Thyme is purported to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Thyme oil provides the distinctive fragrance of Preparation H, and is also used in some cough syrups and mouthwashes.

An important and ancient culinary herb that has been used for a multitude of cooking and medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

There are over 100 varieties of thyme, most of which are purely ornamental. The two most important varieties of thyme in the kitchen are common or garden thyme and lemon thyme.

  • Common thyme Thymus vulgaris is a small perennial shrub that grows to a height of 30 cm (12 in). It has erect woody stems that contain pairs of tiny deep green to grey leaves, reaching only 5 mm in length. The shrub bears small and attractive pinkish flowers. Common thyme has large quantities of the essential oil, thymol, which contributes to the herb's pungently savoury aroma and flavour.

  • Lemon thyme T. citriodorus is a smaller shrub than the common variety, with slightly larger green leaves that can have a yellow edge. Due to its smaller amount of thymol, lemon thyme lacks the pungency of common thyme. The herb makes up for this with its delightful citrus aroma and flavour. Lemon thyme is a hybrid of common thyme and wild thyme T. serpyllum
  • The herb is native to Mediterranean regions, Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Thyme has a long history. It was used by the ancient Egyptians in embalming and was known to the classical Greeks as a fumigant. Indeed, the name is a derivative of the Greek thymon, meaning, "to fumigate"

    In the kitchen, thyme compliments many soups, sauces, braises and casseroles. It is an essential flavouring in classical French stocks, such as chicken and veal, in the form of bouquet garni, a herb bundle of thyme, parsley, bay and peppercorns. Common thyme partners a whole range of red meat dishes, as well as many vegetables, particularly potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. Lemon thyme marries well to seafood, poultry and vegetable dishes that require a shorter cooking time.

    Both varieties of thyme should be fairly easy to find fresh for sale at the green grocer. Keep thyme loosely wrapped in kitchen paper, in the refrigerator. Cling film will cause thyme to sweat and go black. If you can find pots of thyme for sale in a nursery, the plant is extremely easy to tend. It is perfect for the forgetful gardener, like myself.

    Common thyme dries quite well, simply leave a bundle of thyme uncovered and at room temperature for one week, or buy ready dried from a reputable spice dealer. As with all herbs that dry well, thyme can sustain extended cooking periods. Lemon thyme relies more on its delicate citrus flavour, so should be purchased fresh if possible and added towards the end of cooking, so as to capture its zesty flavour.

    Thyme - Thymus vulgaris

    Thyme is a small shrubby plant with a strong, spicy taste and odour. It grows numerous woody, quadrangular stems which are finely haired and are 6 to 10 inches tall. The leaves are slightly downy on top and are very downy underneath, and have slightly rolled edges. The small flowers grow in head-like clusters and are bluish-purple in colour. They bloom from May to September.

    This herb is anthelmintic, antispasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant and sedative. The macerated oil, when blended with lavender and used in a warm bath will ensure a good night's sleep. As a tincture, extract or infusion, thyme can be used for acute bronchitis, laryngitis, whooping cough, diarrhea, chronic gastritis and lack of appetite. A warm infusion will promote perspiration and relieve flatulence and colic. The oil is used in mouthwashes and toothpaste, are also effective against ascarids and hookworms. It can be used externally to treat warts or to encourage the flow of blood to the surface. Thyme baths can be helpful for neurasthenia, rheumatism, paralysis, bruises, swelling and sprains. It is used to treat skin, urinary and respitory infections because it is antimicrobial and strengthens the immune response.

    As with basil, undiluted thyme oil may irritate sensitive skin.

    Thyme is a very versatile culinary herb and very easy to grow. The basic rules are wonderful for those that don't like to fuss much in the garden: plant it in full sun, don't over-water, don't fertilize, and harvest stems regularly for cooking to encourage new growth. Most of the detailed work comes with planting, because thyme needs loose, well-draining soil to avoid root and crown rot.

    I prefer planting thyme in containers because it's easier to control for good drainage. Thyme has very fine, delicate roots so transplant seedlings with care. Put a few stones in the bottom of a pot, partially fill it with potting soil mixed with a bit of sand, tap in your thyme seedling, and water it to set. Wait until the soil is dry before re-hydrating your plant, and don't let water sit in the saucer; if water collects, pour it off and give the drink to a plant that will appreciate it, like parsley). If you like to plant mixed herb containers, sage and rosemary are good partners because they thrive in similar growing conditions and provide an attractive trio of very different-looking plants.

    Thyme can winter outdoors in locations with mild-to-moderate winters, but most people will need to bring plants indoors for year-round crop of leaves. Put the pot in a very sunny room or under grow lights, and be espcially cautious about watering. If the lower leaves start to blacken, it's the plant's way of asking for less water. Each plant will last about three years until the stems get woody and leaves less tasty. I call that a good investment of gardening dollars and time.

    BQ12 -276

    Thyme (?), n. [OE. tyme, L. thymum, Gr. , ; cf. , to sacrifice, a sacrifice, offering, incense: cf. F. thym; -- perhaps so named because of its sweet smell. Cf. Fume, n.] Bot.

    Any plant of the labiate genus Thymus. The garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a warm, pungent aromatic, much used to give a relish to seasoning and soups.

    Ankle deep in moss and flowery thyme. Cowper.

    Cat thyme, a labiate plant (Teucrium Marum) of the Mediterranean religion. Cats are said to be fond of rolling on it. J. Smith (Dict. Econ. Plants). -- Wild thyme, Thymus Serpyllum, common on banks and hillsides in Europe.

    I know a bank where the wild thyme blows. Shak.


    © Webster 1913.

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