Skip to main content
Select Source:

Hyssop

Hyssop

Description

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ) is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. This aromatic evergreen, classified by botanists as a sub-shrub, should not be confused with several distinct species of plants also called hyssop, including giant hyssop, hedge hyssop, prairie hyssop, or wild hyssop. Hyssop is native to southern Europe and Asia. The London surgeon and apothecary John Gerard, author of the Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, brought hyssop to England in 1597. The attractive herb soon became a component in many ornamental knot gardens. The sun-loving hyssop has naturalized throughout North America, and grows wild in chalky soil and on dry and rocky slopes in the Mediterranean.

Hyssop has a short and fibrous rhizome. The stalk emerges from a woody base and divides into numerous erect, square, and branching stems that may reach a height of 2 ft (61 cm). The small leaves are opposite, without stems, and lance-shaped, with fine hairs and smooth margins. They have a somewhat bitter taste. Flowers have a tubular, two-lipped corolla, and four stamens. They bloom in successive whorls in the leaf axils at the top of the stems, only growing along one side. The blooms may be in shades of rose, purple, mauve, blue, and sometimes white, depending on the variety. Hyssop comes into flower from June through October, and the blossoms are well loved by bees. The perennial hyssop is a sweet and warming aromatic with a camphor-like scent. This garden favorite is especially useful in companion planting. Hyssop attracts the white butterfly, a pest to cabbage and broccoli, thus sparing the food crops from the infestation. The herb also has been used to increase the yield of grapevines and the flavor of the fruit when it is planted nearby.

The Hebrew people called this herb azob, meaning "holy herb." Hyssop was used in ancient times as a cleansing herb for temples and other sacred places. It was also used to repel insects. The Romans used hyssop to bring protection from the plague and prepared an herbal wine containing hyssop. In ancient Greece, the physicians Galen and Hippocrates valued hyssop for inflammations of the throat and chest, pleurisy, and other bronchial complaints. In the early seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, hyssop tea and tincture were used to treat jaundice and dropsy.

General use

The flowers and leaves of hyssop are considered medicinally valuable by some herbalists; however, the German Commission E has not approved hyssop for any medicinal purposes. The herb has some antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It is especially useful in helping the immune system to combat respiratory infections and colds. Hyssop taken in a warm infusion acts as an expectorant and will help to expel phlegm and break up congestion in the lungs. It is frequently recommended for the treatment of congested sinuses and catarrh. It is also a beneficial herb for treatment of the cold sore virus, Herpes simplex. An infusion has also been used to relieve the distress of asthma . Hyssop is a diaphoretic which means that it acts to promote perspiration. It will help to reduce fever and eliminate toxins through the skin. Hyssop also acts as a carminative and digestive aid, relieving flatulence and relaxing the digestive system. This versatile herb is also a nervine, which means that it calms anxiety. It is useful in children's digestive and respiratory herbal formulas, as well.

Used externally as a skin wash, a decoction of the flowering tops can help the healing of burns and relieve skin inflammations. The fresh crushed leaves promote healing of bruises, and relieve the discomfort of insect bites and stings. When applied as a hair rinse, hyssop may help eliminate head lice. Hyssop preparations have also been used to relieve muscular pain and rheumatism when taken as a tea or a bath additive. The hot vapors of a steaming decoction of hyssop may bring relief of earache and inflammation.

A research study published in 2002 confirmed the results of studies done in the early 1990s, which found that hyssop leaf extract demonstrates strong anti-HIV activity. The specific compounds responsible for this antiviral action, however, were not identified in these studies. Moreover, none of these studies tested the efficacy of hyssop in human subjects. The volatile oil of hyssop contains camphene, pinenes, terpinene, the glycoside hyssopin, flavonoids (including diosmin and hesperidin), tannins, acids, resin, gum, and the bitter substance known as marrubiin. Marrubiin is also found in white horehound (Marrubium vulgare ).

More recently, researchers have discovered that essential oil of hyssop is an effective muscle relaxant. The component that has been identified as most likely responsible for this effect is isopinocamphone.

Preparations

One should harvest hyssop when the herb reaches a height of about 1.5 ft (46 cm). Frequent cuttings from the tops of mature plants will keep the foliage tender for use in salads, soups, or teas. Used sparingly in culinary preparations, hyssop's tender shoots are a digestive aid, especially with greasy meats. When harvesting the herb for medicinal uses, one should use the flowering tops. Gather the herb on a sunny August day after the dew has dried. Hang the branches to dry in a warm, airy room out of direct sunlight. Remove leaves and flowers from the stems and store in clearly labeled, tightly sealed, dark-glass containers.

Infusion: Place 3 tbsp dried, or twice as much fresh, hyssop leaf and blossom in a warm glass container. Bring 2.5 cups of fresh, nonchlorinated water to the boiling point, and add it to the herbs. Cover and infuse the tea for 1015 minutes. Strain and drink warm. The prepared tea will store for about two days if kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Hyssop tea may be enjoyed by the cupful up to three times a day. Hyssop may be combined with white horehound for additional expectorant action to relieve coughs. For sore throats, a warm infusion of hyssop combined with sage (Salvia officinalis ) is a home remedy recommended by some herbalists.

