Hyssop essential oil is derived from the flowering plant Hyssopus officinalis... Hyssopus (from the family Lamiaceae, which lavender and mint derive from) is a herbaceous and semi-woody plant comprising about 10 to 15 species, distributed mainly in the East Mediterranean to central Asia and Mongolia. It is cultivated extensively in Europe, especially southern France, mainly to produce essential oil.
In India, it is found in the Himalayas from Kashmir to Kumaon growing at altitudes of 2435–3335 m. The plant grows to about 60 cm tall, then in autumn, whorls of deep bluish-purple flowers appear in long narrow spikes, attracting hundreds of honey bees.
The hyssop herb and essential oil are commonly used as flavorings in the food and drink industry, adding a mildly aniseed-y taste to dishes.
Historical use of Hyssop
The name Hyssopus is derived from the Hebrew ezob, which means "sacred herb," and pertains to its importance to the Jewish peoples.
The sacred herb appears several times in the Bible, often symbolizing purification and cleansing. It was a crucial ingredient in Holy Anointing Oil used by the Hebrews to anoint kings and priests. In Exodus 12:22-23, Moses is said to have instructed his people to use Hyssop when sprinkling lambs' blood on their doorposts during Passover to signal to God, who was Hebrew, so He would pass over their houses when He killed all firstborn males throughout Egypt. The Lord said, "throughout your generations, you shall take some of its blood and put it on the doorposts of your house…with a bunch of hyssops you shall dip them in the blood which is in the basin." (New American Standard Bible)
From this, Hyssop became a symbol of deliverance from death.
It was also believed that hyssop smoke had healing properties and could drive out evil spirits, so it was used in religious ceremonies such as sacrifices and offerings. In Leviticus 14:6-7, God instructed Moses to use Hyssop when healing those with leprosy, "the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet material, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the burnt offering." (New American Standard Bible)
Hyssop also appears throughout Psalms, most notably in Psalm 51:7, which says, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (New King James Version). Here David pleads with God for forgiveness after committing adultery with Bathsheba. By asking God to purge him with Hyssop, David implies that he believes God can wash away his sins through this symbolic act of purification using Hyssop.
In addition, it was a crucial ingredient in Holy Anointing Oil—a mixture described in Exodus 30:22-25 that was used to anoint kings and other important figures.
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The Hyssop of Antiquity
The ancient Greeks and Romans used Hyssop to treat respiratory ailments, digestive issues, and skin infections. Its leaves were boiled down into a tea or tincture that could be taken internally or applied topically.
In 400 AD, Hippocrates spoke of how he used Hyssop to treat many ailments, including skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis, and he recommended inhaling steam for respiratory illnesses like asthma.
In the Middle Ages, Hyssop was believed to have magical powers and was often used as part of occult practices such as exorcism and protection from evil spirits. It was also popularly used to treat fever, jaundice, colds, coughs, wounds, bites from venomous creatures, digestive problems, and leprosy, probably taking his lead from scripture.
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Hyssop Essential Oil
The essential oil Is steam distilled from hyssop flowers and leaves. It contains many important active compounds, including pinocamphone, thujone, 1,8-cineole, and β-pinene. These compounds are demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which may explain why Hyssop essential oil has been used historically to treat a wide range of conditions.
One of the reasons that Hyssop is a "lesser-used" essential oil is due to its high levels of a chemical group called ketones. (look in the chemicals for ones that end in -one.) Ketones are an instrumental group, but they must be used with care.
I think the best description I have ever heard was from an aromatherapist named Dr. Malte Hozzel, who described ketones as "disincarnations," meaning they soften things and blur lines. Their best usage comes in how they break things down. In particular, they are beneficial for breaking down scar tissue, catarrh, or phlegm. But also, they break down the edges of reality. Hyssop's most famous ketone is called thujone, which also appears in large amounts in the artemisia plant and is then made into the absinthe. High levels of thujone can make you feel like you are out of your body.
For this reason, although the maximum dilution of Hyssop is 3%, we recommend going lower; 1.5% is usually OK.
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Ten Great Benefits of Hyssop Essential Oil
1. Improves Skin Health
Hyssop essential oil is excellent for supporting skin health. It hydrates the skin, reduces wrinkles, and lightens dark spots. It is a beautiful cleanser with chemical constituents able to kill bacteria or fungi that can exacerbate acne and other skin issues. (Xiao, 2020) (Proškovcová , 2021)(Mazzanti, 1998)
2. Treats Respiratory Issues
Hyssop essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties that make it helpful in treating various respiratory conditions like bronchitis, asthma, and colds. The primary chemical constituents in Hyssop essential oil are pinocamphone, cineole, thujone, and myrcene.
