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English thyme

Thymus vulgaris


H to 15S10 – 12 Sun

Also called garden thyme and German thyme. Thymus vulgaris is native to the western Mediterranean area, and now widely cultivated throughout temperate climes. Naturalized patches have been seen in western Massachusetts. Also, it can be found growing wild in the Catskill Mountains of New York where it is believed to have been introduced in the fleece of sheep imported from Greece. For the Greeks, thyme represented style and elegance. Its name may come from the Greek word for courage or the word meaning to fumigate. It was once burned in homes to get rid of stinging insects.

It was believed that fairies made their homes in patches of thyme, and gardeners of old set aside patches for them. In the Middle Ages, it represented chivalry. In France, it represented the Republican spirit. It was a flavor in liqueurs and cheese. Caraway thyme became the choice seasoning for beef. It was used medicinally to treat epilepsy, melancholy, the plague, and as an antiseptic on the battlefield in World War I. Thyme tea was believed to give shy persons courage and to alleviate nervous disorders and even nightmares.

Harvest and Use: Thyme is one of the fines herbes in French cuisine. This is a combination of minced chervil, parsley, thyme, and tarragon. The blend is appreciated for its freshness and its satisfying taste. It is added to food at the very last minute of cooking. Thyme is also one of the herbs in the classic blend called bouquet garni. This blend is tied in a cheesecloth bag or tucked between two stalks of celery and tied together to give flavor to the dish without the flecks. A bouquet garni includes thyme, parsley, bay, peppercorns, whole allspice, cloves, and marjoram. Tie it to the handle of the pot for easy removal.

Thyme, like parsley, goes with everything-veal, lamb, beef, poultry, fish, stuffing, stews, soups, sauces, stock, herb butters, flavored vinegars, beans, lentils, potatoes, tomatoes, cheese, onions, cucumbers, carrots, eggplant, leeks, mushrooms, eggs, and rice. I use it in every blend and with any food. If you ever find thyme-flavored honey, do not pass up this gourmet treat!

The essential oil is used to treat fatigue, depression, headache, respiratory problems and muscular pain. It is used in cough medicine. Mix it with a carrier oil and use as a chest rub. Apply it to insect bites and infected wounds. Add a few drops of pure essential oil to bathwater for weakness and arthritic conditions. Infusions are taken for flatulence, painful menstruation, chest infections marked by thick, yellow phlegm, stomach chills associated with diarrhea, and to gargle with for a sore throat. It blends well with bergamot, citrus oils, lemon balm, and rosemary. It has been shown to increase the production of white blood corpuscles in the presence of infections.

Thyme has uses other than medicinal and culinary. Add it to lavender to use as a moth repellent. The leaves and flowers make lovely sachets and can be added to potpourri. Thymol, one of its chemical constituents, which is also found in bee balm, has been used in colognes, aftershave lotions, soaps, detergents, toothpaste, mouthwash, and in external preparations for rheumatism. Thyme is antiseptic, stimulating, and a good cleanser, making it a good choice for an herbal bath.

Harvest small amounts throughout the season as needed. Cut back 2" from the ground for your main harvest in late summer. Taking a second harvest before winter may make plants less able to survive a cold, wet winter. To dry, tie bunches and hang in a warm, shady, airy site. Or you can strip the leaves from the stems and dry them on a close-meshed screen. Store in a tight-lidded jar in a cool, dark place. Thyme can also be frozen.

Cultivation and Propagation: Thyme goes with everything in cooking and there is a thyme, or even more than one, for every garden. Thyme is a good garden plant with a neat habit, fragrant foliage, and colorful flowers. It is an ideal edging plant and is a good choice for a windowsill herb. In companion planting, it enhances the growth of eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes. It may repel cabbageworms and whiteflies.

English thyme is a small, evergreen, many-branched, aromatic shrub with gray-green leaves and white to pale purple flowers that bloom in summer. It is hardy to zone 4, likes a pH of 6.3, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. It tolerates poor soil.

Common thyme is not difficult to grow from seed. Do not cover the seed, as it needs light to germinate. It will germinate within a week at 70 degrees. Sow about 20 seeds in a 4" pot on a moist mix. Mist until the seeds germinate, then water from the bottom by setting the pot in water so as not to dislodge the tiny seedlings. Begin fertilizing with fish emulsion within 2 weeks. When the plants are 4" tall, they are ready to be transplanted to the garden. Once established, you can increase your supply by division, cuttings, or layering. Cuttings should be 3 or more inches long with new green growth. Place these in moist sand, and keep moist until roots form. You can tell the roots have formed when the plant resists a gentle tug.

Pests: Thyme is rarely bothered by pests and disease. It can get root rot if grown too wet.

Silver-edged Thyme

T. x citriodorus 'Argenteus' is a bushy, rounded shrub with branching stems and narrow, lance-shaped , lemon-scented, white-edged leaves. It grows to about a foot in height and is good in hanging baskets as an accent plant. Plant where low-growing plants are needed, such as along pathways and in rock gardens. General cultivation information above.

Variegated Lemon Thyme

T. x citriodorus 'Aureus' is a small, upright, spreading plant with gold-splashed leaves that are prettily colorful. It grows to 6" tall with a 24" spread. Good as an ornamental and a culinary. The lemon scent and taste make it excellent with fish, lemon flavored vinegars, and herb butters. It is truly beautiful in a rock garden, or along a wall or pathway. General cultivation information above.