The plant called the hyssop is a perennial shrub like herb and belongs to the plant family Lamiaceae - the mint family of plants. The hyssop is characterized by possessing slender and stiff stems, it grows to about a yard in height when mature. The hyssop bears opposite leaves on the stems; these are narrow and pointed in shape. The hyssop bears blue to purplish blue colored flowers and these bloom from the month of July in the summer through October in the fall. The flowers are borne as small-one sided clusters that are set along the upper portion on the stems of the herb. On the North American continent, the hyssop has an extensive range and can be found from the Canadian province of Quebec all the to the "big sky country" of the state of Montana in the US, and even up to the Carolinas, far to the south.
The hyssop is rich in its content of highly aromatic and volatile oils that can be found in the leaves, the stems, and the flowers - this is similar to the presence of such aromatic oils in all other plants belonging to the mint family. Bees are attracted to the rather strong fragrance of the plant; the nectar is utilized by bees to manufacture a very sweet smelling type of honey. The herbal extract and aromatic essence of hyssop is also utilized by industry in the manufacture of quite a number of colognes and liqueurs. The ancient Romans loved the taste of the hyssop herb and made it into a herbal wine, the smell of the hyssop is however, considered too pungent for most modern palates and it is rarely used in this way in the contemporary world. The herb was also used by monks during medieval times, they spiced soups and sauces with this herb and may have preferred it to other culinary herbs.
The traditional use of the hyssop has primarily been as an herbal remedy for respiratory disorders of all kinds. Hyssop remedies were suggested by ancient Greek physicians like Hippocrates and Galen as a remedy for treating disorders such as bronchitis and other related inflammation complaints affecting the chest and the throat area in general. The herb came into its own in the 16th and 17th centuries, when most herbalists would prescribe an herbal preparation of hyssop for the treatment of severe coughs and other acute respiratory distress disorders. The hyssop based remedy has been used in this way by most modern herbalists as well. The hyssop remedy was found to have other uses in time; inflammations affecting the ear are treated by exposing the affected tissue to the vapors from a heated hyssop infusion. Topical problems like cuts and bruises are treated using a poultice made from crushed hyssop leaves. The pain of rheumatism is also alleviated using the hyssop leaf infusion as an external rub on the skin.
The hyssop is found wild in many places in the United States and has been naturalized in the American continent. The hyssop is a common sight on roadsides and along highway and it is also grown as a garden plant. The hyssop is rich in volatile oils, in common with the other members of the plant family Lamiaceae - all the other mints and related species. The leaves and flowers of the hyssop plant contain significant amounts of the volatile oil; this endows the parts of the plant with a distinct "camphor like" aroma and also imparts a specific bitter taste to the plant. A lot of French liqueurs use the volatile oil as an ingredient, in particular liqueurs that resemble the Chartreuse and Benedictine. The primary reason for the use of the hyssop as a household medicinal plant is the presence of the volatile and aromatic oils in the plant. The household uses of the hyssop include the principal use as an herbal tea, and to help complaints like chronic coughs, persistent colds, and hoarseness in the voice, to quell fevers, and to soothe sore throats - especially if they are persistent. The herbal hyssop tea, when combined with some honey is said to be a potent expectorant agent - something that loosens and expels accumulated phlegm - helping patients deal with nasal congestion and removing accumulated mucus in the respiratory passages.
Clinical studies have validated some of the traditional healing powers associated with the hyssop. The hyssop contains compounds such as pinocamphone and isopinocamphone, as well as camphene, it also has alpha- and beta-pinene, and alpha-terpinene - these compounds are altogether about seventy percent of the aromatic oil in the plant. It has been found in research that the hyssop has some beneficial effect and can treat mild irritations in the respiratory tract associated with the common cold due to the presence of these compounds. The hyssop has also been regarded as being safe in the scientific community - it is not usually associated with side effects. The scientific literature also does not connect hyssop use with long term problems and the herb is marked by the general absence of adverse reports on its use. On the other hand, a preliminary anti-HIV activity observed on the use of hyssop fractions in recent tests, have been given out in two new clinical reports. In recent clinical studies, a research group in California has identified a polysaccharide that can inhibit the replication rate of the SF strain of HIV-1 in laboratory experiments. The tests were designed to measure HIV-1 cell replication and the rate of inhibition was related to the actual concentration of the polysaccharide.
The traditional herbalist claims the ability of the hyssop to treat wounds or cuts on the skin, even healing injuries made with rusty farm implements has not been substantiated in clinical studies. The claims made by herbalists that the healing power of hyssop comes due to the growth of the penicillin producing mold on hyssop leaves is simply untenable and incorrect. The molds of the Penicillium species are a very common fungi species and turn up any place that has sufficient moisture, nutrients and a suitable temperature regime - the mold can grow on other herbs as well. For this reason, it is very unlikely that the small growths of this mold on the leaves of the hyssop plant will produce sufficient antibiotic substances to endow the host plant with an anti-biotic property. The presence of the volatile oil in the leaves is likely to be responsible for all the anti-septic properties associated with the hyssop leaves. The anti-septic prowess of the volatile oils in the leaves is not significant and the effect will be relatively weak when compared to true anti-septic compounds. The anti-septic action will certainly not be sufficient to treat large puncture wounds on the skin that are vulnerable to tetanus infection - which causes lockjaw.
