Rich syringas, all honey-sweet,
Trim carnations of tenderest pink,
Bluebells, spite of the noonday heat
Holding dew for the birds to drink:
Marjoram, hyssop and caraway,
Damask-roses and mignonette;
Ah! sometimes at this distant day
I can fancy I smell them yet.
Allen, Elizabeth Akers, 1832-1911:
GRANDMOTHER'S GARDEN. [from The Triangular Society (1886)
Each and every plant has within it a wonderful story that can be understood as we learn to tune our hearts to a world that is ancient and beautiful beyond words.
We can choose any plant and if we learn to look at it, touch it, smell it and listen to it we can enter a magical kingdom where our heart becomes filled with a type of sweet knowledge that fills our life with wonder and delight.
The truly incredible thing about that world is that it is available to anyone, in any part of the world, rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old. Plants do not care if we are black, yellow, white or any other color. They do not care if we belong to any particular religion. They just care that we care about them and come into that world with a simple and innocent heart. Then over a period of many years they begin to reveal to us the multifacted dimensions of their inner and outer beauty.
Hyssop officinalis is a plant that I cannot recollect being near to very often in my life although a very close relative Anise Hyssop is known to me in a more intimate way so in that way there is a link to this plant and its oil. When my mother and I started a small organic fresh and dried flower operation in the Sierras in 1978, Anise Hyssop became an important plant for us as it is one of the most renowned bee plants yielding an amazing amount of nectar in small space. So on our homestead we decided to plant this wonderful plant in order to supply the bee hives my mom kept with an immediate supply of delicious food during the later part of the summer months. So in this way I became aware of the virtues of this plant.
In this connection I would like to mention a few things that remain indelibly imprinted on my mind from the 5 years we spent together building our homestead in the mountains. I was at that time 28 years old and my mom have just retired from her job as a microbiologist. Betty was at heart of hearts though a true gardener and all the years of her life had found ways to create beauty wherever she went through planting gardens. Her dream and ambition was to be a landscape architect and had even gone back to the university when she was in her 40's to get her degree in the same. But at that time(the early 1960's) there was not any opportunity for woman in that field and she had switched to microbiology so that she could support my brother and I who were just growing lads.
But by a series of circumstances we came to the conclusion that we would like to live a simple life and return to the land in a genuine way and so the decision to purchase an old homestead in the Sierras manifested and we with all of our naive aspirations left life in the city behind and entered a world where we had no electricity, running water, etc. The turn of the century house we bought was also very run down and in fact was about to collapse. Many daunting obstacles presented themselves to us because we did not have the knowledge or skills required to overcome them. Yet I think we have all seen that we have deep inner resources which we can draw upon when such times came and one by one we learned how to live in that remote area of the Sierras.
Life becomes very transparent at such timex and the education I received in living close to the land in India from 1971-1976 helped tremendously in adapting to the situation we were in. The wonderful thing is that ones heart and mind become filled with the beauty around them and in a quiet way a deep connection with nature is established where in unseen ways the plants begin to exert their influence on ones entire being. Power of observation begins to become more keen and one gets tremendous enjoyment from the pristine beauty around them. Smell and indeed all perceptions through the senses becomes an entirely different experience when the mind is uncluttered with the impressions of life in human created environments.
Hard work and proximity to nature can work wonders in how one percieves the world around them.
I mention all this because it relates deeply to our appreciation of plants in general and specific plants in particular. In one way or another we need to find the key that will allow us to enter their world and learn from them rather than looking upon the plants as exterior subjects of observation. Plants too have an interior and exterior life that is filled with ancient knowledge but we need to come to them with reverence and appreciation to begin to decipher their language. It may in fact be that we make only tiny steps in appreciating that world but even if that is so, the delight we will get in getting outside of our obsessive occupation with our own woes and worries can work wonders in restoring health and equilibrium to our being.
