Spotlight on Thyme

Just as bees make honey from thyme, the strongest and driest of herbs, so do the wise profit from the most difficult experiences.

Plato

Thymus vulgaris, also known as common thyme is one of the ancient herbs. Popular since classical times because of its versatility, it has a number of important uses which extended beyond the kitchen. A hardy herb, thyme is an aromatic perennial evergreen shrub with gnarled thin, square stems that’s woody at the base. Varieties grow either as ground cover (prostrate) or mounding (upright) standing as high as a foot. The leaves are small, elliptical in shape, gray-green in color with the undersides slightly paler. The fragrant flowers are small lilac or white which bloom during the summer attracting a slew of pollinators to the garden.

not the prettiest picture of my thyme, but it’s early spring and I just took the hay off of it

To the ancients and other herbalists, thyme was considered a powerful antiseptic and preservative. Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming and today it is still used by some to protect important papers from mold. The ancient Greeks and Romans also considered it an aphrodisiac. They used the leaves to make a tonic and stimulation tea to also help digestive issues and respiratory disorders, particularly to loosen mucus. It has since been proven that thyme can dislodge the mucus coating of the intestinal tract. Polish researchers have found that thyme oil is very effective against bacterial strains of Staphyloccus, Enteroccus, Esherichia and Psudomas genera. Thyme is one of a naturally occurring class of compounds called biocides, compounds which can destroy harmful microbes. The primary fragrant oil in thyme is thymol, a powerful antiseptic. You may have noticed this ingredient listed on your Listerine bottle. Thymol is a wonderful antioxidant and antiinflammatory agent, it’s also considered good for the digestion. You may also see thymol listed in the ingredients for vapor rub cough drops and natural toothpastes.

In the kitchen, thyme is an herb which benefits from time. Best when used in soups and stews slow cooked to mellow out its assertive flavors. Thyme is also good to use in stuffings, savory dishes, bouquets and garnis in many dishes, particularly with poultry.

In the garden, plant thyme alongside strawberries, cabbages, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These are great companion plants with thyme. Also it should be replaced every 4-5 years and should be protected in the colder zones. We live in zone 5 and throw down a thick layer of sterilized hay/straw mix which works great, but you can also throw a cold frame over it too if you have one. There are many varieties of thyme to choose from so depending on whether you are looking for a nice ground cover or would like to plant some in a container, there is a thyme for every place.

Some species you may come across include Thymus serpyllum, wild thyme or mother of thyme. This type of thyme is a very hardy mat forming species with red-purple flowers and a mild flavor. It’s perfect for an herbal ground cover. Thymus x citrioolora, more commonly known s lemon thyme is light green with pink flower and has a strong lemon scent is very popular and can be found at nurseries and garden centers . We have some lemon thyme that we keep in a container up on our deck and our common thyme is one of our raised beds in the garden. At the end of the season I usually clip my thyme back and bring inside to dry and I grind it up and have fresh dried thyme to use in our spice cabinet.

Happy gardening!

Nature has not changed. The night i still unsullied, the stars still twinkle, and the wild thyme smells as sweetly now as it did then…We may be afflicted and unhappy, but no one can take from us the sweet delight which is nature’s gift to those who love her and her poetry.

George Sand

Sources:

The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden

The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler

The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Andi Clevely, Katherine Richmond, Sallie Morris and Lesley Mackley

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