Photo © Steven Foster
Hyssop is a bushy evergreen shrub1 that can grow to a height of 2 feet.2 Hyssop flowers are produced in clustered, elongated spikes, appearing in the late summer or early fall and range in color from deep blue to pink or white, with the deep blue variety predominating.1,3 Hyssop, a native to Southern Europe, the Mediterranean region, and temperate Asia, has naturalized along roadsides in Canada and the United States.4,5 An essential oil is extracted from the flowering tops and leaves through steam distillation.5,6
History and Cultural Significance
Hyssop has an ancient origin, being mentioned many times in the Bible as a purifying agent and thought of by many as an ancient medicinal cure all.4,6 However there is some debate about whether the hyssop mentioned in the Bible is actually Hyssopus officinalis or rather marjoram, oregano, or the caper plant.1,4 Dioscorides, the ancient Greek healer, recommended a combination product that included hyssop for a variety of physiological problems ranging from coughs to pleurisy, an extremely painful inflammation of the lining of the lungs.6
Traditional uses of hyssop also included the treatment of respiratory congestion, asthma, sore throat, and colds. It was used as a treatment for urinary tract inflammations and to stimulate digestion.1,4 Other ancient healers believed that hyssop was an effective insect repellant and insecticide.4 Externally, hyssop infusions and green leaves have been used traditionally to treat muscle pain and skin bruising as well as to aid in the healing of minor cuts.1
Currently, hyssop is used as a culinary herb and is considered to have a bitter, sage-like flavor.2 Hyssop extracts and oils have been used in various liqueurs, most notably Chartreuse, as well as in pickles, meat sauces, candy, baked goods, gelatin, and pudding.5 Hyssop is currently used to soothe sore throat and reducechest congestion.4,6 Hyssop is used in infusions or teas for its sedative properties, as well as for the treatment of indigestion, gas, and bloating.1,6 Externally, hyssop oil has been added to baths for the treatment of minor skin abrasions and to promote relaxation, and is also utilized as a fragrance component in soaps, creams, lotions, and perfumes.2,5
Currently no clinical studies are available on the internal or external use of hyssop.
The major hyssop producing countries are France, Hungary, and Holland.4,5 There is little current information on the market statistics or sustainability of H. officinalis. In 1993 the worldwide production of hyssop oil was 1800 tons valued at $32,000.7 At that time, hyssop was considered to be in short supply and there was a limited market for it.7
1 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Volume 1. New York, NY: Dover Publications Inc.; 1971.
2 Bown D. New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
3 Brueneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing Inc; 1999.
4 DerMarderosian A and Beutler JA, eds. The Review of Natural Products. 3rd ed.
5 Leung AY and Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc; 1996.
6 Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.;1996.
7 Janick J, Simon JE. New Crops. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.; 1993.