The Health Benefits of Hyssop

Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, and Interactions

Hyssop
 Steve Gorton/Getty ImagesSteve Gorton

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is a plant that's been used medicinally for centuries, possibly even as far back as Biblical times (it's mentioned in the Old Testament). The above-ground parts of the plant are what's used for medicine, not the roots.

Traditionally, it's been used for a wide variety of ailments, but so far, we don't have enough evidence to prove that it's safe and effective for any of them.

Traditional uses of hyssop include treatment for:

  • Digestive aid
  • Liver problems
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gas
  • Intestinal pain
  • Colic
  • Coughs
  • Colds
  • Sore throat
  • Asthma
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Poor circulation
  • Menstrual cramps
  • To cause sweating (in baths)
  • Topically for burns, bruises, and frostbite

You may have come across hyssop without knowing it. While it has a bitter taste, it's sometimes used as a flavoring in foods, and the oil is used as a fragrance in some body-care products and makeup.

Hyssop is in the Lamiaceae family, which is also known for thyme, mint, oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, and many other aromatic plants.

Health Benefits

While supplements rarely get extensive research done on them, we do have a growing body of literature on hyssop's potential health benefits. It's in the early stages still, but much of it is promising, which could give researchers an incentive to keep studying it.

Killing Cancer Cells

A 2014 review by researchers Zielinska and Matkowski found evidence that herbs in the Lamiaceae family, which includes hyssop, may be able to destroy cancer cells.

A 2017 study out of India suggests that hyssop may be one of the more potent anti-cancer herbs in this family, killing 82 percent of breast cancer cells in laboratory studies. While this is extremely promising, it must be replicated in human studies before we'll know whether it's a safe and effective treatment.

Ulcer Treatment

Many of the traditional uses of hyssop involve indigestion, and a 2014 study uncovers a possible reason for that. Researchers found that it acts against two chemicals in the body that are implicated in ulcers: urease and a-chymotrypsin.

Because of this, they concluded that hyssop may be an effective ulcer treatment. We'll need human studies to know for sure.

Asthma

Another traditional use—asthma—may be supported by medical science. A 2017 analysis of numerous Persian medicinal plants showed that hyssop and several other plants were able to improve inflammation, oxidative stress, allergic response, tracheal smooth muscle constriction, and airway remodeling in asthma.

They suggested further trials to see what role these herbs may be able to play in the management of asthma.

Delaying the Aging of Skin

A 2014 study published in Preventive Nutrition and Food Science named hyssop among several plants researchers believe to have two properties that give them anti-aging effects on the skin: they're antioxidants, and they suppress the storage of fat in the body.

Antioxidants fight against the effects of oxygen and environmental toxins, which can not only age the skin but lead to numerous diseases. They do this by stabilizing cells called free radicals that are harmful to our health.

Excessive accumulation of fat, according to the researchers, can cause unwanted changes to the tissue structure of your skin, which make it appear older.

Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Activity

A team of researchers in Romania published an article in a 2014 edition of the journal Molecules that explored the antioxidant and antimicrobial activity of hyssop.

Their work revealed high levels of polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) and good antioxidant activity. On top of that, extracts and oils from the plant showed moderate antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.

However, these were results in a laboratory setting, not in the human body. We'll need further research to confirm the possible benefits of hyssop in these and most areas.

A paper from the same journal in 2009 had similar results, showing that hyssop essential oil had some antibacterial and antifungal properties. Later work has supported the theory.

A 2012 study published in the journal Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica also found nitric oxide scavenging activity, which supports the theory that hyssop is an antioxidant. A growing body of literature supports this contention.

Antiviral Properties: Herpes Simplex Virus and HIV

Few viruses are as well-known to the general public, or as common, as Herpes Simplexes 1 and 2. Hyssop may have some use in preventing the spread of these viruses.

A 2016 review of studies on Iranian herbal medicines for herpes simplex viruses (HSVs) lists several studies showing that, in mice, an extract of hyssop was able to slow the onset of infection by HSV-1 by more than 50 percent.

Because of how common herpes infections are, and because the virus stays in your system permanently, it's likely that we'll see more research in this area.

A 2018 review of the literature on Lamiaceae plants against the retrovirus HIV showed promising preliminary results. Researchers said the plants appear to target structures that allow the virus to attach to—and therefore infect—cells. They may also destroy key enzymes that HIV relies on for its life cycle.

Researchers concluded that these plants may help prevent and treat some viral diseases and mention several aspects that are worthy of further investigation.

Other Possible Effects

The Zielinska review mentioned above also listed several effects of hyssop that are supported by early research, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Anti-nociceptive activity. Nociceptors are specialized sensory cells that detect and respond to stimuli, such as pain and heat, without having to first send signals to the brain. These cells can become hypersensitized in some chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia.
  • Anti-atherogenic properties, meaning that may slow or prevent the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries, which can lead to hardening of the arteries and heart disease.

Possible Side Effects

Even natural treatments can come with unwanted side effects, and hyssop is no exception. The herb is believed to be relatively safe at levels commonly used in foods; however, at high doses, it can be dangerous. Some people should avoid hyssop entirely.

Possible side effects include:

  • Allergic reactions: Do not use hyssop medicinally if you've ever had an allergic reaction to hyssop containing products, the hyssop plant itself, or other plants in the Lamiaceae family (also known as the mint or deadnettle family).
  • Vomiting: This typically occurs only at high doses.
  • Seizures: Hyssop oil is a known convulsant and should not be given to children or to people with seizure disorders. In healthy adults, hyssop may elevate seizure risk, especially at high doses.
  • Miscarriage: Do not take this herb while you're pregnant. Hyssop may cause uterine contractions and trigger menstruation, which may cause miscarriage.

We don't have enough information to say whether hyssop is safe to use while breastfeeding, so it is best to avoid it if you are nursing. Children shouldn't use hyssop at all due to the increased seizure risk.

Risks and Contraindications

Hyssop may interact negatively with some drugs and supplements. Check with your doctor and pharmacist before taking hyssop if you take any of the following:

  • Anti-seizure medications or supplements
  • Drugs or supplements that affect seizure threshold
  • Diabetes drugs
  • Supplements that alter blood sugar levels
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs or supplements
  • Antiviral medications
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunosuppressant drugs or supplements

It's possible that your pharmacist will know more about these kinds of interactions than your doctor, so while you want to be sure to discuss all treatment decisions with your doctor, it's a good idea to have a conversation with your pharmacist, as well.

Dosage and Preparation

No standard, safe dosage has been determined for hyssop. A typical dose is 2 grams of dried herb made into tea, up to three times per day.

Some people take between 10 and 30 drops of hyssop oil per day, but long-term use of hyssop oil isn't recommended due to the increased risk of seizure.

A Word From Verywell

Only you can decide whether hyssop is something you'd like to add to your healthcare regimen. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor, do plenty of research, and consider your full health history and what medications and supplements you're already taking. Remember that "natural" doesn't always mean "safe." Follow your doctor's dosage advice and watch for negative side effects or interactions whenever you start taking something new.

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