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Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum): A-Long Blooming Stunner

Jim Lakin, MD, Master Gardener

Anise Hyssop or Agastache foeniculum is a tough plant, easy to grow, beautiful to behold and a one of the premier plants for feeding pollinators. Add to those virtues, Anise hyssop is drought tolerant and does not attract deer or rabbits. As a perennial native to the American Midwest, this plant belongs in your garden.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum): A-Long Blooming Stunner

For millennia the hyssop plant has been associated with ritual purification. Tradition holds that King David, regretting some of his actions, prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps 51:7). It has been used medicinally for digestive and intestinal problems including liver and gallbladder conditions, intestinal pain, intestinal gas, colic, and loss of appetite. While I can make no claims for its therapeutic properties, I can quite vigorously assert the virtues of its American cousin, Anise Hyssop or Agastache foeniculum. This is a tough plant, easy to grow, beautiful to behold and a one of the premier plants for feeding pollinators.  Agastache foeniculum alternately known as anise hyssop, blue giant hyssop, fragrant giant hyssop or lavender giant hyssop is a native perennial to the American Midwest and Central Canada although it has spread to much of upper North America. It is drought tolerant and not very tasty to deer or rabbits (a plus in Minnesota).  As mentioned, it is very attractive to honey bees as well as a host of native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, bumblebees and night flying moths.

Anise hyssop grows as a bush some 2 to 4 feet tall with a clump-like upright shape. Its tiny lavender flowers appear as a flashy panicle (stalk of many small flowers) above oval, serrated leaves with white tan undersides. Its blooming season is long, starting in early June and continuing into September. Anise hyssop puts down a taproot, so if you are transplanting, do it in late fall, dig deep and don’t expect 100% success.

Anise hyssop grows easily from seed, although you should stratify the seeds before trying your hand at germination. This simply means storing the seeds in a moist, cold environment for 30 days. Popping them into the fridge in a Ziploc bag with a moist coffee filter does the trick nicely. After that just sprinkle a few seeds on the seeding media and press them in. Don’t cover with soil as the seeds need sunlight to germinate.  Once the seedlings have developed their first two sets of true leaves, they should be ready to transplant. You can, of course seed directly into the garden in late spring but you may not get blooms the first year. The plant does best in full sun (6+ hours of sunlight) but will soldier along in partial shade (at least 4 hours sunlight). It is not particularly fussy about soil type although the site should be well-drained. Avoid damp areas around ponds or areas prone to flooding. Those areas will leave the plants open to foliar disease, fungus and root rot. Although it is of the mint family, anise hyssop is not invasive. It does self-seed but if you are manicuring your garden, it is a pretty easy matter to pull unwanted seedlings in the spring. If you are going for a more naturalized effect, mixing with Black-eyed Susan, Coreopsis, Bee Balm, Echinacea purpurea, and/or Smooth Blue Aster can create a stunning effect. No matter how you incorporate this versitle plant into your garden décor, it will prove to be a valuable addition to your local ecology.

Photo credits: (1), istock (2)

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