Thyme is one of my favorite herbs! Why? Because it’s so easy to grow and it smells wonderful! Whenever I am out in the gardens, I always have to brush by my thyme plants. They just have such a happy smell!
I also like to grow a few different varieties with different colored leaves. Like the silver and white leafed Lemon thyme called ‘Silver Queen’ or the green and gold variety of lemon thyme called ‘Anderson’s Gold’! That way I can have the beauty of color throughout the season and not just when the plants are blooming! Besides, I tend to harvest my thyme plants continuously through the summer and that means I rarely have blooms until late August when I finally let them go to seed.
So, where does Thyme come from?
Thymus serpyllum, which is also called Wild Thyme, Creeping Thyme, and Mother of Thyme, is a native to the western Mediterranean area and southern Italy. It can be found growing in dry, rocky soils. This variety of the plant can be grown in rock gardens as an accent plant or planted in the crevices in stone paths as a “walk-on-me” plant. It tends to spread rather than grow tall and it handles light foot traffic fairly well too.
The variety that we usually use for cooking and our medicines is Thymus vulgaris or Common/Garden Thyme. It likes the same kind of soils, rocky and rather dry, but grows taller rather than wider. It still likes to spread if it’s not kept trimmed.
The name of the plant has two possible beginnings both are from the Greek language. The first is that it means courage and the second is that it means ‘to cleanse’ or ‘to fumigate’. So maybe it means that you have to have lots of courage to go into a house that needs to be fumigated with burning thyme! Ok, maybe not.
There is a superstition associated with thyme. In the Middle-Ages, it was said that if you plant a bed of thyme in the garden, you would either bring fairies to your home or it would at least allow you to catch a glimpse of them. I’m not sure this one is true or not. I believe in fairies, but I’ve never actually seen one.
They also used to burn sprigs of thyme indoors to cleanse the air and as a protection against the plague. And in Wales it was planted on graves and carried during the funerals for the members of the Odd Fellows Society when they passed.
How do you grow thyme?
Thyme is a relatively easy plant to grow. You can either start it from seed in the spring or start it from cuttings taken in the fall. Plant your starts in a sunny area of the garden that stays a bit dryer than the rest of the garden. Then, water on a regular basis, but don’t over-water.
There aren’t many bugs that will attack these plants either. Their aroma is said to help repel many insects including greenfly, mosquitoes, flies and others. However, even with that being said, thyme flowers attract honey bees and butterflies! This is a good thing in my book!
When do you harvest thyme and how do you preserve it?
It’s best to harvest the fresh leaves early in the day and before the plant begins to flower. Never take more than 2/3 of the plant per harvest and wait at least a week between harvests. This will provide you with leaves that have the most potent volatile oils. If you can’t harvest in the morning or if the plant flowers before you can get to it, don’t worry, you can still collect leaves and branches when you are able. Just remember that the flavors may not be as strong.
To preserve your harvest, wash the branches in clean water, pat them dry with a cloth or towel. Paper towels work as well as cloth towels. It’s up to you what you want to use. Once you have patted the sprigs dry, either lay them out on a tray, cookie sheet, or drying rack, place them in a clean, dry location out of the sun, and let them sit for several days to a couple of weeks until they are completely dry and brittle to the touch. Then place the springs in a tightly sealable, labeled, container and store in a cool, dry, dark spot until you are ready to use them.
I don’t like having my herbs lying about the house so that the cats can get into them and spread them around! So here’s what I do! I place my cookie sheet full of freshly cleaned and dried herbs in an oven set at about 125°f and bake them for several hours. I will check on them often and stir them around each time I check to make sure they are getting evenly dry. Once they are done, I store them in a glass mason jar labeled with the name of the herb and the year harvested and I store them in my spice cabinet in the kitchen for easy use. I always think it’s best to store my dried herbs in glass rather than plastic. Something about letting a petroleum product touch something I want to eat just creeps me out.
You can also take your towel dried herbs and tie them in small bundles with a natural string like cotton or twine. Then hang them in a cool, dry, dark space to dry. This method works best in dryer climates. I live in the Midwest where it is VERY humid and this method doesn’t work very well because it encourages mold growth.
