An Essential Guide to Hummingbird Bird Mint: Uses, Benefits, and Growing Tips at Home
When you hear Hummingbird Mint, you probably think of one particular plant—likely one with a tall stock of brightly colored blooms in purple, orange, or magenta. That’s because Hummingbird Mint (also known as hyssop or anise-hyssop) is a common name used to describe multiple species of flowering plants within the genus known as Agastache.
Adored by all kinds of pollinators (but especially hummingbirds), agastache is also an excellent choice for water-conscious gardens, as this un-fussy plant can thrive in even some of the driest climes. Whether you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge of this gorgeous perennial or just learning the ropes on how to plant it—we’ve got everything you need to know about Hummingbird Mint right here.
About Hummingbird Mint
Native to Eastern Asia and the Midwest and Great Plains regions of the U.S., the genus Agastache is thought to have first appeared nearly 25 million years ago on the Bering Land Bridge— hence why this plant appears in both Asia and North America. The name Agastache comes from the ancient Greek words ἄγαν (ágan) “very much” and στάχυς (stákhus) “ear of corn”, probably describing the plant’s multitude of flowering spikes.
As a member of the mint family (the Lamiaceae), this plant has many signature mint qualities, including square stems and pink to purplish flowers. Unlike other members of the mint family, Hummingbird Mint is a wood-based perennial— meaning it retains a woody base at the end of its grow season.
Hummingbird Mint also grows to be much bigger than other members of the mint family— with stalks reaching up to three feet tall, and the ability to spread into clumps that are up to five feet wide. The flowers of this plant also differ from other species of mint, and appear as terminal tubular stocks containing many small flowers (hence the latin name “ear of corn”).
Agastache plants come in many varieties, including the beloved “Texas hyssop” (Agastache cana) with rose to raspberry pink blooms as well as its vivid blue-bloomed cousin, Agastache foeniculum. While most agastache plants are deliciously fragrant and can be enjoyed by both pollinators and humans alike, these plants come with several distinct flavor profiles to be aware of. For example, Agastache foeniculum is known for having a “licorice” or “tarragon-like” taste, while Korean Hummingbird Mint (Agastache rugosa) has a more classically sweet-mint profile.
Uses & Benefits of Hummingbird Mint
The many varieties of this colorful and aromatic plant have also been used in culinary and medicinal applications for thousands of years. Anise-hyssop (A. foeniculum) was often used by the First Nation people of North America to treat things like indigestion and stomach pain, as well as colds, coughs, and even fever. It was used to flavor foods and sweeten tea.
Korean mint (A. rugosa) also has a long documented history of being used in a variety of foods and medicines throughout East Asia. Known as Huo xiang, practitioners of traditional Chinese Medicine will often prescribe this plant to help with nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite. Korean Mint is also used to flavor many signature fish-based soups and meat sauces.
Harvesting Your Mint
To harvest your mint plant, cut off the tips before (or right as) flowers come into bloom. Try to always cut sparingly or at the fork of a plant (where another shoot can grow) to keep your garden looking healthy, and to keep your plants growing strong. Cuts should be made at an angle whenever possible to allow water to run off the tip of the stem. If well-cared for, most Hummingbird Mints will continue to bloom throughout the summer season, giving you plenty of fresh herbal material and attracting birds, butterflies, and bees by the dozens.
How to Grow & Care for Hummingbird Mint
Like many members of the mint clan, Hummingbird Mint is relatively easy to take care of. Although plant care will vary based on where you live and the kind of agastache you choose to grow, there are some general guidelines for the overall well-being of your plant. We’ll dive into those here.
Seeds vs. Plants
Although you can grow mint from seed, it’s a lot easier to find a young healthy plant and start from there. For many of us, the growing season is too short to warrant growing plants from seed, and plants are also much more vulnerable when they’re just tiny green shoots. Unless you’re looking for a real challenge this spring, aim to buy your mint plants early in the season from a reputable nursery and get them in the ground once temperatures are stable and warm.
Mint likes full sun, so if you have an extra hot corner of your garden where more sun-sensitive plants seem to fail, put your agastache here. Although they will tolerate part-shade, Hummingbird Mint (like other mints) is happiest with a good dose of daily heat. Many growers describe mint as benefiting from “tough love” and the amount of sun they get is no exception. Plant your mint in a hot sunny spot, and they’ll be much happier.
Mint also requires well-draining soil. That doesn’t mean you want them to fully dry out (they still need some water!), but it does mean they don’t like their feet wet. If your soil tends to be very dense, try breaking it up with some sand or gravel. Mint prefers soil that isn’t too nutrient heavy, so skip adding fertilizer or amending the soil with compost when planting.
Take care not to overwater your mint plants, as they likely won’t require the same amount of water as other members of your garden. Soil should be kept moist, but not waterlogged. You’ll know right away if your mint needs more water as the leaves will start to droop.
If your garden tends toward denser soil, you might also check that water is actually draining from around the base of your mint plant, as this can also make them unhappy. Do this by pressing a finger a few inches into the soil surrounding your plant between waterings.
Ultimately how much water your mint needs will depend on the conditions of your garden: How much rain and sun it receives, but also how well the soil retains moisture. Get to know your garden, and you’ll be better able to support all of your plants— including your mint.
Other Grow Tips
Besides ensuring your Hummingbird Mint has what it needs to thrive during the growing season, there are a few additional things you can do to help it survive the winter. The first thing is to leave the stems over the winter and only cut them back during the spring. While most plants require a good pruning in either the fall or spring, Hummingbird Mint enjoys keeping its stems to help with winter hardiness. This is generally a good rule of thumb for most herbaceous perennials. You can give your mint a good haircut (all the way down to the woody growth) come spring time.
Although mint tends to prefer unfertilized soil, preparing it for winter is yet another exception to this rule. For a bit of extra support, sprinkle a small handful of Yum Yum mix or other organic fertilizer (mixed with compost) around the base of your mint plant in the fall. Avoid harsh chemical fertilizers as they can weaken the plant’s resistance to cold.
With so many species of agastache to choose from, it can be hard to decide which one is best for your garden. The thing to remember is that different varieties will do better in different climates. For example, the blue varieties of agastache prefer richer soils and more moisture. ‘Blue Fortune’ is one such variety that’s especially cold resistant and can thrive in zones 4-10.
On the other hand, many of the orange, pink, and red agastache varieties prefer hot dry climates and are happiest in Southwestern gardens. These varieties are also more sensitive to cold, and prefer a garden that doesn’t receive more than 25” of rain or snow per year. For this reason, these agastache are often called “waterwise.”
The Final Word
If you’re looking to build a true pollinator garden, Hummingbird Mint is a great addition. Not only will these bright blooms add a cheerful splash of color to your landscape, but they can also be used for a variety of culinary and medicinal practices.
Nothing is quite as satisfying as getting rid of your hummingbird feeder because the birds prefer the sweet taste of your abundant agastache. Find out which variety works best in your area, then see for yourself just how magical this species of mint really is.