to Dorothy Hall (The Book Of Herbs, Pan 1972) has also "been found to improve the yield from grapevines if planted along the rows, particularly if the terrain is rocky or sandy, and the soil is not as easy to work as it might be". However hyssop is said to be antagonistic to radishes, and they should not be grown nearby. Hyssop also attracts bees, hoverflies and butterflies, thus has a place in the wild garden as well as being useful in controlling pests and encouraging pollination without the use of unnatural methods. Hyssop is also used as an ingredient in eau de Cologne, and in the liqueur Chartreuse.
Hyssop leaves can be preserved by drying. They should be harvested on a dry day at the peak of their maturity and the concentration of active ingredients is highest. They should be dried quickly, away from bright sunlight in order to preserve their aromatic ingredients and prevent oxidation of other chemicals. Good air circulation is required, such as an airing cupboard with the door left open, or a sunny room, aiming for a temperature of 20-32°C. Hyssop leaves should dry out in about six days, any longer and they will begin to discolour and lose their flavour. The dried leaves are stored in clean, dry, labelled airtight containers, and will keep for 12-18 months.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hyssop". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|