In my case I can definitely say that I am in the kindergarten glass of appreciating the sublime world of nature. It seldom happens overnight. We may think that 25 or 30 years is a long time to study in that school but I think it is a very short time. The reason is that the qualities that are needed to enter deeply into communion with that world are different than the qualities we need to succeed in the educational model we have set up in the Western world. To enter natures school only simplicity, humility, kindness, consideration, appreciation, love and respect count and these are not intellectual concepts. These are living powers that are part and parcel of every living being and can only be accessed through introspection and then applying them to ones outer life. Very easy to talk about but I think most everyone will agree that to have the patience and perserverance to do that work on oneself whereby those resources get tapped and brought into manifestation is another story altogether.
Yet even the smallest, the very tiniest movement in that direction, the most infinistemal opening of the heart to the wonder and mystery of ones own existence and the universe as a whole is more precious than all the material treasures that what could possibly obtain.
As we attempt to enter that world there are many aids we can draw upon to increase our appreciation for the plants and these come in the form of studying their history, appearance, medical uses, poetry and literature surrounding them(often these give us glimpses into the ethereal realm of plants) etc. All these things can help focus our attention in a good way on the plants so we might become receptive to their loving messages. Let us now enter the world of Hyssop.
Hyssop, a very attractive, cold-hardy, semi-woody, perennial sub-shrub, grows from 20 to 70 cm (8 inches to 28 inches) tall. It is native to Morocco, Algeria, southern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus of Georgia, Iran to southern Siberia, and the western Himalayas. With its lovely bluish floral spires, hyssop can be grown for its beauty alone, whether as a part of your herb garden or as a becoming hedge.
Nearly evergreen, smooth, slender leaves are pointed and opposite, with an aroma that is reminiscent of camphor and mint. The penetrating but light flavor is a cross between rosemary and savory, but it’s not strongly
camphoric like the former or bitter like the latter.
Hyssop has many upright, downy, woody stems, and a strongly branching, multi-headed taproot. Produces whorls of small, deep bluish-violet flowers on tall spikes. Cultivars offer flowers in white, rose, pink, and red. Flavor and aroma are similar to the leaves. Hyssop blooms from midsummer to early fall.
The Greek plant name hyssoopos is probably derived from Hebrew esob (mentioned in the Bible, see pomegranate), although esob most probably referred to a local variety of marjoram, not the plant called hyssop today. Another explanation gives Arabic azzof "holy herb" as the source of the name (cf. French herbe sacrée).
But, once more, the other went on: "How different we herb-doctors! who claim nothing, invent nothing; but staff in hand, in glades, and upon hillsides, go about in nature, humbly seeking her cures. True Indian doctors, though not learned in names, we are not unfamiliar with essences -- successors of Solomon the Wise, who knew all vegetables, from the cedar of Lebanon, to the hyssop on the wall. Note: [16.8] Yes, Solomon was the first of herb-doctors. Nor were the virtues of herbs unhonored by yet older ages. Is it not writ, that on a moonlight night,
"Medea gathered the enchanted herbs That did renew old Æson ?"
Ah, would you but have confidence, you should be the new AEson, and I your Medea. A few vials of my Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator would, I am
certain, give you some strength."
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891 : The Confidence-Man 1857
History and Folklore of Hyssop (Information is provided for cultural interest, not as a recommendation for treatment of disease)
Perhaps the most common reason for preferring one herb over another is its history and safety record. Having long since proven its mettle, hyssop is known in herbal circles as The King of Herbs.
The name hyssop stems from the Greek or Hebrew word adobe or ezob, meaning holy herb, extensively mentioned in the Holy Bible. In ancient times, its vital healing properties caused it to be used in more ways than any other herb. Hyssop was used to cleanse and purify humans, both internally and externally, and to wash the and polish sacred places. In Biblical reference to hyssop tell us the herb was used by such powerful leaders as David, Moses, Solomon, and Jesus.
"Nature heals; the physician is only nature's assistant." Hippocratic told us. Hippocratic (460-377 B.C.), the father of medical science, used hyssop for treating pleurisy. Hippocratic insisted that "Nature heals; the physician is only nature's assistant." He applied this rule by treating his patients with proper diet, herbs, fresh air, change of climate, and attention to habits and living conditions. He objected to the use ofstrong drugs without careful testing of their curative values.
