On holiday in southern France and we found this small plant growing out of some rocky soil:
It smells quite strongly like anise but seems to be a different plant?
There are several plants in the family Apiaceae with these kind of thin leaves, and some smell strong and/or are used as herbs in the kitchen. This must be Fennel Foeniculum vulgare, because you describe it's smell as anise. Dill looks similar, but smells different. Fennel is indigenous to the mediterranean, but planted all over Europe.
It can be quite big, but on poor, rocky soil might remain small.
Picture of fennel from Dutch wikipedia:
Growing Anise: The Beginner’s Guide to Planting and Caring for Anise
Bethany is a suburban homesteader who grows over 30 types of vegetables in her garden every year to provide the vegetables needed to feed her family of six for the entire year. She practices organic gardening without the use of any pesticide and chemical.
Looking for a plant that has a bold, bright flavor to spice up your cooking, but doesn’t take a lot of backbreaking work in the garden? You may want to consider growing anise.
Because I come from an Italian family, anise is a must-have herb around my house. We use it to season pizzelles for every holiday and party. If you’ve never used anise in your cooking before, the flavor reminds me of licorice, but with more complexity.
The pretty little plant is a native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. It produces lacy leaves and white flowers on a bushy herb. The flowers resemble Queen Anne’s Lace, and the seeds are the most useful part of the plant, similar to caraway and carrot seeds. You can also eat the leaves and root, which have a more delicate licorice flavor. The best part? Growing anise is surprisingly easy.
Anise is an annual and fennel is a perennial. They both are used for their licorice flavor, which comes from the essential oil called anethole found in their seeds. As mentioned, many cooks use them fairly interchangeably, but there really is a difference in taste when it comes to fennel vs. anise.
Anise seed is the more pungent of the two. It is often used in Chinese five spice powder and Indian panch phoran and imparts a heavier licorice flavor than fennel. Fennel also has a licorice flavor, but one that is less sweet and not as intense. If you use fennel seed in a recipe that calls for the use of anise, you just may need to use a little more of it to get the correct flavor profile.
What are the Benefits of Anise Hyssop
It is beautiful!
Numerous purple/lavender spikes of flowers rising above attractive foliage make Anise Hyssop a gorgeous addition to any garden or flower bed. The early season foliage is interesting, as it’s color changes from white to green. The flowers begin blooming in early Summer, and last right up until Fall.
Anise Hyssop is easy to grow
Just give it plenty of sun and some medium to dry soil and Anise Hyssop will thrive! This is a drought tolerant sun-loving perennial flower. Over my years of growing it I’ve learned that as long as you don’t plant in a wet area, space flowers 2′ apart, and that the soil drains well Anise Hyssop will thrive.
It is easy to grow from seed
Anise Hyssop seeds germinate very easily! Just give them a bit of cold stratification and plant them on the surface of the soil in early Spring and you will get very high germination rates!
A fast growing plant
Anise Hyssop is one of the few perennials that I can get to flower the same year it germinates from seed! After germinating seed in March I’ve had the plant blooming in late July! So, no need to purchase expensive nursery plants – just go get a pack of seed and grow as many as you like!
Anise Hyssop will attract tons of bees and butterflies!
Over 30 species of bees have been documented visiting Anise Hyssop, as well as over a dozen butterfly and moth species. In my own gardens this is one of the ‘busier’ flower species with all manner of pollinators and insects. This is a valuable plant to wildlife! 
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Key Features Of Anise Hyssop
Attract Bird, Butterflies, And Bees
Blooming Anise Hyssop is a great treasure for a bunch of birds and pollinating creatures, especially honeybees. Interestingly, its flower has no scent. Pollinated flowers generate oval-shaped and smooth seeds and fruit, which is technically nutlets.
Anise Hyssop Flowers are shaped in a way, which provide the best landing platform for visiting insects and forces them to touch anthers and stigmas, in their attempt to get food from the this plant.
Anise Hyssop anise is cross pollinated Plant that relays on bees, beetles, butterflies, birds & moths for reproduction and that’s the reason it has made its appearance worth attracting for these, day & night visitors, to carry on its multiplication.
Anise Hyssop produces around 90000 blue-lavender flowers on a single spike which attracts pollinators to visit pollen & nectar, flowers scent also plays vital role in attracting some bees & Beetles.
Anise Hyssop contains, another important chemical (Methyle eugenol) which possesses antibacterial & antifungal properties & is biggest attraction for the bees to visit them. Methyle eugenol acts as active chemical defense against pathogens & deters the behavior of the insects, visiting any plant. Bees move on to different parts of the plant or plants of the same family due the presence of a typical scent on these plants. A bee, ultimately visits several plants to suck nectars, collecting pollen from one plant, leaving them on to the stigma of another plant to continue the process of cross pollination. Moths appear during the night due to presence of the same scent, and help in performing the function of cross-pollination.
Humming birds always dominate on Hyssop anise due the florescence color & arrangement of grains which become easy for them to crawl from one spike to another to feed on & keep on pollinating other neighboring plants.
