One of my favorite plants in the herb garden at Rutgers Gardens is anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). When the other herbs have finished their spring blooming season, the anise hyssop bursts into bloom for the summer.
Anise hyssop is a member of the mint family. It is related to hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) but is not the same plant. A native of North America, it grows wild on prairies, dry forests, and plains. As its name implies, it has a light scent of anise or licorice. The Native Americans used it as a tea, for magic and as a protective charm.
It is a drought tolerant perennial that is hardy in zones 4 through 9. It prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade. Grow it in a xeriscape or in well-drained soil. The plants grow 2’ to 4’ tall with leaves that resemble catnip, also a member of the mint family. The flowers are tiny and lavender, packed into spikes. They are beloved by bees making this an excellent pollinator plant for your vegetable garden. Bees sipping the nectar of anise hyssop produce a very fragrant honey. The flowers are also attractive to butterflies making this a wonderful addition to your butterfly garden. Bloom time is June through September. You can deadhead the flowers to encourage more blossoms.
Growing anise hyssop from seed is very easy. You can direct sow your seeds in the garden in the fall where they will remain dormant until spring or you can start your seeds indoors at least a month before your last frost date. Press the seeds firmly into the soil and barely cover. They will germinate in about ten days. Keep your seedlings moist, but not soaking wet and set them out in your garden after your last frost.
You can also propagate anise hyssop by division taking advantage of the fact that it spreads by runners. Merely dig up the plants that are outside of or close to the clump. It’s best to choose young plants that have not had a chance to develop the long tap root that allows anise hyssop to survive in dry conditions.
Tea drinkers love anise hyssop for its leaves which they use both fresh and dry. Crafters love the flowers which retain their color after drying. To dry anise hyssop, flowers or leaves, cut the stems about 6 inches from the base of the plant and hang upside down in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. After the plants have dried, store the dried leaves and flowers in tightly sealed glass jars.