Hyssop, a name of Greek origin, is believed to have originated in southern Europe and adjoining regions of Asia.
It can be traced back almost unchanged to the Greek hyssopos. This in turn is drawn from the Greek or Hebrew azob or ezob meaning “holy herb”, because it was used for cleaning people and sacred places and came to be known as a symbol of cleansing and purification.
Hyssop’s association with biblical incidents is very close. The herb's properties as a disinfectant are mentioned. The Old Testament says , "purge me with HYSSOP and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Moses used this herb to protect his people against the plague; the allegorical “Angel of Death”. The Song of Solomon mentions the herb and praises the hyssop that "springeth out of the wall". And it is a contention that the sponge soaked in sour wine or vinegar and offered to Jesus when he was on the cross was was stuck on a branch of hyssop.
Hyssop is also associated with religions and civilsations other than Christianity. Tibetan priests also apparently offered hyssop to the Lord and, and Persians used the herb to brew a skincare lotion. This lotion was said to improve skin colour and texture. It is also used to remove bruises and scars and as a treatment for dental cavities, both by the Ancient Greeks and by the Indians. An infusion of hyssop is also used as a respiratory tonic.
Traditionally, hyssop is one of the historic strewing herbs', which would correlate with the old beliefs of its ability disinfect.
The most common uses of hyssop in traditional herbalism have been to relieve chest congestion and coughs, to soothe sore throats, and to act as a mild sedative.1 Some herbalists consider it stronger for relieving gas or intestinal cramping than for easing a cough.2 In addition to using hyssop for the above conditions, early 20th century Eclectic physicians (doctors who recommended herbs) in the United States used the herb topically to soothe burned
Hyssop leaves are the part of the plant most often used in cooking. The leaves impart a strong, overly fragrant bitter mint-like tase to the food to which they are added. Hyssop leaves are often used to flavour salads, stews and marinades.
The flavour of hyssop makes an excellent addition to dishes made with oily fish. Less strong fish are not a good mixture since their more delicate flavour is overpowered. Hyssop is also used in certain pork and charcuterie products. It is interesting to see that the traditional uses of the herb are with oily meats. Other suggested uses are in fruit salads and compotes. The flavour of hyssop goes well with cranberries. Since the flavour of hyssop is strong, the herb should at all times be used with discretion.
Recipes of liqueurs like Benedictine and Chartreusethat date to the Monastic brewing of liqueur in the Middle Ages also, rather predictably, include hyssop. The flowers can also be used to garnish dishes and in [[salads].
Hyssop is also available dried.
As mentioned earlier, hyssop is used as as part of respiratory tonics, as an anti-flatulent and perspiration inducing herb and as a destresser.
A concentrated tea or infusion prepared by steeping hyssop leaves and flowers makes for an excellent respiratory tonic that is efficacious in chest and respiratory congestion and in the accumulation of catarhh. The infusion also is an excellent digestive tonic and helps cure as disparate disorders as weak digestions and rheumatism.
It is also used in externally applications to reduce swelling and bruising. Their is a traditional English remedy for the quick healing of bruises and cuts which also apparently prevents the onset of tetanus. This involves an application of crushed hyssop leaves and sugar.
An essential oil extracted from hyssop leaves is said to increase mental alertness and acts as a nervous relaxant. It is useful as a remedy for nervous complaints like anxiety and depression.
Hyssop is a good "companion plant" to plants as varied as cabbage and grapevines. In the case of cabbage it protects the plant by drawing away the White Cabbage butterfly and thereby protecting the plant from its larvae. In the case of grapes, planting hyssop inbetween rows of grapevines is said to increase the yoeld of the vines. Radishes do not however, share the same beneficial relationship with hyssop.
Hyssop is extremely fragrant and aids teh pollination of other plants by attracting bees and butterflies the garden in which it grows.
Hyssop also lends its fragrance to eau de Cologne and may be added to potpourri.
The herb should not be used by pregnant and lactating women, children, and epileptics. High dosages may cause convulsions.
Hyssop can cause gastric complainst like nausea and diarrhoea, dizziness, tightness in the chest, and neurological imbalances.
For some information about the place of hyssop in Catholicism and its ancient use as a disinfectant visit:
- Hyssop, the Lost Herb of Passover
- Larousse Gastronomique
- The Book of Ingredients: Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
- Hyssop - Garden guide
- Hyssop, the holy herb