Giant Hyssops – Agastache SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Hummingbird Mint of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, weza’wunuckwuk meaning “yellow plant”, referring to yellow giant hyssop, we have a few native agastache in Ontario. Rarely seen in the wild, they are a popular addition to pollinator gardens and they also have edible and medicinal uses for humans!

Giant hyssops (agastache SPP.) are absent from Haliburton Flora although a few are native to Ontario and hardy enough for our area. They may be impossible to find in the wild here, being short-lived. In Ontario you may see yellow giant hyssop (agastache nepetoides), anise or blue giant hyssop (agastache foeniculum) similar to pictured, and rarer yet purple giant hyssop (agastache scrophulariifolia).

Anise Hyssop
Anise Hyssop that was sold to me but I suspect is actually Korean Mint, more about this under Growing. When I have the real native plants I’ll update the pictures!

In a lot of foraging and herbal lit, when you see “hyssop” mentioned it’s the kind from the other side of the Atlantic, hyssopus officinalis. They break off at family, both being part of the mint family. They are distant, not close relations.

Edible Uses of Giant Hyssops

The leaf tips of anise scented species like the most common we find at native plant shops, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and its doppelganger Korean mint, can be used for tea or flavouring. Licorice is a similar scent and taste, and giant hyssops are sometimes called “licorice mint”. They can also be added raw to a salad. The mint family is abundant with leafy teas and flavours!

Honeybees make a light fragrant honey from the nectar.

Rich in antioxidants.

Medicinal Uses of Giant Hyssops

Giant hyssop is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antimicrobial, Carminative, Diaphoretic, and Expectorant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a tea for congestion and colds, often combined with licorice for chest colds. It shares many typical uses with the more popular mints as well, like as a tea for flatulence or colic.

Alternative Uses of Hummingbird Mint

The anise scented leaves can be used in potpurri.

Growing Agastache SPP.

This is a very popular addition to pollinator gardens, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and moths, and a wide variety of bees including leaf-cutting bees and bumble bees. Mammals like deer avoid it because of the anise scent.

There is a common mix up to be aware of. I bought my plant from a native plant source but it was mislabeled! Shocker! While I avoided the cultivators, I still ended up with the nonnative Korean mint (agastache rugosa). They are similar, but dang! To get the native seed Prairie Moon Nursery is a reliable shop with the true native anise hyssop seeds. I’ll harvest my Korean mint for tea and prevent it from reseeding, so it will only last a few years, and then I’ll plant some of the true native hyssop! (Update: it only lived a year or two!) This has happened to many people and many native plant enthusiasts have ended up accidentally passing the Korean mint around, oops! There are at least 3 “native” plants that have this same issue happening, read about it here (pictures included and our anise hyssop is at the top). At least in this case, Korean mint isn’t invasive.

The seeds are easy to grow, sown in late autumn. You can propagate the plant from division and cuttings too.

WARNINGS

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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REFERENCES

wiki/Agastache

wiki/Agastache_foeniculum

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

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