A reader recently pointed out that although my blog is named “Herbal Blessings Blog,” I rarely write about herbs! I do love herbs, but after focusing on them for forty years, I find my mind wanting to delve into other areas. Rest assured, I will write about them frequently, and do intend to include my favorite herbs in my new potager. In fact today I seeded one of my very favorite herbs, whose identity may surprise you. This is hyssop, and I’m growing both the “True” or common hyssop, and a tidy, dwarf variety called “Sprite.”
My love affair with herbs actually began with tea herbs. I’ve never been very fond of coffee, and once I discovered the large number of herbs that could be used for teas, I was hooked. Adelma Simmon’s wonderful book “Herb Gardens of Delight,” was my first herb book and her entire chapter on herbs for teas was spellbinding. Since then I’ve grown and sipped dozens and dozens of herbs as single-herb teas and blends. It takes gallons of dried herbs to get me through the year tea-wise. During the growing season, there is always a jar of herbal sun-tea or moon-tea brewing on the deck railing. This time of year, I rely on my rows of jars of dried herbs to get me through the winter. Fear not! Herbs will be abundant in the potager.
An essential herb for my tea cupboard is hyssop, which many consider a good substitute (and caffeine-free) for black tea. I began drinking it after I read that medieval monks prescribed it for “singing in the ears,” known today as tinnitus. My ringing comes from youthful years of using a gas-powered weedeater without any ear protection and probably partially from being part of screaming crowds at basketball games. Hyssop Tea bags are available in specialty stores, but at over $6.00 a box, it is more than worthwhile to give it space in my garden. I like hyssop by itself, or blended with other herbs such as rosemary, mints, ginger, fennel, marjoram, thyme, sage, anise hyssop, or scented geraniums for extra flavors.
Hyssop (Hyssop officinialis) is a lovely plant with very dark green, narrow leaves similar in size and shape to rosemary. It is an easy-to-grow perennial when planted in full sun with well-drained soils. It is easy to grow from seed or cuttings. In summer, dark blue flowers attract hoards of bees and butterflies. Because the leaves are small, it takes a lot of plants to produce the quantity of tea required to last through the winter. I plan an entire border of hyssop along the north-west inside border, and I’m adding some plants into the flower borders as well. Because hyssop can be trimmed into tidy shrubs or hedges, I’ll also make some darling little standard hyssop topiaries. Overall these planting styles, it should be lovely as well as provide lots of clippings to be dried for teas. Simply spread trimmings on screens to dry (out of direct sunlight and free of dust and pets) and then strip the crisp leaves from the woody stems. Store the dried leaves in air-tight tins or in glass jars with lids in a cool, dark place.
In ancient times, hyssop was used in cooking, often combined with parsley, sage, savory, thyme and marjoram, all wrapped with a piece of bacon as a bouquet garni of sorts in soups or stews. Hyssop was an important strewing herb, helping to repel insects. It was essential in soaps as a remedy for head lice, in poultices for bruises and black eyes, in steam for asthma, and in lotions for rheumatism. Farmers felt hyssop was helpful for treating many livestock woes, such as worms, coughs, throat and digestive problems, and eye disorders so they often planted it along fence rows where animals could nibble it to treat themselves.
For the second most-consumed tea herb in my garden, you’ll have to read about it in my January E-Newsletter. Just go to the website http://www.caroleesherbfarm.com and click on the newsletter, then scroll down where you’ll find the article and recipe for one of my very favorite teas.