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Herbs Section

Thyme - Ancient antiseptic

Thyme is native to the Mediterranean region, and it is thought that the Romans spread it around their Empire, to Europe, Asia, Britain and North Africa. However it was spread, it found it's way into ancient herbal lore, myths and legends.

Records show thyme was used as far back as the Sumerian days as a disinfectant. Ancient Egyptians used thyme as a part of their mummification formula. If you look at the properties of thymol, the phytonutrient found in the thyme’s essential oil, you will see why. This compound is known for killing moulds, microbes, bacteria and fungus.

Thyme is traditionally associated with the spirit world, and even today is thrown or planted on a grave in some cultures. Greek soldiers bathed in thyme and had a thyme oil massage in order to bring out their bravery. It was a compliment in ancient Greece to be told that you smell of thyme. In medieval days, ladies embroidered thyme on a scarf or cloth and gave it to their favourite knight for courage.

During the plague times, a bunch of thyme and Rosemary was believed to help ward off the foul miasma that was believed to be the source of the disease.

Both the Romans and the Scots used thyme to treat depression. The Scots believed thyme could ward off nightmares by placing a sprig of thyme under your pillow at night you would ward off bad dreams.

Titania and Oberon from Shakspeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, arguing with Oberon, King of the Elves, in the Bolshoi Ballet's performance of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Gaelic lore associates thyme with the Fairy realm. It was very attractive to fairies and a special concoction of thyme, according to a 17th Century recipe, was said to give the drinker the ability to see them. Shakespeare continued this ancient relationship between fairies and thyme in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"; Titania the Queen of Fairies sleeps on a bed of wild thyme. Drinking a potion of thyme was said to protect a person from fairy mischief.

Thyme in flower

A thyme bush in flower

Thyme, like many herbs, does best in well drained exposed positions and is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It forms an attractive a compact very tidy bush with tiny oval leaves. The bush can be up to 45cm tall or in it’s more prostrate form, as a dense fine leafed ground cover, it thrives in the rockery or as a border plant. The stems can either be trailing or upright with small, elliptic leaves that are very fragrant. The aroma comes from aromatic oils the plant produces which act as a repellent for many insects, a substitute for water evaporation in hot weather and antifreeze in frosty weather that prevents cells containing water, bursting in winter snows. Thus more essential oil is produced in plants in cold alpine type climates. Many species are evergreen. The leaves are small and oval with tiny flowers of mauve or purple in summer. The flowers are attractive to honey bees.

Culinary Uses

Thyme is added to a wide variety of foods. It is traditionally added to soups, stews, casseroles, meat dishes, breads, potato and tomato dishes, apples and cheeses to list just a few.
For a tasty simple meal, try our Clams with Prosciuto and Thyme. Click here to see the recipe.

Clams with prosciutto and thyme

Clams with proscuito and thyme.

As a balsamic herb - Thyme infused in cider vinegar is wonderful in cooking and is both relaxing and invigorating when added to a bath. Take a wide mouthed jar and pack it with either fresh or dried thyme and cover completely with cider vinegar. Place in a warm position for at least three weeks, shaking daily, then strain and bottle. If you use this as an ingredient in marinades it adds an extra "cottagey" flavour to meat dishes.

In baking - Baking bread or rolls? Try finely chopping a few sprigs of thyme and add to the dough for a hint of wholesome country flavour. Adding a little more with finely chopped sage, will turn your bread into a tasty country herb loaf that makes amazing breakfast toast with a little honey. This is also amazing bread for bruschetta too. Added to scones, they become a tasty savory snack and is far cheaper than adding cheese for savory scones.

Here's a simple low cost recipe for a light meal or snack, especially for those hot days when no-one wants a heavy meal but something more than a salad.

Stuffing - Then of course there's the stuffing for poultry, rich in mixed herbs, which is a mix of thyme, sage, rosemary,marjoram and basil. A roast chicken just doesn't taste the same without it. But don't forget it is also ideal for extending a roast of beef or pork, making the meat bill stretch a little further and creating a gourmet dish, all in one.

Chicken Mignon

Chicken mignon on a bed of potato, spring onions and parsley - an ideal single serve meal.

Living alone? A big problem for people living alone, is finding meals that suit single serve cooking. Roasts are no longer an option because they dry out if they are small enough for a single serve or you end up throwing much of it away if you buy a normal sized roast. There is a simple solution, using stuffing, to keep the meat moist during the roasting process. You can cut a normal sized roast in three, make a pocket in the centre and stuff it. Now roast it slowly, wrapped in aluminium foil and it will come out moist, tender and tasty. If you really want to cut the budget, buy chicken fillets with the skin on, slit each one in half with a long sharp knife, so they are half the thickness. Cover with a thin layer of stuffing and a stip of bacon and roll up. Secure the roll by poking a toothpick through it and wrap your rolls (or mignons - pronounced as minyons) in foil. They will freeze for later or you can cook them now in a moderate oven, like you would any other roast. They are excellent served cold too - unwrap them and slice them into medallions for added visual impact and you have truly gourmet snacks for when friends call.