The Greeks adopted hyssop, and the physician Dioscorides prescribed the herb in tea for cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, in plasters and chest rubs, and as an aromatic nasal and chest contestant. Dioscorides, a leading physician in NERCO's army, gathered herbal knowledge and compiled it into a textbook used by the civilized world for 13 centuries afterwards. Dioscorides is one of the greatest herbalists in History.
For at least 2,000 years now people have bathed with and consumed hyssop for relief of arthritis and rheumatism. The Epistle of Barnabas spoke of it for relief of pain. Traditionally, Tibetan priests offered hyssop to their deities during sacred and secret services. Persians used a concoction of hyssop as a body lotion to give a fine color to the skin. Indians used it to reduce body tissue fluids, to alleviate bruises, and for soothing cuts and wounds. Theophrastus (379 to 287 B.C.), scientist philosopher of Ancient Greece who was a student of both Plato and Aristotle, also extolled the virtues of hyssop. He later followed Aristotle as head of the Lyceum. Plink the elder (A.D. 23-79), Roman naturalist, remarked on hyssop's on ones mind and sense of taste. Plink was an expert on natural history (the student of plant and animal life) and gave us much information on ancient life. One of his closest friends was the Roman emperor Vespasian who appears with Pliny in ancient engraving. The drawing depicts the two men discussing hyssop, with Pliny surrounded by bunches of the herb as he waves astalk in the air and points to the emperor.
The German abbess/herbalist Hildegard of Bingen wrote that hyssop "cleanses the lungs". She also recommended chicken cooked in hyssop and wine as a treatment for sadness (our modern-day depression).
In 17th-century Europe, hyssop was a popular air freshener or "stewing herb". It was used in thesame manner as we use a potpourri of dried leaves or flowers today. Crushed leaves and flowers of the hyssop plant were scattered around the home, especially in the kitchen and sickrooms, to mask odors at a time when people rarely bathed and farm animals often shared human living quarters. When bathing finally became popular and "stewing" ceased, hyssop was placed in scent baskets in sickrooms, a practice who should be well revived today due to hyssop's healing properties.
Seventeenth-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper echoed Dioscorides' endorsement for hyssop chest ailments: "It expelleth tough phlegm and its effectual for all grief's of the chest and lungs. "He also noted: "It killeth worms in the belly. He also recommended it as an "inflammation wash" to take away black and blue marks, and relieve swelling in the throat by gargling with it, and praised its use in problems of the ears.
The hyssop plant became as revered by the ancients as was the cat to Egyptians and the cow in India. If it purged the body of ills and demons, they reasoned, then surely it would cleanse the home, the temples and other community buildings as well; it was used much as our modern-day detergents. Its use in Palestine for bites and stings of venomous beast was quite common.
Jewish priests used the strong-smelling hyssop 2,500 years ago to clean the temples in Jerusalem and other places of worship. When celebrating a number of cleansing rites, the ancient Israelites used in hyssop for sprinkling. In fact, two passages are recorded in the Jewish religious texts that advise all good Jews to use the right variety ofhyssop. Hyssop was also used for the ritual cleansing of lepers. To this day, the Roman Catholic church still refers to the hyssop holy water sprinkler.
Other folklore contends that hyssop's chief medicinal value lies is its use as a stimulant to the brain. After eating it, student will find they have a clearer head and can study better. This folklore goes on to say that hyssop rubbed on the forehead or round about the ears clears the memory. These potent bits and pieces of herbal knowledge have been handed down to us for ages by our ancient leaders who
strove not only to keep the human race going, but to advance it. In my thoughts, I often wonder how much knowledge of hyssop's mystical powers was lost to us, when the greatest ancient library, the Alexandrian in Egypt, was burned to the ground by Julius Caesar's army in 47 B.C. Yet so powerful is hyssop's force that it seeks to be reborn in our consciousness now to help lead us into a healthier 21st century.