Like other herbs, Anise Hyssop has abundant nutritional value. Several recent studies show that its essential oil contains antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. Its essential oil also has limonene, which plays a vital role in promoting a healthy digestive tract and neutralizing stomach acid.
What is more, Anise Hyssop is famous for its methyl chavicol, which is popularly used to season beverages such as liqueurs, root beer, and several perfumes.
Anise Hyssop leaves possess a strong fragrance, a perfect combination of mint and licorice. Some people think it smells like crushed fennel seeds. Unlike other herbs which smell sweet and pleasant but taste a little bitter, this herb is surprisingly sweet. It is put in hot tea to deliver a natural sweetness.
What Does Anise Hyssop Flower Look Like?
Anise Hyssop grows on to be roughly two to four feet tall in the wild and when cultivated. During mid- to late summer, the plant has blooms of purple to lavender flowers located on the terminal ends of spikes.
The area of the flower has many blooms that are packed into cylindrical terminal flower spikes that are roughly three to six inches long.
The plant has square stems that have ovoid leaves that are dull green in color and up to four inches long. The edges of the leaves have toothed margins. The leaves are anise-scented, while the flowers have no real scent. That said, the flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.
There are 22 species of plants that fall within the Agastache genus. These largely go by the name of giant hyssops or hummingbird mints. Relatives of this genus include the true hyssops. Anise Hyssop, despite the name, is not a true hyssop or an anise plant.
Growing Season and Region
Anise Hyssop is native to Northern regions of North America, including states such as Wisconsin, Delaware, and Connecticut. It can also be found in areas of Canada, such as British Columbia. The native distribution is Northern Colorado to Wisconsin and north to the adjacent areas of Canada.
Anise Hyssop grows throughout the spring and summer, but it does not bloom until mid- to late summer. The general flowering season is from June through September. You can encourage the plant to have additional blooms by deadheading flowers that have already been spent.
Wonderfully Useful Wild Herb: Wild Anise
Wild anise (Pimpinella anisum) is an annual plant that was initially grown in the Middle East. It has now become naturalized in many places around the world so it grows in most countries. It prefers growing in areas that get a lot of moisture and a combination of both plentiful sunlight and shade. (Note: Anise, also called Aniseed, should not be confused with star anise, which is an entirely different plant.)
Identifying wild anise
It is quite important to identify this plant properly since it often grows in the same range where poisonous water hemlock grows and the two plants have a somewhat similar appearance. It isn’t hard to identify the plant though. If you crush a leaf or seed of wild anise, there is an unmistakable and pleasant smell that is quite licorice-like. Water hemlock frankly stinks.
Testimony about using wild anise medicinally
Wild anise has many great medicinal uses. The herb has a mild action so wild anise can be used for even young children.
As an example, many years ago, I went camping with my wife, our son, his wife, and three of their children.
Our youngest grandchild was upset, cranky, and crying, but I didn’t think much about it because the infant was in unfamiliar surroundings, which could cause him to act that way. His whimpering continued until he fell asleep, a couple of hours after dark.
Cries of pain
As normal, I was up about 5 am the following morning. My son got up about an hour later and we sat for a time, drinking coffee. His wife got up a while later and only a few minutes passed before the infant child awoke. He immediately began crying.
The child was brought out of the tent and his mother attempted to calm him, but the crying got louder, turning into a wail. The boy was obviously in pain. It was then that our son explained that the child was teething and he’d forgotten the teething medication the doctor had prescribed.
Our son decided that he had no option but to go back home. That would have been the end of a nice camping trip we’d planned for over the course of months.
Finding natural help
I’d never been camping in that area, but I told my son and daughter-in-law to give me an hour to see if I could find any wild herbs that might help. I wandered out of camp, looking at the plants without looking for any specific herbs.
It wasn’t long before I saw the wild anise plants. They were past the bloom and there were about a dozen green seeds developing. I smelled and tasted the anise to confirm that it was indeed anise, then I picked a number of seeds, taking them back to camp.
Fast relief from pain
I gave the seeds to my daughter-in-law, told her what it was, and told her that it would solve the infant’s problem. I had her crush the seeds between her fingers, then told her to swab the juice over the child’s painful gums. She didn’t believe me but followed my instructions.
The baby struggled against her until he tasted the licorice flavor. At about the same time he tasted it, no more than two seconds after his gums were swabbed, the child stopped crying, the pain gone.
Wild anise uses
Wild anise is great for teething pain and toothache pain, as demonstrated by the testimony. It is also quite effective for relieving gas, upset stomach, colic, and for treating bad breath. Most people, including the young ones, like the licorice taste, too.
Like cultivated anise, wild anise seeds can also be used to flavor drinks, confections, breads, and other foods. Even the leaves can be used, but the seeds more commonly are. The flavor of wild anise goes surprisingly well with venison and elk meat, too.
This is a wonderful plant that is well worth the effort of becoming acquainted with. It is also wide-spread. Learning to identify it isn’t difficult to do and it is one of the most useful wild herbs to learn about.