Hyssop and lavender both belong to the Lamiaceae family, which makes them relatives of mint. As a result, they have a lot in common with each other and with other members of the Lamiaceae family like basil and like rosemary. Despite their commonalities, you should not simply switch them out in a recipe without learning more about their properties. To learn more about hyssop and lavender, read the comparison in this edition of SPICEography Showdown.
How does hyssop differ from lavender?
The term hyssop may refer to either of two forms of hyssop, the most common of which is called true hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis). There is another variety called anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) that is native to the United States. Most recipes that list hyssop among the ingredients require true hyssop. True hyssop originated in Europe while anise hyssop is native to the U.S.
In comparison to the two forms of hyssop noted above, the term lavender usually refers to only one herb: Lavendula angustifolia. It originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Hyssop’s flavor has a strong mint element along with floral notes similar to those of lavender. It is also somewhat bitter and has a hint of turpentine in its fragrance. Those flavor notes combined with the fact that it is especially pungent means that it has limited culinary applications. Lavender provides a strong, distinctive floral flavor that has broader applications than those of hyssop. Lavender is versatile enough to be used in a range of savory and dessert dishes. That flavor has minor citrus notes and a minty undertone. It is sometimes likened to the flavor of rosemary.
Both herbs offer important medicinal benefits but differ in terms of the ailments they are used to treat. Hyssop is used as an expectorant and to treat respiratory tract illnesses. Lavender is as a remedy for poor digestion and for its general anti-inflammatory properties.
Can you use hyssop in place of lavender and vice versa?
Both hyssop and lavender have and mint component to their flavor profiles, so they can play the same role in some dishes. For example, hyssop can be used as a substitute for lavender in some dishes but its bitterness means that it must be used sparingly. Hyssop is better as a lavender substitute when used in savory dishes such as for seasoning meats and vegetables. You can even use hyssop as a lavender substitute in some medicinal applications since it has anti-inflammatory properties, which is one of lavender’s most significant benefits.
Lavender’s sweetness can stand in for hyssop in most applications but not for treating respiratory issues. Lavender is not traditionally considered a treatment for asthma, bronchitis or other similar ailments.
When should you use hyssop and when should you use lavender?
While hyssop is an effective medicinal herb, many cooks consider it too pungent to use in food. Even so, it is a traditional ingredient in some savory and sweet dishes. Salads, soups, and stews are among the savory applications for hyssop. The sweet preparations in which it works best include compotes and cobblers.
Lavender can be used in salads as well as for seasoning meat. When candied, lavender makes great cake decorations and can also be used to make teas. Make a lavender simple syrup to add to your cocktails or mix it with chocolate for baked goods. Pastries that can include lavender include cookies, cakes, and scones.