Apothecary Bottles

Medicinal Uses

Why is thyme a natural antiseptic? The scientific explanation for some of these phenomena is the interaction of two volatile oils that are present in large quantities in thyme. I already mentioned thymol. Thymol is a powerful natural disinfectant, antifungal, antimicrobial and antibacterial agent. It is used today in pesticides, cleaners, mouthwashes and medications. Vicks Vaporub and Listerine are two common household products that contain thymol. It’s been known to treat ringworm and other parasites, septic sore throat, laryngitis, whooping cough, and excema and other skin disorders. During World War II it was applied to bandages before they were used on wounds, to increase the antiseptic properties of dressings.

The other phytonutrient in thyme that accounts for a the strong antiseptic medicinal properties of thyme is carvacol. This oil is an antimicrobial that inhibits growth of several bacteria strains. Currently it is being trialled as a possible treatment for candidiasis, or yeast infections. Read the study - Treating Candidiasis with Carvacol. Carvacol is the main ingredient of a popular therapeutic oil, called Oil of Oregano.

Thyme makes a nice medicinal tea to treat a cold or sore throat.Just pour boiling water over the bruised leaves and let them steep.

Sprig of thyme

Close up - A sprig of Thyme

Hairy bread

Hairy Bread?
In commercially baked goods they add a dough conditioner called L-cystiene also labeled as E920. It is an amino acid that speeds up dough rising by breaking down the gluten bonds.The food additive L-cystiene is derived from hair and feathers and there is the problem. Here in the West we don't seem to have a problem with dissolved hair in our bread but much of the L-cystiene comes from India and China where food processing laws are circumvented and not policed very heavily. By the way, if you are concerned about food additives, be grateful you don't live in Victorian times. White lead ( a highly toxic carcinogen) was commonly added to baked goods to whiten the flour and increase the weight because bakers often sold their wares by weight.


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Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

Growing Thyme

Thyme can be grown from seed, plant division or stem cuttings.

Growing herbs often becomes a passion and Thyme is one of the easiest of all herbs to grow, whether grown from seed or from bundles of store bought plants – it should be planted in abundance for its uses are amazing. Thymus vulgaris is the plant most used medicinally and also for use in the kitchen (generally known as common thyme).

Sow seeds in trays in moist but not wet soil and cover very lightly, the seed is very fine and will rot if planted too deeply. Seeds germinate in 3-4 weeks at 21ºC – so Spring is the optimum time for sowing. When they are about 2cm high and have been “hardened off” by exposing to ever increasing outside temperatures daily – returning them to shelter in the evening. When well hardened, plant them about 30cm apart or closer if you want a hedge-like border. Thyme plants grow to about 30cm in height and make an easy care inexpensive hedge that the bees love. Planting plants that attract bees to your garden can increase your yield by over 20% as a result of improved pollination

Thyme in flower

Thyme flowers range from pink to purple and attract honeybees to your garden.

Thyme enjoys an alkaline soil and a hot sunny position – it also does very well grown in pots which generate extra heat that thyme just loves. All species need full sun and good drainage. Avoid poorly drained soils, plants will die in soil that stays wet for long periods. Thyme grows very well all summer in sub tropical climates and even tropical areas if the humidity is very low, especially if it’s very cold at night. If plants wilt or get die back due to high heat and humidity; cut them back and new growth will emerge. Ideally thyme should be pruned annually to keep the bush compact. With scissors give the bush a haircut – pruning the tips. Plants will be fuller and more vigorous if they are pruned back frequently up until late summer. Pruning after this may result in tissue that is not hardy enough to survive the first hard frosts of winet. It is important to not cut plants back during fall or during the winter garden cleanup. Wait until new growth emerges in spring.

Thyme enlivens the garden, purifying the air and enhancing the overall health of the garden. From a gardener's perspective you can simply not have too much of it. Plant thyme and rosemary liberally in your garden because they encourage honey bees which will improve pollination of everything else in your garden. As a garden plant perennial thyme can be used as an edging plant, between stepping stones, in pockets in stone walls, and in containers. It is attractive hardy and add benefits to your garden.

Thyme related species and varieties:

  • Thymus x citriodorus, lemon thyme,smells like lemons and grows 9 to 12 inches tall. Look for the pretty variegated forms.
  • T. herbabarona, caraway thyme, smells like caraway and is a robust plant that grows 2 to 5 inches tall.
  • Thymus praecox, mother-of-thyme, is the traditional dark green ground cover that grows 4 inches tall.
  • T. pseudolanuginosus, woolly thyme, has minute, woolly silver leaves and stays low to the ground.
  • T. serphyllum, wild thyme, grows 4 to 6 inches tall and is used extensively as a ground cover. 'Coccineus' bears tiny rose-colored flowers and forms a dense occur on short, dense spikes. The flowers are very attractive to honeybees.

Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

Basket of Fresh herbs

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