Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
It is rare that I start a plant profile with a quotation from the Bible but as we are approaching Easter I felt it was appropriate.
Whether the hyssop of the Bible is the same specie that we know is debatable, but indeed it is resistant to drought, and tolerant of chalky, sandy soils and thrives in full sun and warm climates. It also is used in Middle Eastern cooking, such as the dish Za’atar.
The leaves of hyssop can be used fresh or dried. The leaves taste slightly bitter and can be used as an alternative to sage, but only in moderation. Being part on the mint family it has a minty aroma.
Hyssop has also been used as a herbal medicine for centuries. Described in Culpepper’s Herbal as ‘so well known to be an inhabitant in every garden, that it will save me labour in writing a description thereof.’ He goes on to describe its applications which are plentiful: it ‘purges gross humors‘, helps toothache when boiled with vinegar, and when boiled with wine it can be used to wash inflammations.
I think my favourite use is, ‘Being bruised, and salt, honey, and cummin seed put to it, helps those that are stung by serpents.’ I’m not sure what serpents there were in 17th century England but this herb sounds like the cure for all-ills!
Nowadays hyssop is used more as a companion plant. It is easy to grow and propagate from, and works well within a border or mixed bed. It spreads as a bushy growth and flowers from June – August producing either pink, blue or white flowers which are attractive to bees.