Thursday, 25 January 2018


“Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” - verse 7 of Psalm 51: King JamesBible 

Hyssopus officinalis or hyssop is a herbaceous plant of the genus Hyssopus in the family Lamiaceae, native to Southern Europe, the Middle East, and the region surrounding the Caspian Sea. Due to its properties as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant, it is commonly used as a medicinal plant.

Hyssop is a brightly coloured shrub or subshrub that ranges from 30 to 60 cm in height. The stem is woody at the base, from which grow a number of straight branches. Its leaves are lanceolate, dark green in colour, and from 2 to 2.5 cm long. During the summer, the plant produces bunches of pink, blue, or, more rarely, white fragrant flowers. These give rise to small oblong achenes. The species as a whole is resistant to drought, and tolerant of chalky, sandy soils. It thrives in full sun and warm climates.

Hyssop has a long history of use in foods and herbal medicine. A strong tea made of the leaves and sweetened with honey is a traditional remedy for nose, throat, and lung afflictions and is sometimes applied externally to bruises. In the Middle Ages, hyssop was a strewing herb. Its modern uses are for flavouring meats, fish, vegetables, salads, sweets, and liqueurs. Honey made from hyssop pollen is considered especially fine. The leaves contain oil of hyssop, a volatile oil used by perfumers.

A plant called hyssop has been in use since classical antiquity. Its name is a direct adaptation from the Greek ὕσσωπος (hyssopos). The Hebrew word אזוב (ezov, esov, or esob) and the Greek word ὕσσωπος probably share a common (but unknown) origin. Ezov, the “hyssop” of the Bible, was historically used in ritual cleansing of lepers but researchers have suggested it is not Hyssopus officinalis, which is exotic to Palestine; it may have been a species of caper or a type of savoury.

Under optimal weather conditions, herb hyssop is harvested twice yearly, once at the end of Spring and once more at the beginning of Autumn. The plants are preferably harvested when flowering in order to collect the flowering tips. Once the stalks are cut, they are collected and dried either stacked on pallets to allow for draining or hung to dry. The actual drying process takes place in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, where the materials are mixed several times to ensure even drying. Drying herbs are kept from exposure to the sun to prevent discolouration and oxidation. The drying process takes approximately six days in its entirety. Once dried, the leaves are removed and both components, leaves and flowers, are chopped finely. The final dried product weighs a third of the initial fresh weight and can be stored for up to 18 months.

The essential oil includes the chemicals thujone and phenol, which give it antiseptic properties. Its high concentrations of thujone and chemicals that stimulate the central nervous system, including pinocamphone and cineole, can provoke epileptic reactions. The oil of hyssop can cause seizures and even low doses (2–3 drops) can cause convulsions in children. Self-dosing is not recommended for children, pregnant women or even for adults, and prescription of hyssop oil medicinally is best left to professionals.

The fresh herb is commonly used in cooking in some regional cuisines. Herb hyssop leaves are used as an aromatic condiment. The leaves have a lightly bitter taste due to its tannins, and they possess an intense mint-like aroma. Due to its intensity, it is used moderately in cooking. Za’atar is a famous Middle Eastern herbal mix, which has dried hyssop leaves as one of the main ingredients (sumac being the other main ingredient). Essence of hyssop can be obtained by steaming, and is used in cooking to a lesser extent. 

Ingredients (all herbs dried)
1/2 cup sumac
3 tablespoons hyssop
2 tablespoons thyme
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
2 teaspoons coarse salt 

Grind the sesame seeds in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Store the za’atar in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. When stored properly, za’atar can last from 3-6 months.

Hyssop is commonly used by beekeepers to produce a rich and aromatic honey. The herb is also used to flavour liqueur, and is part of the official formulation of Chartreuse and of Absinthe.

In folklore, dried hyssop has been hung in homes to provide protection from the evil eye, and from witches. It has also been planted frequently on graves as protection for the dead from the living. It has been considered an aphrodisiac when combined with ginger, thyme, and pepper. In the language of flowers, the sprigs of the herb without flowers mean: “I shall sacrifice myself in order to protect you”, while flowering sprigs mean: You cleanse and purify my soul”.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme.

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