WHAT IS HYSSOP OR HYSSOPUS OFFICINALIS? ZUFA: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF HYSSOP: HYSSOP DRESSING RECIPE
Hyssop is a member of the mint family of herbs and is related to oregano, rosemary, lavender and thyme. In the past it was used as a culinary herb, although it is not often used in this way now, probably because people have grown away from nature and don’t know what to do with it. Hyssop is not a relation of Water Hyssop, despite the names, and neither is it believed to be the hyssop of the Bible as it is native to the Mediterranean regions rather than Israel and Palestine.
It was known to Hippocrates who believed it to be beneficial for all respiratory ailments, especially bronchitis and it is still used for coughs, nasal congestion and as an expectorant. It is still used in these ways in the Indian subcontinent and is called Zufa in Urdu. The word Hyssop comes from the Greek isoppos. The Romans used it to make a herbal wine, but this is not considered palatable nowadays, so is not used in this way today. The flowers smell of camphor-mothballs- so are distinctive enough to be recognized in the wild, and they have become naturalized in North America and Britain, so you can distinguish them by this fragrance. It came into its own in the Middle Ages and was grown by monks to spice up soups and sauces and add to meat dishes. Later in the 16th and 17th centuries the hot infusion was used for the vapours that came off it to cure ear problems. The old herbalists used it to cure many things and the tisane from the flowers was given for urinary tract disorders, as an emmenogogue for menstrual problems, to aid digestion and to stop spasms. Mixed with honey it was for sore throats, coughs and colds as well as to promote sweat during fevers. It should not be taken during pregnancy.
The bruised leaves were rubbed on rheumatic joints to relieve pain and in poultices they helped reduce swellings caused by sprains. The crushed leaves were also used to heal wounds (it is the leaves that produce the essential oil of the plant) and the ancients used the herb as an insect repellant, especially to get rid of lice. The juice from the leaves has been used apparently to great effect, to get rid of intestinal worms. Hyssop baths were recommended for rheumatism, and they can relieve stress if you soak in a bath of hyssop leaves and flowers. These are best gathered in late July or August when they are in full bloom.
The tisane, or infusion can be made with a teaspoon of the dried herb (leaves and flowering tops) and used externally on wounds, bruises and as a skin tonic, as it is said that it helps smooth wrinkles. You can take it to relieve flatulence, aid digestion, clear the bronchial and nasal passages, as a diuretic, expectorant (with honey) , if you lose your voice (again with honey) and for stress and nervous problems. It’s best mixed with mint or lemon balm as a tisane as a refreshing drink, and you need 1tsp of the dried leaves and flowers, with a few leaves of mint or lemon balm to 1 pint of boiling water. Leave it to steep for 15- 20 minutes and drink hot with honey or sugar to taste. The tisane can regulate blood pressure and is good for asthma.
Modern medical research is ongoing but there are hopes that it could help to fight HIV because of its antimicrobial and antiviral action. It contains ursolic and oleanolic acids which have anti-inflammatory properties, and ursolic acid has been found to inhibit cell growth in human leukaemia cells and in a mouse melanoma cell line. It also contains bioflavonoids which have potent antioxidant activities. Marrubiin found in the plant has expectorant properties, so the old herbalists got that use right. The diterpine, marrubiin is similar to taxol, which has anti-cancer effects, and has been found to have antibiotic and antiviral properties. Another flavonoid Diosmin has been used to treat acute nasal allergies and can help in the treatment of varicose veins and piles. It is also being investigated for its anti-cancer activities, and for the treatment of PMS/PMT, colitis and diabetes.
Hyssop also contains triterpenoids which in lab tests have been shown to decrease anxiety in mice as well as increasing their mental functions and to heal wounds and strengthen the skin.
The fresh and dried flowers can be used decoratively as a garnish but they lose their smell when dries so can’t be used in pot pourris. Hyssop has been used by French monks for centuries to make the liqueurs, Benedictine and Chartreuse and it was used in the original absinthe as well as in the one on sale today. It has also been used to make soap and can be found in spicy perfumes. You can also make a grey-green dye with the plant. It can be used in sugar syrups to pour over fruit and the fresh leaves may be used as a salad green. Below is a dressing for salads and especially for salmon steaks. Try it and see if you like it.
1 tbsp Dijon mustard or green peppercorn mustard
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsps soured cream
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Put all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well.
Leave the dressing to stand for at least an hour at room temperature and then shake well once again before pouring.
This has Taste and is a Treat.