Hyssop: The Biblical Cleansing Herb

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Hyssop is a member of the mint family and is best known for its mentions in the Bible. It is referenced in Scripture as a cleansing herb. It is also a common remedy in traditional folk medicine. It’s worth mentioning that there two herbs referred to as hyssop; Hyssopus officinalis and Origanum maru. Some people believe that the hyssop mentioned in the Bible may be the Origanum maru version, which is also known as Bible hyssop or Syrian oregano. Hyssopus officinalis is what most people refer to as hyssop today. There is a third plant from the Americas called anise hyssop that is unrelated to Hyssopus officinalis.

The origins of hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) lie in North Africa as well as in the Middle East and Mediterranean region. Experts believe that its names come from the Greek and Hebrew words for herbs, which are hyssopus and esob respectively.

Ancient Egyptian priests used hyssop for purification and Greek physician Hippocrates mentions it in his writings. He used it as a treatment for chest congestion. It would be documented by Pliny in the first century AD as the main ingredient in a wine called hyssopites. Much later, Shakespeare referred to the herb in his play Othello.

Hyssop is said to have arrived in the New World as one of several seeds brought over from Europe by John Winthrop, Jr.

Today, hyssop can be found growing wild in many parts of North America as well as in the Balkans along with Turkey and other Mediterranean countries.

Hyssop flavor profile

As a relative of mint, hyssop’s flavor profile falls in line with other mints like rosemary and anise. The simplest way to describe the flavor is simply as minty. A deeper dive would entail descriptors like floral and lavender-like. Hyssop has a mild bitterness that some find pleasant. Hyssop’s flavors are pungent and the herb must be used with caution to avoid overpowering other flavors in a dish.

Health benefits of hyssop

Hyssop has been used as a medicine for centuries, its health benefits come from compounds like:

  • Vitamin C: Like other herbs in the mint family, hyssop is an excellent source of vitamin C when it is used in its fresh form.
  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids are found in plant pigments and hyssop has an abundance of them. The flavonoids in hyssop include rosmarinic acid, limonene, and camphene.

You can use hyssop to treat or prevent an assortment of health problems. Those problems include:

  • Cardiovascular disease: The flavonoids in hyssop may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol (so-called bad cholesterol) and thus preventing cardiovascular disease.
  • Congestion: Hyssop contains marrubin, a terpenoid that acts as an expectorant. Marrubin is also found in horehound, another herbal expectorant.
  • Digestive problems: Hyssop has the ability to stimulate the production of gastric juices, which helps to improve digestion.

Common uses

Hyssop can be used similarly to mint. Add it to both savory salads and fruit salads. It is also a great tea herb; both the leaves and the flowers can be steeped to make tea. Hyssop is listed as one of the many herbs and spices in the liqueur known as Benedictine and sometimes shows up in the za’atar spice blend. You can add dried hyssop to soups and sauces at the end of their cooking time to keep its mild bitterness from coming to the forefront. You can also use it like basil as a part of a glaze for vegetables. Hyssop’s resemblance to mint is most evident in the fact that it can be used in desserts in addition to its savory uses. Use it in ice creams and in jams.