By Susan Belsinger
While commonly called anise hyssop, the odor is more similar to French tarragon, though sweeter, with a hint of basil. The foliage and flowers taste similar to the aroma—sweet, with the licorice of tarragon and basil—and just a bit floral.
All of the thirty or so Agastache species are good for honey production and make great ornamental perennials. The flowering plants go well with the silver-leaved species of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), which flower about the same time in the July garden and also provide good bee forage. The young, broad, dark green leaves of A. foeniculum, tinged purple in cool weather, are attractive with spring bulbs such as yellow daffodils.
Agastache species do not have GRAS status, even though the leaves of many species have been used for centuries as a substitute for French tarragon, infused in syrups and cordials, or brewed into tea, and the flowers have been used with fruit, in desserts and confections, and mixed in salads. Both the leaves and flowers make good additions to potpourri.
Agastache foeniculum is most often grown, though A. mexicana, A. rugosa, and A. scrophulariifolia provide similar flavors to French tarragon and basil, though may include plants scented of peppermint or pennyroyal.
Hardy short-lived perennial, three to five feet high
Hardiness to zone 4, preferring cool summers
Full sun to part shade
Keep moist but not wet
Soil rich in organic matter, pH 7.0
Cultivation and propagation:
Agastache species need little more than partly shaded to sunny, well-drained, acidic to near-neutral soil. The seeds (actually tiny nuts, or nutlets) are most easily started by broadcasting; established clumps readily reseed themselves, often in tiny nooks and crannies or the middle of the garden path. Seeds may also be sown in the greenhouse, with transplants in six to eight weeks.
Clumps generally last two to three years, becoming very woody at the base and eventually dying. Since reseeding is not a problem, anise hyssop will persist in your garden yet never really become weedy; it is easy to move about. The soil should be evenly moist, well drained, slightly acid, and high in organic matter.
Harvesting and preserving:
For tea, harvest leaves early in the day during a sunny, rain-free spell close to when the plants will be flowering, then dry the leaves and store them in glass jars. Anise hyssop makes an unusual vinegar and is one of my favorites for salads when made with white wine or rice vinegar.
It makes a tasty cordial if you like the taste of sweet licorice. I enjoyed Agastache-infused vodka more than once with Dr. Jim Duke, who used to put sprigs of anise hyssop in his 1.75-liter bottle of vodka, which he kept in the freezer, for a preferred libation.
Leaves are sometimes candied as a confection for desserts; after the egg white and sugar mixture has set and dried, store them in tightly closed containers at room temperature or in the freezer for three to six months. Flowers are often harvested fresh as edible flowers for salads, beverages, syrups, and desserts. Anise hyssop sugar is easy to make by processing the flowers with sugar—it is great to have on hand for topping cookies, muffins, crisps and crumbles.
Part of this text is excerpted from Grow Your Own Herbs, which was the last book that I co-authored with Dr. Arthur Tucker. I raise a glass of anise hyssop cordial here to both Art and Jim—two herbal mentors—who loved the flavor of Agastache.
Cherry Tomatoes Marinated with Anise Hyssop, Chives, & Balsamic Vinegar
These tomatoes can be served as a simple side salad, tossed with salad greens or pasta, spread on pizza or served on bruschetta (toasted bread rubbed with garlic) as an appetizer. Anise hyssop gives an anise/licorice-like flavor somewhat similar to basil or tarragon. I use the smaller leaves—if using larger leaves remove the center stem, as they can be a bit tough. Garnish with a little grated mozzarella if desired. This recipe is adapted from The Greens Book by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger.
Serves 4 or 8; makes about 16 to 20 appetizers when served on baguette-sized slices)
1-pint cherry or pear-shaped tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and halved crosswise
About 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 tablespoons chopped chives, common or garlic
Generous 1/2 cup anise hyssop leaves cut into chiffonade (thin ribbons)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Grated mozzarella, optional
Chive and anise hyssop flowers for garnish
Combine the tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, chives and anise hyssop. Salt and pepper generously and toss well. Taste for seasoning and adjust with oil, vinegar or salt and pepper as needed.
Serve straightaway or the salad can sit at cool room temperature (do not refrigerate) for an hour or two before serving; the tomatoes will give off a lot of juice if allowed to sit.
Serve the salad as is or over salad greens. Or spoon the tomato and herb mixture evenly over garlic bruschetta, drizzling a little of the marinade juices over all, or toss with pasta adding a drizzle more of olive oil. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella, if desired, and garnish with a sprinkling of chive and/or anise hyssop flowers.
Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.