The Agastache Family Guide

Anise hyssop and its relatives offer scent, color, taste, and splendor in the garden.

| June/July 1994

I first encountered anise hyssop when I was a beekeeper. The attributes of Aga­stache foeniculum were legend in beekeeping circles: it was rumored to be so rich in pollen that bees would visit no other plant while it was in bloom. Perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated, but honeybees are

extremely attentive during the lengthy bloom period. Honey produced from the plant is of good quality, light in color, and slightly minty in taste.

My beekeeping days were more than twenty years ago—I quit as I found the bees liked me better than I them—but my fascination with the genus has never faded. I am always ready to show garden visitors my stately anise hyssop plant covered in bloom and bee from midsummer to the first frosts of fall. And if they are not familiar with this American native, I crush a leaf beneath their noses to release such a strong anise aroma that the experience is not soon forgotten.

At the time of my introduction to agastaches, there were only two species commercially available—anise hyssop and an Asian relative known as Korean mint (A. rugosa). Today, there are many species and showy hybrids offered by local and mail-order nurseries. Herb growers and perennial ­gardeners alike are discovering the ­immense versatility of this genus in complementing and enhancing the garden.

The genus name Agastache (I pronounce it ag-uh-STAH-kee; you pronounce it however you like) is derived from the Greek words agan, meaning “very much”, and stachys, meaning “spike”, and refers to the abundance of terminal flower spikes that bedeck the plant through much of the growing season. The genus belongs to the Lamiaceae (Labiatae), or mint family, and has squarish stems with opposite, serrated leaves and a creeping rootstock much like that of mints but without the same invasiveness. In fact, pulegone and menthone—two mint-scented chemicals—are common constituents of the essential oil of most of the twenty to thirty species in the genus. Like their mint cousins, aga­s­taches die back in the late fall and go dormant until spring.

The flowers vary from 1/4 to 11/2 inches long and are profuse along terminal spikes that range from an inch to as much as 24 inches long depending on species. The color spectrum includes the deep mauves, magenta, white, and greenish yellows of our native species to even more vivid reds, apricots, and hot pinks in the newer hybrids.

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