Pinocamphone helps relax bronchial muscles and dilate air passages in the lungs, making breathing easier. That said, high levels of pinocamphone can have the opposite effect, irritating the mucus membranes and causing shortness of breath (Tisserand and Young, 2013). However, this is mainly related to ingestion of the oil, which is not advised for aromatherapy, but it is also why we only use this oil in very small dilutions.
Thujone is an antispasmodic (Németh, 2020) that helps relieve spasms caused by coughing or wheezing.
Lastly, myrcene is an analgesic which can help reduce pain. (Surendran, 2021)
In addition to these four main compounds, hyssop essential oil also contains carvacrol and limonene, which both have antimicrobial properties that can help fight off infection in the lungs caused by bacteria or viruses. Furthermore, its high terpene content supports healthy balance in the mucous membranes, which can be highly soothing if you suffer from congestion or sinus pressure.
In particular, hyssop essential oil is lovely for dry, unproductive coughs as it loosens the phlegm away from the tissues. Use in steam inhalations and topically.
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3. Soothes Stress & Anxiety
Inhaling hyssop essential oil can help calm the mind and body by reducing stress and anxiety levels. It also promotes relaxation, which can benefit people with insomnia or other sleep problems.
4. Relieves Pain & Inflammation
The anti-inflammatory properties of constituents found in Hyssop essential oil may make it helpful in relieving pain associated with arthritis or muscle strains and reducing inflammation in joints or areas affected by injury or illness.
A 2017 study found that it had significant antioxidant activity, which could help reduce inflammation associated with chronic conditions such as arthritis and asthma. A 2016 study on human cells showed that hyssop essential oil could reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin 6 (Ghasempour, 2022), suggesting its potential effectiveness in treating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
This is a lovely oil to add just one drop to blends for muscle aches and pains and rheumatism.
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5. Improves Digestive Health
Hyssop is traditionally used in massage treatments to support healthy digestion and mild stomach cramps and treat other digestive ailments like indigestion or diarrhea.
A single drop in a massage blend can be remarkable for indigestion, flatulence, or heartburn. It is also great for constipation. Massage gently into the abdomen, using a clockwise motion to follow the route of the intestines.
6. Fights Bacterial & Fungal Infections
Due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties, hyssop essential oil is often used to treat bacterial infections such as Staphylococcus aureus (staph) infections and fungal infections like Candida albicans (yeast). (Xiao, 2020) (Proškovcová, 2021)(Mazzanti, 1998)
Add cleansers and moisturizers to apply.
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7. Reduces Nausea & Vomiting
If you suffer from nausea or vomiting due to food poisoning, motion sickness, etc., inhaling hyssop essential oil may help soothe your symptoms naturally without the side effects commonly associated with over-the-counter medications for nausea relief.
I would not advise using Hyssop for morning sickness, though, since its actions are contraindicated in pregnancy.
8. Enhances Mental Clarity & Focus
Inhaling Hyssop essential oil increases mental clarity and focus while reducing feelings of confusion or forgetfulness thanks to its stimulating effect on the brain's cognitive functions.
It feels bright, cheerful, and clear…think of that lovely cleansing and purification of the "sacred herb."
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9. Aids Detoxification
The antiseptic properties of Hyssop essential oil make it beneficial for detoxifying the body by helping rid the body of toxins naturally while simultaneously strengthening the immune system's response against them. Conclusion: As you can see, many excellent benefits come with hyssop essential oil! Whether you're looking for relief from pain and inflammation, improved skin health, better mental clarity, focus, improved digestion—or anything else—Hyssop essential oil could be just what you need! Talk with your doctor about incorporating this natural remedy into your wellness routine today!
10. It lifts Our Minds Out of Stressful Situations
Hyssop essential oil is dreamy and light. It feels fortifying and resilient when times are tough, but it also makes you feel special and cared for. It's a lovely oil. I heartily recommend it.
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Some Safety Notes for Hyssop Essential Oil
Oils with high levels of thujone can be problematic for two specific groups of people. Thujone can be neurotoxic and cause problems for people suffering from delusory disorders, such as psychosis or schizophrenia. This would not be an essential oil I would recommend if you have a history of any of these complaints.
Next, as a neurotoxin, thujone can be expected to trigger epilepsy in sufferers. Thujone has a proconvulsive effect when used orally. Still, case histories now reveal the need to be careful with topical application, too, as it has been shown to cause tonic-clonic seizures in children. (Burkhard, 1999) (Bahr, 2019)
I'd recommend not even inhaling this oil or diffusing it if you have seizure sufferers in the house. It is a very potent plant, and I'd leave well alone if you fall into one of these groups.
This is an oil to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding too.
I love hyssop essential oil almost as much as my bees love the flowers. The benefits of Hyssop essential oil are mainly on the respiratory system, the digestive system, and detoxification generally, whether that is of mind, body, and spirit. I love it. I hope you do too.