Spice support: hyssop

A few days ago we reported on the trend of chefs to bring back forgotten herbs, often as part of a local and seasonal cooking focus. One of the old-fashioned herbs discussed in the article was hyssop, a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean. In today’s edition of Spice Support we’ll take a closer look at the uses of this ancient herb. 

Sausage balls

First, let’s clear up any confusion you may have about hyssop and anise hyssop. Although the two plants are in the same family, they are not very similar. Anise hyssop (agastache foeniculum) is native to northern North America, where it was used by Native Americans to treat illnesses and to dress wounds.

As its name suggests, anise hyssop’s leaves are mildly anise scented. People infuse the leaves to make tea, add it in potpourri, and use it as a seasoning. It grows wild across the Upper Midwest US and southern Canada, and its blue/purple flowers attract bees. Cultivated forms of anise hyssop are grown in flower gardens, but they vary from the wild forms and may not contain the same fragrant compounds.  

Hyssop (hyssopus officinalis) has a bitter flavor with minty undertones. It is native to the Mediterranean area and the area surrounding the Caspian Sea. The herb resembles tarragon, and all parts of the plant (stems, leaves, and flowers) are used in cooking. As with anise hyssop, the plant has been used medicinally for centuries, especially to treat respiratory illness. 

The flavor of hyssop is described as bitter with strong minty overtones. It can easily overwhelm a dish, so use it sparingly. Hyssop can add interest to a variety of foods ranging from cassoulet to fruit compotes to roasted vegetables. Some recipes for za’atar swap dried hyssop leaves in place of thyme. Producers of bitters and aperitifs make use hyssop’s strong flavors; it is an ingredient in Chartreuse and Benedictine. 

Photo of Sausage, apple, prune and bacon stuffing balls  from Delicious (UK)

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