Hyssop

Scientific Name(s): Hyssopus officinalis L. Family: Laminaceae (mints)

Common Name(s): Hyssop . It should be noted that there are a number of other common plants found in North America that go by a variation of the name “hyssop.” These include giant hyssop ( Agastache sp.), hedge hyssop ( Gratiola officinalis L.), and water hyssop ( Bacopa sp.); none of these plants are members of the genus Hyssopus , nor are they all members of the family Laminaceae.

Uses

Hyssop is used as flavoring, fragrance, insecticide, insect repellent and cough and cold treatment.

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence for hyssop upon which dosing recommendations can be based.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. 1 Hyssop has emmenagogue and abortifacient effects.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

No data.

Toxicology

The essential oils have produced fatal convulsions in rats.

Botany

Hyssop is a perennial plant which is native to the Mediterranean region and has been imported to and naturalized in the United States and Canada. It grows along roadsides and is sometimes found as a garden herb. Its thin pointed leaves extend onto a central herbaceous stem that is sessile in form. The small blue tubular flowers grow from the upper leaf axils and bloom from July to October. The fruit contains four “nutlets,” each having one seed. Hyssop is quite similar in appearance to other members of the mint family. It grows to about 2 feet. Its volatile oil possesses a highly aromatic camphor-like smell. 2

History

Hyssop has been noted for centuries in herbal medicine. In addition, there are a number of references in the Bible to plants called “hyssop,” although there is considerable controversy regarding the actual identity of these plants. There is little evidence that the plant mentioned in Bible was actually “ H. officinalis .”

The ancient use of this plant was an insecticide, insect repellent and pediculicide. 3 The plant has been used in herbal medicine for the treatment of sore throats, colds, hoarseness and as an expectorant. 4 Some herbalists also believe that hyssop has beneficial effects for asthma, urinary tract inflammation and appetite stimulation. 2 Its effectiveness in relieving gas and colic are also listed under its medicinal uses. 3

Although an extract of the leaves has been suggested for the treatment of wounds, there does not appear to be strong evidence for its effectiveness as an antibacterial.

Extracts of plant have been used in perfumes and to flavor liqueurs, sauces, puddings and candies. 5

Chemistry

As a member of the mint family, hyssop contains a number of fragrant, volatile components. Pinocamphone, isopinocamphone, alpha- and beta-pinene, camphene and alpha-terpinene make up about 70% of the volatile oil. 6 The plant contains 0.3% to 2% of this volatile oil. Other constituents include glycosides (hyssopin as well as the flavonoid glycosides, hesperidin and diosmine), 5% to 8% tannin, oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, β-sitosterol, marrubiin and resins. Other substituents reported are pinocampheol, cineole, linalool, terpineol, terpinyl acetate, bornyl acetate, cis -pinic acid, cis -pinonic acid, myrtenic acid, myrtenol methyl ether, d -2-hydroxyisopinocamphone, methyl myrtenate, cadinene and other unidentified compounds totalling more than 50 in number. 5

Crude hyssop also contains 0.5% rosmarinic acid and total hydroxycinnamic derivatives at 2.2%. 5 Another recent gas chromatographic study confirms the presence of the above constituents of H. officinalis and states percentage values for them, the most prevalent being pinocamphone (69%). 7

Uses and Pharmacology

Still used today by herbalists for its beneficial effects, hyssop's volatile oil represents the most important fraction of this plant. It may have some small beneficial effect in the treatment of sore throats and as an expectorant.

Fragrance

Hyssop oil is used to fragrance perfumes and soaps. 5

Animal data

It was found to be nonirritating to the skin in animal studies. 5

Clinical data

It was found to be nonirritating to the skin in human studies. 5

Antiviral

Extracts of dried leaves of H. officinalis exhibit strong antiviral activity against HIV, probably due to the caffeic acid, tannins and unidentified high molecular weight compounds present. 8

Animal data

Anti-HIV activity was also recently found in a study where an isolated polysaccharide inhibited HIV-1 replication. 9 Both studies suggest this anti-HIV activity may be useful in healing AIDS patients.

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of hyssop oil for antiviral actions.

Dosage

There is no clinical evidence for hyssop upon which dosing recommendations can be based.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. 1 Hyssop has emmenagogue and abortifacient effects.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product.

Toxicology

Hyssop is classified among plants “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” by the FDA; however, three recent studies demonstrate convulsant actions associated with the plant's use in rats. Commercial preparations of hyssop essential oils produced convulsions in rats at 0.13 g/kg and death at 1.25 g/kg. 10

The neurotoxicity of hyssop appears to be related to two terpene ketones pinocamphone and isopinocamphone. 10 In a similar study, IP injections of hyssop essential oil, ranging from 200 mcl/kg to 4 mcl/kg, produced a generalized crisis in rats that led from convulsions to death. The authors concluded that hyssop essential oils are not as safe as most people believe. 11 The convulsions were later determined, by electrocortical evidence, to be of CNS origin. 12

Bibliography

1. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109:227-235.
2. Bunney S, ed. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. New York: Dorset Press, 1984.
3. Polunin M, Robbins C. The Natural Pharmacy: An illustrated guide to natural medicine. New York: Collier Books, 1992.
4. Bianchini F, Corbetta F. Health Plants of the World: Atlas of medicinal plants. New York: Newsweek Books, 1975.
5. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Natural Ingredients, ed. 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
6. Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal. Philadelphia: GF Stickley Co, 1981.
7. Shath NC, et al. Gas Chromatographic Examination of Oil of Hyssopus officinalis . Parfuemerie Kosmetik 1986;67:116.
8. Kreis W, et al. Inhibition of HIV Replication by Hyssopus officinalis Extracts. Antiviral Res 1990:14(6):323.
9. Gollapudi S, et al. Isolation of a Previously Unidentified Polysaccharide (MAR-10) from Hyssop officinalis That Exhibits Strong Activity Against Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1. Biochem Biophys Res Comm 1995;210(1):145.
10. Millet Y, et al. [Experimental Study of the Toxic Convulsant Properties of Commercial Preparations of Essences of Sage and Hyssop.] [French] Rev Electroenceph Neurophys Clin 1979;9(1):12.
11. Millet Y, et al. Study of the Toxicity of Essential Vegetable Oils: Hyssop oil and sage oil. Med Leg Toxicol 1980;23:9.
12. Millet Y, et al. Toxicity of Some Essential Plant Oils. Clinical and experimental study. Clin Toxicol 1981;18(12):1485.

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