Scent of Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Heather Howell
Posted on: June 2, 2001

I planted some seeds of what I think was Hyssopus officinalis in my herb garden last year (the kids next door moved my planting tags). The plant is growing well this year, but I am unsure if it is Hyssopus officinalis. It looks similar to the pictures I have in books. In your catalogue it mentions that the plant has a ‘refreshing aromatic scent’. The plant is not flowering right now, but it kind of has a skunky smell. Does hyssop commonly have a skunky smell?

The problem with the sense of smell is that we humans don’t agree on smells with the same precision as visual stimuli. And what is ‘desirable’ is often susceptible to fashion; just look at how fresh coriander (cilantro) has gone from being called ‘stinky’ to ‘divine’ over the past twenty years in North America. Customers who used to turn up their noses now snap up coriander plants in spring.

Hyssop leaves have a scent that could be called ‘skunky’. But as a member of the mint family – the same family to which basil, mint, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme belong – hyssop has a complex scent with minty overtones. The fresh or dried leaves have a bitter, slightly minty flavour which can be utilized with great effect in fruit cocktails, salads, soups, stews, poultry and fatty fish dishes.

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