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By  Phyllis Sidorsky and Pat Kenny

Agastache is the name for an amazing group of plants in the mint family.

The genus name is derived from the Greek agan (meaning very much) and stachys (meaning an ear of grain), which describes the look of the blossom spike.

The scientific classification is as follows:
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Subfamily: Nepetoideae
Tribe: Mentheae
Genus: Agastache

The genus Agastache contains about thirty plant species, largely found in North America. Most Agastache species are upright with rough‐edged leaves and bear spikes of tube‐shaped flowers. Blooming in mid‐summer, the flowers range in color from blue and purple to white, pink, mauve, and even orange.

Most species of Agastache grow upright two to six feet tall with angular stems and tooth‐edged leaves. There are a number of types of Agastache varying in color, height, flowers, and aroma. The two botanical sections within the Agastache genus have very different habits: (1) typical giant hyssops are upright with tight blossom spikes, often described as “bottlebrush” and (2) hummingbird mints are upright, yet more relaxed, that is, not in tight spikes, and with longer tubular flowers.

One of the more popular Agastache species is A. foeniculum, more commonly known as Anise Hyssop, Fragrant Hyssop, and Blue Giant Hyssop. The plant was first scientifically noted in 1767 in Jan Frederik Gronovius’ Flora Virginica (2nd ed.), based on specimens along with accompanying descriptions by John Clayton. Most authorities classify A. foeniculum as a short‐lived herbaceous perennial, while others say that it is a hardy self-sowing annual. The leaves and flower spikes have a mild anise scent.

The Missouri Botanical Garden website says that typical giant bottlebrush hyssops have hybrids that often have showier flowers and better winter hardiness. Some of the most popular are: ‘Purple Haze,’ ‘Violet Vision,’ ‘Blue Fortune,’ ‘Blue Boa,’ ‘Honey Bee Blue,’ ‘Black Adder,’ ‘Golden Jubilee’, and ‘Rose Mint.’ Every year, new cultivars appear on the market. Among the endless cultivated varieties of Agastache are plants with fascinating names like ‘Orange Hummingbird Mint,’ ‘Cotton Candy,’ ‘Pink Pop,’ ‘Raspberry Sunrise,’ ‘Apache Sunset,’ ‘Tutti Frutti,’ ‘Rosie‐Posie,’ ‘Mango Tango,’ ‘Arizona Sun,’ and much more.

The Agastaches are easily grown in average well‐draining soil in full to part sun. In addition to being resistant to deer and rabbits, they are drought‐resistant. The seeds can be sown outdoors in autumn or started indoors, and if planted early and dead‐headed, will bloom throughout the summer. Since Anise Hyssop is a tall upright plant, it serves well as a background ornamental in the border. All Agastaches are highly attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bees make a delicious lightly fragrant honey from the nectar.

Some Agastache species, including Anise Hyssop and Mexican Hyssop (A. mexicana), are regarded as an aromatic and culinary herb. The leaves and blossoms are used to flavor salads, stews, and fruit dishes. An Anise Hyssop syrup is made for use on baked goods, frozen desserts and fruit dishes. The leaves are also used to enhance the flavor of hot and cold tea. Leaves steeped in warm milk or cream are used to flavor homemade ice cream. Anise Hyssop plants are also dried and used in potpourris.

As to medicinal uses, Native Americans used boiled leaves of Agastache species to “break” a fever, treat wounds and to help with bronchial complaints. Chinese doctors use the herb to treat indigestion and nausea. Agastache rugosa, also known as Wrinkled giant hyssop or Korean mint, is used in a lotion to treat ringworm and other fungal problems.

With so many uses, it is easy to see why every herb garden should have at least one variety of colorful Agastache within its borders.

It is a welcome choice for Herb of the Year 2019.


REFERENCES

Ballick, Michael J., Rodale’s 21st Century Herbal, Rodale Press, New York, 2014.

Taylor, Patricia A., Easy Care Native Plants, Henry Holt, New York, 1996.

S. Zielińska and A. Matkowski, “Phytochemistry and bioactivity of aromatic and medicinal plants from the genus Agastache (Lamiaceae), Phytochem Rev., 13(2): 391–416, April 2014.

Missouri Botanical Garden ’Plant Finder’ (http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/)

Wikipedia, Agastache foeniculum, Wikipedia.org/wiki/Agastache_foeniculum/

 


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