Spurge and sea-pink, hyssop blue,
Dragonhead of purple hue;
Catnip, frosted green and gray,
With blue butterflies a-sway,
These may point you out the way.
These and Summer's acolytes,
Crickets, singing days and nights,
Tell you the old road again;
And adown the tangled lane
Lead you to her window-pane.
Cawein, Madison Julius, 1865-1914: THE OLD GARDEN [from Minions of the Moon ]
When in the harvest heat she bore to the reapers at noontide Flagons of home-brewed ale, ah! fair in sooth was the maiden, Fairer was she when, on Sunday morn, while the bell from its turret
Sprinkled with holy sounds the air, as the priest with his hyssop Sprinkles the congregation, and scatters blessings upon them, Down the long street she passed, with her chaplet of beads and
her missal, Wearing her Norman cap and her kirtle of blue, and the ear-rings, Brought in the olden time from France, and since, as an heirloom, Handed down from mother to child, through long generations.
Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Evangeline : A Tale of Acadie
The content of essential oil is rather low (0.3 to 0.9%); it is mostly composed of cineol, β-pinene and a variety of bicyclic monoterpene derivatives (L-pinocamphene, isopinocamphone, pinocarvone).
As many other plant of the mint family, hyssop contains rather large amounts of bitter and antioxidative tannines: Phenols with a diterpenoid skeleton (carnosol, carnosolic acid), depsides of coffeic acid (= 3,4-dihydroxycinnamic acid) and several triterpenoid acids (ursolic and oleanolic acid). Very similar or the same compounds have also been found in sage and rosemary.
Hyssop in Cooking
Following are several recipes for the judicious use of hyssop mixtures.
Hyssop Salad with Potato Cake and Goats' Cheese
1/2 kilo potatoes, unpeeled
675 gr. chevre of other fresh goats' cheese
salt and white pepper to taste
about 3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup arugula, well cleaned and with thick stems discarded
2 cups mixed lettuces, well cleaned and torn into convenient pieces
1/2 cup fresh hyssop (can substitute fresh basil leaves)
1 Tbsp. dried za'atar mixture
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and halved
Cook the potatoes in an ample amount of salted water until tender. Drain, peel and slice the potatoes thinly.
Mash the goats' cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Place 1 Tbsp. of oil in each of 6 10 cm. ramekins and spread half of the goats' cheese on the bottom of the ramekins. On this lay the potato slices, on that spread the remaining goats' cheese. Glaze each ramekin with oil. Place the ramekins in an oven that has been preheated to 175 degrees Celsius until the cheese is lightly
golden (about 20 - 25 minutes). Let cool slightly.
To serve, toss the arugula, lettuces, hyssop, za'atar and olives together with olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Taste and season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the greens among 6 flat salad plates and in the center of each place one of the ramekins. (Serves 6).
1 small chicory (curly endive)
2 Belgian endives
1/2 cup fresh hyssop (can substitute 1 1/2 tsp. dried za'atar)
1 large apple, peeled and cut into 1 cm. slices
1 cup Emmenthal or Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. sweet cream
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the chicory and endives well and then cut them into convenient pieces for the salad.
In a jar combine the oil, cream, lemon juice, mustard and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper and shake very well.
In a salad bowl mix together the vegetables, apples and walnuts. Distribute the cheese over the top, pour over the sauce, toss well and serve. (Serves 4).
Some Hyssop Recipes for You to try...
[ATTENTION! Nervous people and children should only use small doses. If in doubt consult a herbalist or doctor.]
* * * * * * *
Pour 1 litre boiling water over 100g fresh hyssop and leave to infuse, covered, until the liquid is cold. Strain and add 1.6kg sugar and heat, but do not
boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. You can replace the sugar with honey if preferred. Leave to cool and bottle. Take 4-6 soup spoons (15ml) a day.
