Growing hyssop can have many advantages, from being used in the kitchen, to being planted as a display piece in a flower garden. The flavourful nature of hyssop allows it to be commonly used as a herb during cooking, whilst its beautiful colours mean it can also be used as a decorative border for any flowering garden displays. Not to mention, the bright blue and red colours of the plant are very effective as they help to attract ‘pollinators’ such as bees to the garden, further aiding garden growth.
How to grow
There is uncertainty about which plant the Bible refers to as hyssop – אֵזוֹב (ezov) and ὕσσωπος (hussōpos). Jensen (2012: loc cit. 1468) describes it as is ‘one of the most problematic plant names in the Bible.’ Hyssop seeds sold by most garden centres tend to be related to the mint family (Hyssopus officinalis). Therefore, if planting directly in the ground, be careful that it does not take over your garden!
Hyssop seeds are most successfully sown during the ‘last frost’ period, which usually occurs towards the end of winter. Every different location will have a slightly different last frost, so make sure you research the date of last frost in your local area, to make sure you can sow the seeds at the perfect time for a successful growth.
Alternatively you can plant seeds indoors and weight 8-10 weeks for seedlings to be strong enough to plant outside (when the weather is more predictable).
- When planting hyssop, it’s important to ensure that the seeds are sown no more than an inch below the soil and (if sewn directly into the ground) that they are spaced between 6-12 inches apart.
- Ideally the soil should be well draining and situated in the sun or semi-sun.
- After around 2-3 weeks, you should see some germination begin to occur
Hyssop tends to bloom in late summer, growing to a height of 2 – 3 feet (15 – 30 cms).
Mature plants are liable to get rather woody and and rangy.
If you want to harvest hyssop, it is recommended that this is done in the morning, but after the dew has dried from its leaves. It can be frozen, although it is best used fresh. It can also be dried by hanging in a dark well-ventilated area.
Hyssop in the Bible
33[Solomon] would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall;1 Kings 4:33a (NRSV)
Hyssop is mentioned a few times during the Bible, predominantly during the Old Testament. For example, during Passover, Hyssop is mentioned as being a potentially vital tool in the act of smearing blood on the door of each home. The United Bible Societies (1980:130) state that the hairy leaves meant that when collected together in bunches would hold liquid and make it “suitable for sprinkling purposes”. As Manushkin recounts in her book ‘Miriam’s Cup: A Passover Story’, it was this act that saved many of the Jews, as God was able to pass over the houses with blood on the door, and ensure they were safe and protected from the Pharaoh’s persecution. To illustrate, Exodus 12:22 (NIV) reads “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning,” showing us that during Moses’ instructions to the Jews, hyssop is mentioned as a vital tool.
Similarly, in Leviticus, hyssop is again mentioned as being a very important tool for something. An extract states “the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the one to be cleansed. (Leviticus 14:4),” referring to the act of ‘cleansing’ a person of skin disease. Woods and Rogers (2006) explore this further and suggest that the translation of this passage in fact refers to leprosy, or general ‘eruptive skin diseases.’ As the extract suggests, during the time of the Old Testament, Priests may have used hyssop as an aid to healing and cleansing these conditions.
There remains a lot of debate concerning which exact plant the Bible refers to as hyssop. Contenders range from a variety of mint, a relative of oregano and marjoram and caper (Mussleman, 2007:161) Tristram (1898 – see below) favours the the caper. References to ὕσσωπος (hussōpos) in the New Testament, notably in John’s account of the crucifixion are a little problematic as it appears to describe something very different from the scrubby low lying plants that are the usual contenders for ‘hyssop’.
29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.John 19 (NRSV)
For more information
There is a very good post on Hyssop and it religious, medical and culinary uses on the On Jewish Matters site: The many benefits of hyssop in ancient and modern times.
A rather wonderful passage relating to this plant can be found in the writings of the early 19th century cleric and naturalist Henry Baker Tristram: Natural History of the Bible (Hyssop)
Jensen, H.A. (2012) Plant World of the Bible. [Kindle] Bloomington: Author House.
Manushkin, F. (1998). Miriam’s Cup: A Passover Story. Scholastic Inc.
Mussleman, L.J. (2007). Figs, Dates, Laurel and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and Quran. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.
Tristram, H.B. (1898) The natural history of the Bible : being a review of the physical geography, geology, and meteorology of the Holy Land; with a description of every animal and plant mentioned in the Holy Scripture. 9th edn. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.
United Bible Societies (1980) Fauna and Flora of the Bible. Helps for Translators. 2nd edn. London: United Bible Societies.
Woods, C. Rogers, J. (2006). Leviticus-Numbers. College Press. P.91.