This is the time of year when gardeners want to branch out and try something new. Feeling this urge for the unknown? Then how about an herb that will add a bright spot of vertical color that attracts bees and butterflies? Add the lure of an intriguing licorice flavor addition to foods and herbal teas and you’ve got this year’s Herb of the Year, anise hyssop. You need this plant.
A member of the mint family, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a perennial herb native to North American prairies. It grows to three feet high in ideal conditions, although I’ve rarely seen it that tall. It sports numerous lavender flower spikes which appear in mid-summer.
Anise hyssop grows best in areas with acid to neutral soil and regular watering. Being native to the cooler zones of North America (Zone 4-8), it will not perform well in in the hot, humid areas of the Gulf Coast. Gardeners in the Southwest (with high alkaline soil) should place this in pots or raised beds with afternoon shade. It is well behaved in the flower garden, requiring little trimming or maintenance. Plant it where its tall stalks will contrast with low growing flowers such as petunias or marigolds.
Anise hyssop is relatively low-maintenance in the herb garden. Few pests bother it although it may sometimes be attacked by the two-spotted cucumber beetle. If the lavender flower spikes go to seed it self-sows, giving you new volunteer plants the following spring. Divide mature plants every two to three years to ensure healthy growth.
The fresh leaves of anise hyssop can be used to flavor chicken or fish dishes where you might use fennel. Some cooks have tried the leaves as a substitute for French tarragon. The leaves can also be used in herbal tea mixes. If making a pitcher of iced tea, try floating the flowers on top for garnish.