Purple Blooming Anise Hyssop

anise hyssop at the National Herb Garden in July

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is blooming now in the summer. A native, herbaceous perennial hardy to zone 4, this plant is short-lived but self-seeds and spreads a bit by rhizomes. In March, the leaves emerge with a purple hue. As the plant grows the leaves become green although there is a golden cultivar. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves have scalloped edges and look like catnip leaves. Anise hyssop grows a few feet tall and about one foot wide. In the summer, there are small purple-blue flowers on 4 to 6-inch terminal spikes, creating fuzzy wands. The flowers attract beneficial pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds. Because the foliage is so fragrant, deer are not interested.

Anise hyssop is a full sun to part shade plant tolerating a wide range of soils in a well-drained site. The purple-blue flowers provide contrast to orange and yellow flowers and complement purple foliage plants.

purple foliage of anise hyssop in March

Anise hyssop can also be used as a culinary or tea herb. It is harvested for its leaves as well as its flowers. Although the aroma is categorized as anise or licorice, some might say anise with a touch of basil or anise with a touch of tarragon. The most common use of the leaves is tea but you can also add the leaves to lamb or pork dishes, to milk for making ice cream, sugar syrups, and/or sugar syrups for cough drops, cocktails, honey, butter cookies, and sugar to make flavored sugar. The leaves dry well, retaining their taste and fragrance.

Flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish for desserts, added to a salad, or added to a beverage such as ice tea. The flowers also dry well, retaining their color and aroma.

You can find small plants in the nursery in the spring or you can grow anise hyssop from seed. Sow the seed indoors under lights in order to transplant outside after the last frost or sow directly outside in the summer. Anise hyssop can be propagated by root division.

Anise hyssop is a great garden plant — it provides color in the summer, supports pollinators, and can be used for making tea or to add flavor and color to meals.

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