In Biblical times hyssop was regarded as the herbal symbol of purification from sin and was used in the cleansing of holy places, though the hyssop that is mentioned in the Scriptures is nowadays thought to have been a species of marjoram.
Hyssop, hyssopus ofuicinalis, is a low growing aromatic bushy shrub, cultivated in the garden as an attractive perennial border plant. It’s small narrow leaves grow in great profusion on smooth stems and clusters of little blue, pink or white flowers appear on the terminal spikes. The flowers bloom from June to October and provide a long lasting patch of colours in the garden. Hyssop has a refreshing scent rather like camphor when the leaves are bruised and a slightly bitter taste of mint.
Hyssop is rarely used in cooking nowadays because of its taste, but when used sparingly it can enhance a meat stew or a rich oily fish dish. It mingles well with apricots and a little chopped young leaf sprinkled over an apricot tart will bring out the flavour of the fruit, especially if dried apricots are being used. It is one of the herbs used in making the liqueur Chartreuse.
Hyssop can be propagated by seed or by basal cuttings from an established plant in spring. Sow the seed in April in boxes or pots. When the seedlings are large enough set them out a handspan apart in their flowering position. Hyssop flowers well in sun or semi-shade in a well-drained sandy soil with added lime. New plants will need watering until established, after which they require little attention.
The young leaves and flowering tops are the parts of the herb used; they can be picked at any time during the flowering period. Pick only the flowering tips for drying and gather them when the flowers are at their best. Dry and store in the usual way.
Hyssop is a useful remedy for complaints of the throat and lungs. It is good for coughs, colds and bronchitis and helps to ease congestion and tightness of the chest. Hyssop is taken either as an infusion or in the form of a syrup. The infusion will be found to be very effective in the treatment of influenza and feverish colds where it increases perspiration, so helping to bring down the fever.
* To make a hyssop infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water on to a small handful of fresh flowering tips or half the amount of the dried herb. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining; add honey to sweeten. The infusion can be taken hot 2—3 times a day until the symptoms subside. A fresh infusion should be made each day and the treatment should not be continued for longer than necessary, and never longer than 2 weeks.
* To make hyssop syrup: Heat I cup of water and 2 cups of sugar together in an enamel pan until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil hard for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add a small handful of hyssop; leave until cold. Strain into a stoppered jar and store in the refrigerator. Take a teaspoonful when the cough is troublesome.
A decoction of hyssop is mainly for external use but it can be used as a gargle to treat a sore throat and chronic catarrh.
* To make a decoction: Put 1 teaspoon of the herb into 1 cup of water in an enamel pan, bring slowly to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for a further 5 minutes.
The decoction is said to relieve mild burns and bruises and skin irritation. Dip cotton wool pads or balls in the lotion and bathe the affected area until relieved.
The decoction can also help to relieve sprains, strains and painful muscles when used in the form of a fomentation. Wring out a piece of lint or towelling in the decoction and while as hot as comfortable place over the affected area.
A poultice is even more effective.
* To make a poultice: Mash fresh hyssop tips to a pulp, spread on to muslin or cheesecloth and heat between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. Again, it should be used as hot as possible on the painful spot.
Hyssop is believed to bring quick relief to the pain and bruising of a black eye.
* To make an eye pad: Fill a small muslin or cheesecloth bag full of fresh hyssop and plunge it into boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Wring out the excess water and place the bag over the eye.
A hyssop bath is said to help those suffering from rheumatic pains.
* To make a hyssop bath sachet: Put 2-3 handfuls of the herb in a muslin or cheesecloth bag and tie to the bath tap so that the hot water pours through the herb. Alternatively, plunge the herb bag into plenty of boiling water for 5- 10 minutes and when sufficiently strong pour the decoction into the bath.
Hyssop is used in the industrial manufacture of toilet waters. In the home hyssop toilet vinegar is refreshing and astringent when a little is added to the washing water. The hyssop can be combined with equal amounts of other herb flowers such as elderflowers and rose petals or used on its own.
* To make hyssop toilet vinegar: Pack a wide-necked screwtop jar with fresh hyssop flowering tops. Bring sufficient white wine vinegar or cider vinegar to the boil in an enamel pan. Pour the vinegar over the herb, filling nearly to the top, and screw on the cap. Leave the vinegar for 2 weeks in a warm place or on a sunny windowsill. Every day give the jar a shake to keep the herb and vinegar well mixed. Finally strain off the vinegar into a stoppered bottle.
Hyssop leaves and flowers, when carefully dried, add colour and aroma to a potpourri bowl. To make your own mixture, gather together 6 cups dried rose petals, 2 cups dried rosebuds, 2 cups dried hyssop flowers and 2 cups dried basil or scented geranium leaves, 4 tablespoons ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground cloves, and 1/2 cup orris root powder.
Place in a large jar, cover and keep in a warm dark place for 4-6 weeks.