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Hyssop is an evergreen shrub with tall, thin green stalks covered in small, dark green spear-shaped leaves. Its flowers are dark blue and double-lipped; on rare occasions they can have white or pink flowers. Hyssop leaves and flowers are very aromatic. The herb itself is somewhat bitter and astringent.
Hyssop can be found in the late winter and early spring months.
Hyssop is known botanically as Hyssopus officinalis and is a member of the mint family. Hyssop is Greek, from the Hyssopos of Dioscorides, named for a holy herb burned to cleanse spiritual areas. Used since ancient times, Hyssop is cultivated primarily for the flower tops and leaves.
Hyssop contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants that help rid the body of environmental toxins. The leaves are steeped into a tea for medicinal use; it is used as an anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and expectorant. According to a 2004 study, Hyssop tea may be helpful in lowering blood-sugar. Other parts of the plant are used to make tinctures and salves for topical use. It can also be used to lower a fever.
Hyssop is edible, from its flowers and leaves to the essential oils extracted from the plant. In the kitchen, Hyssop can be added to salads to impart a bitter flavor or used to make a broth. The leaves are used to flavor meats, soups and sauces. Hyssop has a strong bitter flavor, so use sparingly. Hyssop oil is one of 130 herbs and flowers used to flavor Chartreuse liquor, which has been made in France by Carthusian Monks since 1737.
Native to the northern Mediterranean coast and parts of the Middle East, Hyssop has been used since ancient times and was once considered a cure-all for a variety of ailments. It is said that European women would sniff dried Hyssop flowers they had pressed in their psalm books to stay awake in church. Hyssop was introduced to the New World by colonists in 1631. It can be found growing in the Eastern part of the US, from Montana to North Carolina. Today, Hyssop makes an appearance at local farmers markets in the US, and can still be found throughout southern and central Europe.