* * * * * * *
Hyssop Syrup II
Put 450g clear honey in a stainless steel pan and heat gently to boiling, skim, and add 50g fresh, or 25g dried hyssop, 1 tsp crushed aniseed, 1 piece
pulverised liquorice root and 25g piece grated fresh ginger root. Stir well, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Strain and jar. Seal when cold.
You can add this to herbal teas - yummy! Or take one teaspoonful 3-4 times a day for coughs and bronchitis. For cold mornings I put one teaspoon of
this syrup in a small glass and fill with hot water.
* * * * * * *
1 dessert spoon dried herb in 1/4 litre boiling water. Leave for 10 mins. Drink 2-3 cups a day. You can add sugar or honey to taste.
Take this tea as soon as the symptoms develop for colds and flu. Use also for indigestion and a 'nervous' stomach. Add with equal parts of White
Horehound and Coltsfoot for coughs and bronchitis. Take in equal parts with Boneset, Elder Flower and Peppermint for the common cold. Take neat
For black eyes soak a compress in hyssop water, it's cheaper than steak! It can also be used to calm insect stings.
* * * * * * *
3 oz hyssop tea sweeten to taste with sugar/honey and beat in an egg yolk. Take for colds and hoarseness.
* * * * * * *
Queen Elizabeth's Cordial Electuary of Hyssop
Bring to the boil 450g honey, skim off the scum and add a bundle of 'bruised' hyssop to the clarified honey. Let this boil until the honey tastes
strongly of Hyssop, then strain and add 1 tsp pulverised liquorice root, 1 tsp aniseed, 1/2 tsp pulverised elecampane root and 1/2 tsp angelica root, and
a small pinch of ground pepper and ginger.
Boil for 10 minutes, stirring well, then jar. Seal when cold. Use for stomach upsets and shortness of breath!
Hyssop Air Freshener
If you have a woodburner take a good handful of fresh hyssop, or 1 heaped tablespoon of dried hyssop and bring it to boil in a pan of water.
Pour into a heatproof container and leave to simmer gently on your woodburner. This keeps the air sweet and healthy. You can try mixing with
woodruff, meadowsweet and lady's bedstraw too.
The blue wild hyssop, with its dewy mouth,---
Cool, moist, and heavenly 'mid the pink-bloomed mint
Along the shallow creek, shrunk with the drouth,---
Seen suddenly thus, seems, swift, an instant's hint
Of some dim being---one, whom, still in vain,
I follow where their many delicate ears
The purple beard's-tongue and lobelia lean
Sidewise to silence, listening for the rain
Tiptoeing the trees through which she flees again---
The presence that my soul adores yet fears,
The Loveliness my eyes have never seen.
Cawein, Madison Julius, 1865-1914: [The blue wild hyssop, with its dewy mouth] [from Nature-notes and impressions (1906)]
Ground cover; Hedge; Pot-pourri; Repellent; Strewing.
Hyssop can be grown as a dwarf hedge, it responds well to trimming in the spring[14, 52, 182].
The growing plant attracts cabbage white butterflies away from brassicas[14, 18, 20]. Another report says that hyssop attracts cabbage white butterflies and should not be grown near cabbages.
An essential oil from the leaves is used in perfumery. It has a particularly fine odour and is much valued by perfumers. Average yields of the oil are about 0.6%. Yields from the blue-flowered variety are 1 - 1.5% essential oil, the red-flowered variety yields about 0.8%, whilst the white-flowered formyields 0.5% essential oil.
The plant was formerly used as a strewing herb[4, 200] and is also used in pot-pourri.
Plants can be grown for ground cover when spaced about 45cm apart each way.
Nor does the garden useful herbs deny,
Fenc'd round with thorns that point their spears on high;
There the thyme blows, from which brown bees distil
The sweets that all their waxen storehouse fill.
The parsley next extends its useful row,
And marjorum sweet is ever taught to grow;
Next balm, and sage, and hyssop, physic yield,
With cordial mint, the doctor of the field.
Blamire, Susanna, 1747-1794: STOKLEWATH;
OR, THE CUMBRIAN VILLAGE. [from The Poetical Works (1842)]