Anise Hyssop: Herb of the Year

Get acquainted with the beloved herb that’s captured the attention of pollinators and people alike.

| Fall 2019

Photo by Getty Images/Willowpix

Is anything better than stepping into the garden in summer? Plants shine at the peak of their mature beauty, flower beds overflow with bushy perennials, and vegetable plants burst with seasonal bounty. The late summer garden is a magical place that feels both fleeting and timeless. But what’s that tall, attractive plant with the lovely lavender-blue flowers? The one that all the bees are buzzing around? Meet anise hyssop.

Worthy of Honor

Since 1995, the International Herb Association (IHA) has selected an Herb of the Year, and in years past, the organization has highlighted an assortment of beloved plants, including sage, basil, rosemary, and lemon balm. In 2019, the IHA is spotlighting Agastache foeniculum — more commonly known as anise hyssop — along with the other members of the Agastache genus. According to its website, the IHA strives to select Herbs of the Year that are “outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.” The versatile anise hyssop definitely meets these criteria.

The Decorative “Wonder Honey Plant”

Anise hyssop sits at the center of horticultural splendor. It’s perhaps not as showy as some other plants, but when it bursts into bloom in mid-to-late summer, its flowers are here to stay until autumn. Anise hyssop’s height is one of its most appealing qualities, reaching approximately 2 to 4 feet tall with gorgeous 2-to-3-inch long lavender-blue blooms. It’s an eye-catching addition to any garden, and is particularly striking when paired with coneflowers. Additionally, if you need a plant that will provide a backdrop for some of your favorite smaller perennials, anise hyssop can act as a natural border with its attractive mix of tall foliage and blossoms, not to mention its superb coloring. And you’d be hard-pressed to find another plant in your garden — or anywhere, for that matter — as alluring to honeybees.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Joe

Ask anybody about anise hyssop, and they’ll tell you that this plant attracts pollinators. While it’s a beautifully decorative garden addition when in full bloom, it’s even more beautiful when it’s covered in a jumbled assortment of bumblebees, honeybees, moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. In fact, it’s been called the “wonder honey plant.” Frank C. Pellett, noted naturalist, author, and apiculturist, most likely first dubbed anise hyssop with that nickname. He used the phrase in 1940 in an article for the American Bee Journal after planting an experimental plot of anise hyssop in Iowa with seed that he’d obtained from Canada. He viewed the flower as an “outstanding” choice for honey production.



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