Tincture: Combine four ounces of finely-cut fresh or powdered dry herb with one pint of brandy, gin, or vodka, in a glass container. The alcohol should be sufficient to cover the plant parts. Place the mixture away from light for about two weeks, shaking several times each day. Strain and store in a tightly-capped, dark glass bottle. A standard dose is 12 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Essential oil: The commercially available essential oil of hyssop is obtained by steam distillation of the flowering tops. The oil is highly aromatic and is used in perfumes, aromatherapy , and to flavor liqueurs, especially Chartreuse and Benedictine. The oil has a warm and pungent aroma with a slight camphor-like smell. It may be used in dilute form as an external nonirritating application on bruises , cuts, eczema, and dermatitis , as a chest rub for bronchitis and the congestion of colds, and as an additive to bath water to relieve nervous exhaustion and melancholy.

Precautions

Only moderate amounts of hyssop essential oil should be used. Do not use the herb continuously in any form for long periods of time. Pregnant women, children, and persons with epilepsy should avoid any use of this potent essential oil. High doses (1030 drops for adults) may cause convulsions due to the ketone known as pinocamphone. Pregnant or lactating women should not use any form of hyssop.

Side effects

Hyssop can cause nausea , upset stomach, and diarrhea in susceptible persons. Symptoms of overdose include dizziness , tightness in the chest, and disturbances of the central nervous system.

Interactions

No interactions between hyssop and standard pharmaceuticals have been reported as of early 2003.

Resources

BOOKS

Lawless, Julia. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy. Rockport, MA: Element Books Inc., 1997.

McIntyre, Anne. The Medicinal Garden. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997.

PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 1998.

Prevention's 200 Herbal Remedies. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1997.

Tyler, Varro E. The Honest Herbal. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1993.

PERIODICALS

Bedoya, L. M., S. S. Palomino, M. J. Abad, et al. "Screening of Selected Plant Extracts for In Vitro Inhibitory Activity on Human Immunodeficiency Virus." Phytotherapy Research 16 (September 2002): 550-554.

Lu, M., L. Battinelli, C. Daniele, et al. "Muscle Relaxing Activity of Hyssopus officinalis Essential Oil on Isolated Intestinal Preparations." Planta Medica 68 (March 2002): 213-216.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Herbalists Guild. 1931 Gaddis Road, Canton, GA 30115. (770) 751-6021. <www.americanherbalistsguild.com>.

Herb Research Foundation. 1007 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO 80302. (303) 449-2265.

OTHER

Hoffmann, David L. "Hyssop." Herbal Materia Medica. http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/book.asp?PageType=BookID=603.

Clare Hanrahan

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hyssop." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hyssop." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hyssop

"Hyssop." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hyssop

hyssop

hyssop (hĬs´əp), aromatic, perennial, somewhat woody herb (Hyssopus officinalis) of the family Labiatae (mint family), native to the Old World but partially naturalized in North America. The plant has small, violet-blue or sometimes pink or white flowers. Although now grown chiefly for ornament, it has been used to flavor soups and salads, as a tea for chest ailments, and as a poultice for bruises; oil of hyssop has been added to liqueurs and cologne. The hyssop of the Scriptures (1 Kings 4.33; Ps. 51.7; John 19.29) may have been a similar plant or the name may have referred to different plants. Hyssop is used as a symbol of humility in religious painting. North American plants of the related genus Agastache are called giant hyssop and were used medicinally and as flavoring by the Native Americans. Hyssop is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Lamiales, family Labiatae.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hyssop." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hyssop." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hyssop

"hyssop." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hyssop

hyssop

hys·sop / ˈhisəp/ • n. 1. a small bushy aromatic plant (Hyssopus officinalis) of the mint family, the bitter minty leaves of which are used in cooking and herbal medicine. 2. (in biblical use) a wild shrub of uncertain identity whose twigs were used for sprinkling in ancient Jewish rites of purification.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hyssop." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hyssop." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop-0

"hyssop." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop-0

hyssop

hyssop bushy aromatic shrub; bunch of this used in ceremonial purification. OE. (h)ysope, reinforced in ME. by OF. ysope, isope, later assim. to the source, L. hyssōpus, -um — Gr. hússōpos, -on, of Sem. orig.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hyssop." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hyssop." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop-1

"hyssop." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop-1

hyssop

hyssop in biblical use, a wild shrub of uncertain identity whose twigs were used for sprinkling in ancient Jewish rites of purification.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hyssop." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hyssop." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop

"hyssop." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop

hyssop

hyssop Pungent aromatic herb, Hyssopus officinialis, used in salads, soups, and in making liqueurs.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hyssop." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hyssop." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop

"hyssop." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop

hyssop

hyssop See HYSSOPUS.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hyssop." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hyssop." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop

"hyssop." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hyssop