Flowering tops, essential oil, aerial parts.
In the contemporary herbal scene, the hyssop is an undervalued medicinal herb, though both the calming and tonic effects induced by the herb are potentially useful in dealing with a large variety of disorders and problems. Many different respiratory infections such as bronchitis and related conditions can be positively treated using the hyssop as the remedy. In particular, all disorders that are accompanied by the production of excessive mucus in the respiratory passages are good candidates for treatment with hyssop. One of the primary actions of the hyssop in the human body appears to be its capacity to encourage the production of greater amounts of liquid mucus - which is easier to expel. The herb also seemingly stimulates an expectorant action in the body at the same time. The combination of these two actions in the body leads to the rapid clearing of thick and congested phlegm that has accumulated in the respiratory passageways. The mucous membranes can also be irritated by the hyssop, for this reason, the herbal remedy is best given to the patient after the infection has peaked and is beginning to come under control. At this juncture, the beneficial tonic action of the hyssop will encourages a general and rapid recovery without complicating matters. The hyssop is also used as a sedative herb, it is particularly useful as an herbal remedy against incidences of asthma in both children and adults - particularly, when such a condition is exacerbated by accumulated mucus in the respiratory passages. Similar to other herbs that contain a strong volatile oil, the hyssop helps in soothing the irritated digestive tract. For this reason, it is considered to be an effective herbal remedy for digestive problems of all kinds and extensively used in the treatment of chronic indigestion, excess abdominal gas, abdominal bloating, as well as colic related problems.
Though not as popular as a culinary herb in the contemporary world, the hyssop was used as a coking herb by the Romans and Greeks. The flowers and the leaves of the hyssop can be used to season all kinds of vegetable dishes, different kinds of soups, all sorts of casseroles and sauces, as well as pickles and preserve. The hyssop leaves can also be used as a stuffing for meats and poultry. The additional of some hyssop leaves can give various green salads, such as fruit salad a minty and refreshing flavor and taste. When used in cooking and in salads, the hyssop is best used sparingly, due to the fact that the flavor of the herb is quite potent.
Fresh plucked or even dried hyssop flowers can be added to floral arrangements and floral bouquets. The dried and fragrant smelling hyssop leaves and flowers are a popular inclusion in potpourris and sweet smelling floral sachets or packs.
Habitat and cultivation
The hyssop is a native species of the southern European regions, though it grows elsewhere in North America as well. The Mediterranean countries are ideal as a habitat for the plant, and the hyssop grows well particularly in the Balkans and in Turkey. The ideal habitat for growth of hyssop is sites that are composed of dry, rocky and limestone rich soils. At the same time, the hyssop successfully grows on any type of light soil as long as the soil is well drained. While capable of growing on nutrient poor soils and even though not sensitive to any particular soil condition, the older hyssop plants may benefit from nitrogen rich fertilizer mixed into the soil early in the growing season. The pH range for the hyssop extends form an acidic 5.0 to a slightly alkaline 7.5. The hyssop can be said to prefer acidic soils.
Optimal growth of hyssop plants is obtained at sties with good exposure to sunlight, this is not a necessary condition and hyssop plants can also successfully grow at sites with a partial shade and in woodland type of habitat.
When the hyssop is being sown out in the fields, the seeds must not be buried to depths of more than one centimeter - ideally the depth should be half an inch. Germinations rates for the hyssop plant are usually good and the first seedlings will usually break the surface within two to three weeks time from the date on which they were sown. All the seeds sown in an area may not germinate out and some of the seeds may remain in a dormant state for months on end before finally emerging from the ground.
Hyssop contains terpenes (including marubiin, a diterpene), a volatile oil (consisting mainly of camphor, pinocamphone, and beta-pinene), flavonoids, hyssopin, tannins, and resin. Marubiin is a strong expectorant. Pinocarriphone is toxic, and the volatile oil can cause epileptic seizures.
Herbal infusion: this can be prepared by steeping one to two teaspoonfuls of the dried hyssop in a cup of boiling water. Let the herb infuse into the water for ten to fifteen minutes before straining and cooling it down. A cup of this infusion can be drunk thrice daily to treat respiratory problems.
Side effects and cautions
One of the less well known effects of the hyssop is its capacity to stimulate menstruation in women and this may induce a miscarriage to occur in some pregnant women. This side effect is apparent when the herb is consumed in large medicinal doses and will not affect every pregnant woman in the same way. Hyssop consumptions should be altogether avoided or consumed in only small amounts by women who are pregnant or those who are already suffering from some types of menstrual problems.
Collection and harvesting
The leaves of the hyssop plants must be harvested before the plant goes into a full floral bloom. The ideal time to harvest and collect the flowers is in the early morning hours immediately after the evaporation of the night dew.