Spotlight on Thyme

Origins | Description | Qualities | History | Cultivation | Harvesting
Culinary Uses | Magical Uses | Other Uses | Quotes

"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

William Shakespeare



Latin name(s) -  Thymus vulgaris
aka - Garden thyme, Common Thyme, Kuttelkraut, Lemon thyme, Caraway thyme, 
Family - Lamiaceae
Parts used - Leaves
Purported actions - antiseptice, antipspasmodic, astringent, carminative, stimulant, tonic
Methods of use - Essential oil, Infusion

Origins - Southern Europe

Description - Thyme is a shrubby perennial plant that grows six to twelve inches high. It has narrow, pale grey/ green leaves with a pungent, woody aroma. A native of the Mediterranean, it grows best in areas where there is plenty of sun and good drainage. Drought conditions tends to concentrate the oil, producing a more powerful flavour.

Attributed medicinal qualities - Thyme is said to have the following properties: antibacterial, antifungal, hangover cure, get rid of warts, treat sciatica, treat gout, ease stomach cramps, reduces inflammation of the liver, eases coughs and lung problems, treats whooping cough, treats colds and flu, treats athletes foot, helps against insomnia, eases depression.

History -   The origins of the word thyme are Greek: from the word thymon meaning "courage."

The use of thyme has been recorded as far back as 3000 BC when it was used as an antiseptic by the Sumerians. Because of its antiseptic qualities thyme was one of the herbs and spices used in ancient Egypt to keep mummies fresh for the afterlife.

To the ancient Greeks, thyme came to denote elegance and style. Thyme was widely used: medicinally, in massage and bath oils, as incense in the temples and as an aphrodisiac.

The Romans also associated thyme with courage and  bathed in water prepared with thyme to ready themselves for battle.

Thyme was grown in monastery gardens in southern France and in Spain and Italy during the Middle Ages for use as a cough remedy, digestive aid and treatment for intestinal parasites. 

The Scottish highlanders of old would prepare a tea of wild thyme for the same purpose, as well as for warding off nightmares. During the Middle Ages, European ladies embroidered a sprig of thyme on tunics for their knights, again as a token of courage.

The hills of Greece are covered with wild thyme, and thyme honey from the tiny pink and lavender blossoms is plentiful.

Cultivation - Thyme is a perennial herb. Most varieties of time grow to only six to twelve inches in height, and they make an attractive edging for the perennial border. Leaves are grey-green in colour, and pale pink, mauve flowers bloom at the tips of the stems in summer.

You can start thyme from seed.

It prefers a sandy, dry soil with plenty of sun. If your soil is acidic, add some lime.

If you live in a very cold climate, protect the plants in winter by mulching heavily.

Once established, the only care will be regular pruning of the plants  to remove old wood.

Taking off dead flowers will help to prolong the flowering period.

Harvesting, preparation and storage - Leaves can be harvested for fresh use throughout the summer, but the flavour is best just before flowering. 

To dry, cut the stems just as the flowers start to open and hang in small bunches. 

Harvest sparingly the first year. 

Culinary Uses - Thyme has a strong piquant or lemony flavour, but it blends nicely with many other herbs, without overpowering them.    Remove the thyme leaves from the stem and chop finely if necessary before using. When cooking with thyme be sure to add it early in the process so the oils, and thus the flavour, has time to be released, it also reduces any bitterness.  For fresh use, the flavour is best just before flowering.

Thyme enhances the flavour of meat, fish and poultry.

It's a nice addition to marinades; bruise fresh sprigs of thyme and tarragon, and combine with red-wine vinegar and olive oil.

Thyme can also be used in herb butters and added to cottage cheese

Thyme is best known as one of the primary components in a classic bouquet garni.

It is also a key element in the traditional, dried, aromatic blend Herbes de Provence. Experts disagree as to exactly which herbs should be included, but all agree that thyme and lavender are essential.

Veggie Stock: - Chop into small chunks and roast 1 Onion, Leek, Carrot, Celery Stick, in oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Put in pot with water covering up to 2 inches.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon celery salt  and garlic (optional) 1 teaspoon dried thyme, lemon thyme or 3 teaspoons if fresh.  Add any leftover of tired vegetables.  Bring to boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes.   Strain and use the broth for soups, marinating or add it to gravy or other savoury sauces to flavour. 

Magical Uses - Thyme is purported to strengthen the mind and aid courage.

Other Uses -To make a tea, use two teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Add sage to the tea if you have a nagging cough.

A stronger tea can be useful as a mouthwash or rinse to treat sore gums. 

Thyme Quotes -

"Those herbs which perfume the air most delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but, being trodden upon and crushed, are three; that is, burnet, wild thyme and watermints. Therefore, you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread." Francis Bacon

"Pun-provoking thyme." William Shenstone