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1. Introduction to Hyssop

A plant called hyssop has been used since ancient times. Its name is a direct adaptation of the Greek ὕσσωπος (hyssop). The Hebrew word אזוב (ezov, esov or esob) and the Greek word ὕσσωπος (but unknown) likely emerge from.

 The word hyssop appears as a translation of ezov in several versions of the Bible, particularly in Psalms 51:7: “cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean. “However, scholars have proposed that the Bible narratives do not apply to a plant commonly classified as hyssop, but instead to one of several herbs, such as Origanum Syriacum (Syrian oregano to as “biblical hyssop”). 1 Kings 4:33 states that ezov was a small herb. Some historians assume that it was a wall plant. These were burned with the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:6) and used in the cleansing of lepers (Leviticus 14:4-6; Leviticus 14:49-51; Numbers 19:18), and at Passover was used to spray the Sacrificial Lamb’s blood on the doorpost (Exodus 12:22). A sponge fixed to a branch of hyssop was used to give Jesus a drink of vinegar at the cross.

Suggestions vary for the present-day analogy of biblical hyssop ranging from a wall plant such as moss or fern to commonly used cooking herbs such as thyme, rosemary or marjoram. However, from an Herbalist perspective, we take a look at one main property of hyssop; cleansing of the blood. It is believed that the bible’s reference to the cleansing of the blood aligns with modern-day science that states hyssop regulates the blood. Hyssop has value in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders. As it is both a sedative and a stimulant it can be used to regulate blood pressure, either high or low, with correct dosing. It is primarily used to treat chronic catarrh, bronchitis and coughs having expectorant properties.

Some non-herbalist believe that the original hyssop in the bible might be the caper plant which is notified to grow on and off the walls in the rugged grounds of the region is another probability. The caper plant is used for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, worms in the intestines, and a skin disease caused by parasites. 

In Ancient times hyssop was used in the purge (religious purification) of Egypt, where the priests ate hyssop with bread to purify and make the food effective for their austere diet, following Chaeremon the Stoic.  When we buy fresh bagels in places in middle eastern countries today, which are huge oblong rolls covered with sesame seeds, the Old City vendor gives us a little triangular packet of za’atar to spice the bread.  The Za’atar packet is actually hyssop, mixed with a bit of thyme, salt, and toasted sesame seeds.

The Egyptian version of zaatar you would sprinkle it over hummus, baba ganoush or over pita bread drizzled with olive oil before going in the oven to toast.  But there are a multitude of uses for Za’atar spice and I’m so excited for you to get acquainted with it and discover your own delicious uses!

Za’atar Spice is a blend of savory dried herbs like oregano, marjoram or thyme, and earthy spices like cumin and coriander, with sesame seed, salt  and the most important ingredient of all… sumac! Sumac gives it the delicious unexpected tanginess flavor, which for me at least is the key to good zaatar.

Here is a simple recipe for Zaatar Spice   – a flavorful Middle Eastern spice blend used in many dishes throughout the Middle East, and like curry, varies from region to region depending on where you are.

Here’s a simple recipe for Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs, arugula, Zaatar, lemons, and Spring radishes. It’s a flavorful meal, packed full of nutrients and perfect for breakfast, lunch, or even a light dinner. It’s very easy to make and can be made in 15 minutes flat! The Zaatar spice — a middle Eastern Spice Blend of cumin, sumac, thyme, coriander, and sesame seeds   — gives it an earthy, tangy flavor while the fragrant lemon adds a zesty brightness. Together, it’s a delicious combination. If you can’t find  Zaatar, you can always make it, or simply use a sprinkle of cumin for a similar effect.

Hyssop Latin name is Origanum syriacum.  Syrian hyssop grows wild throughout the Holy Land, particularly in stony ground.  The Syrian hyssop is a stout, many-stemmed gray hairy shrub, about two feet tall.  In summer its white, rather small flowers are grouped in dense spikes on the upper part of the branches.  The taste of hyssop is similar to oregano.  It’s in the marjoram family.

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