It’s not an anise. It’s not a hyssop. It’s not licorice. What is it? Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), aka licorice mint, aka blue giant hyssop, aka fragrant giant hyssop, aka lavender giant hyssop, is a perennial plant in the mint family.
Traditional medicinal use:
Species of agastache were widely medicinally used by Native American tribes for indigestion and stomach pain, colds, coughs and fever, and for heart problems and other chest pains. The Cheyenne used anise hyssop tea to relieve depression and the Cree and Chippewa included the herb in protective medicine bundles (Meredith, 2009). The Haudenosaunee reportedly used anise hyssop to make a wash to treat poison ivy. Richters, a company that grows and sells herbs, reports that the one agastache species native to Asia (Agastache rugosa) is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat conditions generally comparable to those targeted by traditional Native American use of the herb (Richters, 2019).
Licorice mint grows in clumps about 2-4 feet tall and about 1-3 feet wide from a small tap root with spreading rhizomes. Stalks develop 4- to 6-inch dense spikes of small, two-lipped flowers whose color could be described as purple, dusky dull indigo-violet, blue and violet-blue. Licorice mint has alternate leaves with toothed margins on square stems (characteristic of the mint plant family).
The leaves and flowers are edible (though as with any wild-gathered food should be carefully inspected for bugs or other issues prior to eating). The fragrant leaves make a delicious black licorice flavored tea and when dried can be added to potpourri. Though they can be used at any time, the oil content in the leaves is highest when the flowers are just past full bloom (Mahr, 2015). An essential oil produced in the leaves is what is gives the plant its aroma and when extracted that essential oil can be used just like more widely known and appreciated essential oils.
“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.”
–H. Fred Dale
Stuff Almost Nobody Knows:
(for the perpetually curious)
When was the last time you thought about what the world would look like from the perspective of a bee? Bees need a continuous and reliable food source to maintain hive health and strength. In the 1990’s, anise hyssop was identified as a highly promising “bee forage” plant by researchers at the University of Massachusetts due to its long flowering duration (June through September, in Massachusetts) and copious flower production (Zhiliang, P. and Herbert, S., 1996, Zhiliang, P. and Herbert, S., 1997). These researchers observed that individual anise hyssop plants consistently produced over 10,000 flowers per plant, that individual flowers had a flowering period of 2-3 days and that anise hyssop bee visitation rates were consistent with plant flowering period. They also demonstrated that the sugar content of the flowers changed dramatically through the flowering period, as shown in the figure included. Using the information they had gathered, these researchers estimated that anise hyssop was capable of supporting a stunning honey yield of ~2000 lbs/acre! That’s less than the ~15,000 lbs/acre of sugar which can be expected from sugar beets, for example, but honey and sugar aren’t necessarily comparable products and honey appears to be a healthier sweetener choice for most people and the planet.
Black Squirrel Farms strives for accuracy but everyone makes mistakes sometimes. We’re happy to update our information if needed. Please contact us if you spot an error or have a suggested edit, update or information inclusion. Help is welcome.
Meredith, L., 7 Herbs that Grow in the Shade, https://www.motherearthliving.com/gardening/7-herbs-that-grow-in-shade, 2009
Richters, Agastache, Herb of the Year! https://www.richters.com/show.cgi?page=Agastache/agastache.html, 2019
Zhiliang, P. and Herbert, S., Plant Spacings for Maximizing Flower Production of Anise Hyssop. https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/research-reports/1996-02-plant-spacings-for-maximizing-flower-production-of-anise-hyssop.pdf, 1996.
Zhiliang, P. and Herbert, S., Bee Visitation and Nectar Production of Anise Hyssop. https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/research-reports/1997-03-bee-visitation-and-nectar-production-of-anise-hyssop.pdf, 1997.