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Hyssop, the Holy Herb

By Karen England

There are many plants mentioned by name in the Bible, some of which can be easily grown in our Southern California area. Hyssop is one such herb. Hyssop or Hyssopus officinalis, is mentioned 12 times throughout scripture, but much argument has taken place over the years regarding what exact plant the Bible refers to as Hyssop. Smarter folk than I understand botany & plant classification and they argue that the plant grown and known today as Hyssop is not the plant of scripture. As sure as they may be that our Hyssop is not what grew in Israel during Biblical times, they are not, however able to agree on what plant it is. That Biblical plant, they say, could be possibly be a variety of Marjoram, Oregano or Savory. I have read the arguments on all sides and am satisfied that the plant known as Hyssop today (Hyssopus officinalis) has as much chance as any other plant to be the real thing, with the name and history to back up the claim.

The name means “holy herb” and has come to symbolize “sacrifice”. Hyssopus officinalis is known now by science to have cleansing, purifying, penicillin qualities that would have made it useful in Biblical times to lepers for antibiotic bathing and for Priests during purifying rituals and ceremonies that included animal sacrifice. History & symbolism explain why David mentions it in Psalms 51 “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” During the first Passover, in Exodus 12, the Jews were instructed to… “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door frame.” Thereby saving the first-born son of the household from death.

Hyssop is a perennial herb that grows in full sun and likes well-drained soil. It can be grown easily from seed or transplants. It is available in 2¼” & 4” plants or by seed at Sunshine Gardens and other nurseries around our town. It grows to 2 –3 feet high and makes a beautiful edging plant when clipped and shaped. Bees and butterflies love its commonly blue, sometimes pink, purple or white flowers, which are excellent for cutting. Fertilize after to clipping to encourage more bloom and lush foliage with fish emulsion.

Today, a tea, brewed from fresh hyssop leaves is sipped to relieve sore throats, bronchitis, colds, coughs and other maladies. Because it has a strong flavor, only small amounts are needed in cooking to flavor foods. It aids the body with the digestion of fats, so it is commonly used to season roasts and stews. The flowers are also edible, with the same, but slightly sweeter, pungent taste and are used for teas, seasonings & salads. Here is a recipe from The Herbal Palate Cookbook by Maggie Oster and Sal Gilbertie to help you enjoy your harvest:

Carrot & Hyssop Salad

4 servings

½ pound carrots, shredded (about 2 ½ cups)

½ cup pitted, chopped black olives

1 ½ Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons minced fresh hyssop leaves and/or flowers

1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

1 Tablespoon white wine or rice vinegar

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss.

Cover and refrigerate at least two hours to allow flavors to blend.

Garnish with fresh hyssop flowers, if available.

Karen England is the "Queen of Edgehill Herb Farm".


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