Thyme (Thymus vulgaris*)

Thyme grows wild in arid hills of the Mediterranean region. The origin of the name is rather old and somewhat unclear. Most probably of Greek origin, Thymus means smoke, cure in the sense of offering an incense sacrifice. The Greeks burnt thyme for their gods in public places and wealthy mansions to convey courage. The name could also be from the Egyptian, a term referring to plants used in the mummification process. The impetus of the Roman Empire accelerated its spread throughout Europe. As Knights were leaving for the Crusades in the Middle-Ages, women pinned a sprig of thyme with a bee to their clothes to impel them to gather their strength and for perseverance.
Today, thyme means courage, durable love, creativity, dynamism, physical strength, but it is principally used in fancy pseudo-italian dishes to impress friends over week-end meals.

Thyme belongs to the Lamiaceae family, as do mint, rosemary, basil, salvia and many more. The pungent smell is due to the presence of several essential oils and is characteristic of the family. Thymol and carvacrol, two essential oils, confer thyme most of its fragrance, antiseptic and antiviral properties.

In cooking or in herbal tea, used with rosemary and sage, it is said to disinfect the digestive system, to facilitate difficult digestion, to soothe gingivitis and throat inflammation. Pour boiling water over thyme and breathe over the vapour to relieve rhinitis and sinusitis. Thyme herbal tea may help with liver disorders following chemotherapy.

Bouquet garni and herbes de Provence without thyme is a culinary crime. Dry it, freeze it and/or use it fresh in pasta, on meat, lasagna and so on. When dried, it retains flavour better than any other herb.

Thyme is a perennial plant up to 30cm high. Many varieties are available. It grows best in calcareous (alkaline), dry and stony soil. It can be cultivated in heavier soils, but it will be less aromatic. A good drainage is essential, as it dislike excess moisture. Prune back in spring and fertilize with powdered bones. Do not prune in summer and do not fertilize at that time of year. Divide the plant in early to late autumn. As time goes by (or as thyme grows by), the stem will lignify (becoming woody) and a loss of flavour will be noticed. It is recommended to renew your plants every 3 years. Thyme is relatively easy to propagate from seeds.

Thyme is an excellent plant for bees and its honey has a great flavour.

We consider thyme a must have in any decent garden or veggy patch. Though be aware that you might be unlucky enough to be allergic to thyme. If you notice any adverse effects and/or you are still not feeling well, ditch the gardening advice for that of a doctor.

Aurélie Quade