Hyssop is a genus of herbaceous plants native from the east Mediterranean to central Asia. They are aromatic, with branched stems up to 20 inches. The small blue flowers are borne on the upper part of the branches during summer. By far the best known species is the herb Hyssop officinalis, widely cultivated outside its native area in the Mediterranean.
It has uses in the garden, it is said to be a good companion plant to cabbage, partly because it will lure away the Cabbage White butterfly. It has also been found to improve the yield from grapevines if planted along the rows, particularly if the terrain is rocky or sandy, and the soil is not as easy to work as it might be. Hyssop is said to be antagonistic to radishes, and they should not be grown together. Hyssop also attracts bees, hoverflies and butterflies, thus has a place in the wild garden as well as being useful in controlling pests and encouraging pollination without the use of unnatural methods.
Hyssop is used as an ingredient in eau de Cologne and the liqueur Chartreuse. It is also used to color the liquor Absinthe, along with Melissa and Roman wormwood. Hyssop is also used in combination with other herbs such as liquorice in herbal remedies, especially for lung conditions.
The name can be traced back almost unchanged through the Greek hyssopos and Hebrew ezov. In the New Testament, a sponge soaked in sour wine or vinegar was stuck on a branch of hyssop and offered to Jesus of Nazareth on the cross just before he died. The Book of Exodus records that the blood of the sacrifices was applied to the doorposts using hyssop on the night of Passover. Its purgative properties are also mentioned in the Book of Psalms.
Hyssop is often used to fill the Catholic ceremonial sprinkling stick, which the priest dips into a bowl of holy water, and sprinkles onto the congregation to bless them. Hyssop leaves have a slightly bitter minty flavour and can be added to soups, salads or meats, although should be used sparingly as the flavour is very strong.