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Thyme - One of the Most Widely Used Herbs Thanks to the Romans
Thyme (pronounced "taim") is a well known herb and is a Mediterranean native of the mint family, which is one of the most widely used herbs.
Thyme is considered by many herbalists as the very nearly perfect useful herb. The name may refer to any or all members of the plant genus Thymus, common thyme, Lemon Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, and some other species that are used as culinary herbs or for medicinal purposes. It was thought that the spread of thyme throughout Europe was thanks to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to "give an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs".
Interestingly Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life. It was also a favourite fairy plant which could make them invisible to humans!
Thyme is a perennial herb requiring full sun and well drained alkaline conditions. It is widely cultivated for its strong flavour, which is due to its content of thymol. The plant is essential in scented gardens as it has an agreeable aromatic smell and a warm pungent taste.
Thyme is best picked when in flower but can take a while to dry because its foliage is tough to prevent excessive water loss during hot weather. You will find it is easily propagated either via seeds, cuttings or by root divisions. Plants are widely available in garden centres and these can be planted as soon as they are bought and watered to start them off. If you can find pots of thyme for sale in a nursery, the plant is extremely easy to tend. Plant at any time of year, but especially as growth is active in late spring.
Thyme thrives best with lots of room to spread in and the roots soon extract the goodness from the soil. Hence whatever is sown or planted afterward will seldom thrive unless the ground is first trenched deeper than the Thyme was rooted, and well manured. Thymus serpyllum (Wild Thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees.
Cooking and Recipes Using Thyme
Herbal cooking is just like an art and thyme is truly one of the best all round cooking herbs in the world. It retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs although is best when fresh.
Thyme is especially good in recipes that call for long, slow cooking as it is one of the few herbs that does not lose flavour in cooking, so can be added early. Thus it is often used to flavour meats, soups and stews where it does not overpower and blends well with other herbs and spices. Thyme is a sweet aromatic herb which forms, along with bay leaf and parsley, the popular bouquet garni herb mix which compliments many meat recipes. Whole sprigs of fresh thyme may be used when roasting meats and poultry or vegetables, but because of their tough, woody stems, the sprigs should be removed before serving.
Fresh leaves and flowers can be used in tossed green salads, and use the leaves, fresh or dried, for butter and cooking oil. Lemon thyme marries well to seafood, poultry and vegetable dishes that require a shorter cooking time. This variety 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 is an excellent addition to egg and cheese dishes such as quiche, frittatas, and omelettes, as well as cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, leeks and legumes.
Medicinal Uses for Thyme
For those interested in natural remedies and herb lore, Thyme is a good place to start, as it is easy to prepare, has a range of uses and is a very low maintenance garden plant
Thyme oil is very anti viral, anti-biotic and antiseptic and thus a powerful killer of germs. It is an obvious choice to vaporise especially during the winter and is valuable in a room diffuser. However, it should never be put on the skin neat or be used on children. It is an important and ancient culinary herb that has been used for a multitude of cooking and medicinal purposes for thousands of years.