Plant Profile: Anise Hyssop

Anise hyssop is a tactile plant; soft to the touch when in full bloom and as it develops seeds. It also appeals to the other senses—the scent of the foliage is reminiscent of licorice and is used in teas, jams, salads and potpourri. Cylindrical flower spikes, several inches long, work well as cut flowers and provide garden interest from early summer through fall as seed heads.

This biennial or short-lived perennial is also called hummingbird mint or giant hyssop. It works well in the middle or the back of a planting group and is attractive in perennial borders, cottage and herb gardens, and wildflower plantings. It’s equally effective planted in masses or maintained in small clumps.

Northern Natives: Annise Hyssop

A beetle feeding from the nectar of Annise Hyssop

When anise hyssop is blooming—which it does from July through September—it’s a popular hangout for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators. It is of special value to honey bees and native bees, including bumblebees. The flowers form whorls, and each tubular flower has two lips, characteristic of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It’s entertaining to watch bees travel from flower to flower along the long spike for nectar.

This particular Agastache, one of 22 species, has both ornamental value—in the garden and for cut flowers—and wildlife value for pollinators (pollen and nectar) and birds (seeds). Goldfinches are said to find it a particular favorite. It was rated the Herb of the Year in 2019 by the International Herb Association. Native Americans used it to treat a wide variety of ailments, and many people value it for this purpose today.

As a tall, spiky plant, it’s great combined with other colorful, shorter plants. Good companions include native plants, such as goldenrods, beebalms, coneflowers, sedges and grasses. In pots, it works well with colorful annuals and foliage plants.

Anise hyssop is typically found in prairies, dry upland woodlands, shrubby barrens, thickets, plains and fields, and is common in the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, and most of the Southern Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territory. Its preferred conditions are sun to partial sun, well-drained sand/loam soil. It tolerates drought, light shade, and clay or gravelly soils. Good drainage is key to extend survival in subsequent years.

Often gardeners add this plant as small seedlings, and it lasts for several years with little effort or care. The plant spreads by rhizomes and can be divided for planting in multiple locations. To make sure it sticks around for many years, shake seeds over the area as desired for future propagation and growth. Depending on your soil, you may find the plant spreads on its own with no help from you.

This is a warm and fuzzy plant. Check for pollinators and then touch the slender flower stalks—soft like a cat’s tail. They bend and wave in the summer wind, and provide the perfect perch for the many pollinators that visit them.

This article by Beth Stetenfield first appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of Northern Gardener.  She is a garden blogger and writer, and a master naturalist volunteer and instructor.





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