Agastache – No Matter How You Pronounce It, It’s A Must Have Plant For Every Garden!

This month I want to focus on one of my favorite herbs for the garden, the genus Agastache.  This can be pronounced a number of ways (A-ga-stash-ē is how I pronounce it, but it can be pronounced A-gas-tach-ē, A-ga-stä-key, A-gas-tā-key, or A-gas-tä-key) and is commonly called hyssop or hummingbird mint.  It’s not actually a hyssop, and while it is in the mint family it isn’t an invasive plant in the garden like our common mints can be.   

Why do I love Agastache so much?  It has everything you could want in a plant!  Many of the species and varieties of the genus Agastache are hardy to USDA zone 5, drought tolerant, deer resistant and rabbit resistant.  These plants are long blooming, from early summer, or even late spring, to mid fall.  They all rebloom if pruned.  Many Agastache are native to the southwestern US and northern Mexico.  They are heavy producers of natural nectar that attract hummingbirds, and many also attract many types of bees.  Both foliage and flowers are fragrant and edible, ranging in flavor from sweet licorice to lemon to root beer.  Agastache make wonderful tea plants and garnishes.  Flower colors range from whitish yellow to pinks, vibrant violets, red, golds, yellows and bicolors.  Some varieties have now been bred to grow only 1 ft tall, making them perfect for containers or front of the borders.  Landscape designers call Agastache ‘superstars’ and ‘mid-border delights’ because they are so outstanding in the garden.

Most important is to remember that many of the Agastache are native to drier locations of the southwestern US or Mexico.  During the growing season they prefer to be on the dry side, with deep infrequent watering.  If you have heavy clay soil you will want to plant your Agastache on mounds if possible, where the mounds have at least 30% compost added to them.  Alternatively plant in areas with very gravelly soil, where succulents tend to thrive.  We plant our most drought tolerant Agastache in the display beds at Morningsun where we have larger rocks mixed with a succulent soil type mix and they only get watered once a week and they thrive in those conditions!  Raised beds and containers in sunny locations are also good choices for Agastache.  In the winter most will dry almost completely back to the ground, but if drainage is good they will survive and thrive in the location.

There are more than 30 species of Agastache grown.  The most common is Agastache foeniculum, known as anise hyssop.  Anise hyssop can be grown from seed or cuttings.  This is the member of the genus most commonly used as a medicinal plant, particularly useful in tea form.  Historically it is used to treat colds, bronchial issues, respiratory issues and to relieve coughs.  It is sweet and warming.  It makes a delicious tea, especially when mixed with fruit such as plums or blueberries.  Anise hyssop is amazing as a bee plant, producing long spikes of fuzzy lavender flowers on 3 ft plants that bees love (humans too).  It is delicious used in chocolate based desserts and infused into jams.  Closely related is Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ and ‘Blue Fortune’, which both grow slightly larger and have slightly more flamboyant blooms.  These varieties are grown from cuttings.

Agastache rupestris, commonly called root beer mint or licorice mint, is my personal favorite.  It is native to the southwestern US.  Root beer mint can be grown from seed or cuttings, and requires excellent drainage.  We grow this very upright 3 ft tall specimen in full sun in gravelly soil with succulents and xeric plants.  The leaves are very fine, silvery grey, and covered with soft coral orange blooms all summer that hummingbirds will knock you over to get to.  The plant smells like licorice or root beer, and it shimmers in the sun.

Agastache pallidiflora ssp Neomexicana, or Rose Mint, is a fabulous compact hyssop native to northern Mexico and southern New Mexico with slender wands of rose pink flowers that wave over neat gray foliage.  The entire plant smells sweetly minty floral, and it is terrific for attracting native bees and butterflies.  Only growing to 18 inches it is easy to mix into the border or grow in containers.

Agastache ‘Morello’ is a hybrid Agastache with large broad green leaves above, deep violet below and vibrant purple blooms.  The deeply colored leaves and upright habit make this hummingbird magnet so pretty in the garden, even when it isn’t in bloom (which is rare); it is very striking for many months as a specimen plant.

Some Agastache have been hybridized to be smaller sized, perfect for containers and small beds.  One of the series called ‘Kudos’ only grows to about 16 inches and has semi rounded minty licorice scented leaves and flowers in mandarin orange, coral or a bicolored pink and yellow.  And a new series called ‘Sunrise’ comes in many colors, but our favorite is ‘White’ which actually produces bicolor flowers in white and yellow, and ‘Red’ which produces an actual true red spiked bloom. 

Agastache aurantiaca is native to very dry locations of northern Mexico.  Selections tend to be very brightly colored and have especially delicious tasting flowers.  ‘Apricot Sprite’ is a perennial favorite, with very minty scented leaves and brilliant orange blooms that are particularly sweet flavored.  ‘Raspberry Daiquiri’ has blooms the color of ripe raspberries with a spicy anise flavor.  They both like areas in the garden that are hot and dry and will easily rebloom if pruned lightly.

Agastache barberi ‘Tutti Frutti’, or giant hyssop, is probably the least hardy, but is so yummy and delicious it is worth finding a new plant every year so you can enjoy the flavor of the flowers and foliage in your tea and edible garnishes.  With big spikes of vivid purple flowers that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies on long elegant spikes, it makes an interesting cut flower.  Many customers who ‘graze’ through the Agastache to taste which is their favorite decide they love this one the best!  It is very sweet with lots of anise and a bit of mint.  

Are you growing any of these in your garden?  If you aren’t yet, you need to add some of these lovely fragrant perennials now so you can be harvesting flowers and feeding all of your pollinator friends this summer!