Monastic Tea Garden – Hyssop
Many of us have only encountered hyssop in Scripture – it is what the Israelites used to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts and lintels in the Exodus, and it is the plant that St. John says was used to raise a spongeful of sour wine to Jesus’ lips when He thirsted upon the Cross. An herb book in our library says that it is one of the traditional “bitter herbs” served at the Passover meal. In addition to being a very paschal plant, this evergreen perennial is a wonderful addition to our tea garden this year.
Hyssop is a rather heartbreaking herb to harvest, since the ideal time to cut the stems is right before the flower buds open, and the sprays of blue-violet flowers are so pretty! Sr. Cecilia Maria has them planted on either side of our courtyard statue of Mary, and she wanted to leave some to bloom for Our Lady, so she is deliberately harvesting only half of what she could. The routine is the same as for the mints: cut in the morning, triple wash, arrange on trays, and dry in the oven. Once dry (which takes 36-48 hours for this surprisingly substantial plant!), the green stems, leaves, and flowers are all chopped and used for tea.
A general note on drying herbs: Whatever method you use (and there are several), the goal is to remove the moisture from the plant without removing the volatile oils that give the herb its taste and medicinal qualities. A dark, warm environment is best. The less you can smell the herb as you are drying it, the better, because that means that the oils are staying in the plant. We could, for example, turn up the oven heat to make the hyssop dry faster, but that would also release more of its oil and, therefore, compromise its effectiveness as a bedtime tea. Like chamomile, hyssop is a mild sedative and helpful for treating sore throats and other bronchial problems.
Alas, the hyssop plants did not survive the clay soil and excessively rainy Kentucky summer. Only one piece of one plant is still alive, and although we are hoping it will make it, it may be that this desert herb was only a passing guest in our monastery tea garden.
Be on the watch for our next Monastic Tea Garden post which will feature Beebalm.