Anise, Hyssop and Anise Hyssop

June 16, 2012 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Well, this could get confusing. Anise, hyssop, and anise hyssop are three unrelated perennial plants, all having value in the garden, kitchen, or medicine chest. The overlap in common plant names is a lesson in the importance of using Latin names when you are looking for a specific plant.
Anise – Pimpinella anisum – is what gives the licorice flavor to black jelly beans. Anise, plants have lacy, white umbel flowers similar to Queen Anne’s lace in mid-summer. Lower leaves are coarsely toothed ovals, while upper leaves are ferny. They can be grown from seed, although it may take up to four weeks to germinate. Experts recommend planting seeds close together, as the stems are spindly and with close proximity, they can support each other. Anise works as a filler in a closely planted perennial bed. It needs a spot in full sun, out of the wind. Seeds germinate best in cool ground, and need at least four months to grow to maturity.
All parts of the anise plant are edible, including the leaves and roots, but it is mostly grown for its seeds. When the seedheads turn a green-gray color and stems are yellow, cut the seedheads and spread them on newspaper to dry. Aniseseed is used to flavor breads, cakes and cookies, or chewed as a sweet treat.
Hyssop – Hyssopus officinalis – is an easy-to-grow plant with tall, spiky purple, pink or white flowers reaching up to three feet high. Older plants form neat, rounded bushes, while younger plants are a little looser in form.
Hyssop seed is planted ¼ to ½ inch deep in early spring. Seeds will germinate in about a week. Full sun is best, but it will do fine in light shade. Expect flowers the first year. Prune the old plant back hard in the spring to encourage new growth. Pinching off stem tips will promote bushier plants, but only do that once, early in the season, or you’ll end up with no flowers. Established plants are easily divided and transplanted.
Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum – is a native wildflower with tiny lavender-blue tightly whorled flowers on six-inch spikes. This upright plant finds its place in the back of the flower bed as it reaches 2-4 feet tall. Count on bloom for at least six weeks in late summer. The flowers and leaves taste and smell of anise and retain their color and fragrance when dried.
Anise hyssop thrives in full sun with well-drained soil. In spring, sow seed indoors or out, or sow outdoors in fall to germinate first thing next spring. Established anise hyssop re-seeds freely, giving you plenty of volunteer plants to share with friends or transplant to other places in your yard.
For a delicious tea, use 1 t. dried leaves or 1 T. fresh leaves per cup of boiling water. Flower bud tips can be added to vegetable or fruit salads. Chopped leaves season pork, lamb, chicken or rice dishes. They can also be baked into breads or cookies or blended into ice cream.

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