Now that you have your fresh or dried thyme collected, what do you do with it? Cook with it of course! It is a great addition to just about any dish! I think I include it in everything I cook! It’s especially tasty when used in tomato sauces and in fish recipes!
Thyme can be used either fresh or dried. All you have to do is take a sprig, hold the end where the flower would be with two fingers on one hand, then using your other hand to slide your fingers down the stem, knock off the leaves onto a cutting board. The stems can be discarded in either the trash or in your compost pile. Continue doing this until you have the amount your recipe calls for. If you have a recipe that calls for fresh thyme and you only have dried on hand, use 1/3rd the amount required in the recipe.
What are the medicinal uses?
Thyme has within its leaves the volatile oils thymol, methylchavicol, cineole, and borneol. Thymol is the oil that is most frequently associated with its medicinal applications. They also include the flavonoids apigenin and luteolin as well as tannins.
The antiseptic and tonic properties of thyme make it useful to improve the immune system, treat infections, and soothe sore throats. You can make it into a tea or decoction and rub it into your skin to treat fungal infections and ringworm or gargle with it to treat sore throats and freshen breath. As syrup it can be used to treat coughs, mild asthma, and bronchitis. Include it in a warm steam bath to help clear lungs of phlegm during a cold or flu. Add it to your bath water to act as a stimulant and to help alleviate bites, stings, scabies, and lice.
Of course, as will all herbal remedies, please consult a professional healthcare practitioner before using ANY herb for healing! The warning on this herb is as follows:
CAUTION! DO NOT TAKE THE ESSENTIAL OIL INTERNALLY! DO NOT USE THE ESSENTIAL OIL EXTERNALLY DURING PREGNANCY!
Are there any other uses?
Yes! It is a wonderful herb to add to a cleaning solution to make it more of a disinfectant without using harsh, man-made chemicals!
Here is a recipe for a disinfectant that can safely be used in the kitchen and bath:
Pour 2 ½ cups boiling water of 1 oz. (28.35 g) of fresh thyme leaves (1/3 oz. or 9.45 g dried) and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Store the cooled decoction in sterile screw-top jars.
To use: pour the full strength decoction into a spray bottle, clean the surface with soap and water and let dry. Spray the surface with your decoction; let it stand for a few minutes, then wipe dry with a clean cloth.
It can also be added to homemade soaps, shampoos, and laundry soaps for that extra punch of cleaning!
I’m currently testing a blend of herbs, including thyme, for use as a hair rinse to help reduce the itching and discomfort of severe dandruff. So far, I’ve only used my mixture once and that was this morning, it seems to be working. I’ll explain later which herbs I used and how in a later post.
What are the correspondences for use in spells and rituals?
There aren’t many references about thyme being used in many spells or rituals. That being said, thyme can be used in spells to boost courage or improve health.
I think everyone should add a little thyme to their gardens! Whether or not you choose to gather the herb for use in cooking, cleaning, medicines, or magickal workings, doesn’t really matter. What does matter is to enjoy the plant in whatever form! A live plant in the garden can bring you just as much joy as having a cupboard full for use in whatever concoctions you desire!
I can’t resist, I have to say it….
So, how much thyme do you have on your hands?
|Hardiness Zone||3 – 10|
|Plant type||Evergreen Herbaceous Perennial, can be grown as an annual in Northern climates|
|Height||Up to 8 inches (20 cm)|
|Spread||Can become invasive.|
|Planting/Propagation||Start from seed or from cuttings and plant in the spring into a sunny spot with well-drained soil.|
|Care and Watering||Thyme likes to be a little on the dry side, so don’t overwater.|
|Soil||Well-drained, chalky, even slightly deprived soil. Too rich and it becomes leggy.|
|Maintenance||To encourage dense growth, remove dead flower heads by pinching them off the plant when they first appear.|
|Flower||Tubular, white to pink or mauve|
|Leaves||Small oval or round leaves on woody stems. Leaves can be smooth or hairy depending on the variety|
|Harvest||Harvest the leaves and flowers from Mid- to Late-Summer. Never take more than 1/3 of the plant at any one harvest.|
|Pests and problems||Generally doesn’t have problems with pests|
|Suggested Uses:||Use a bowl of dried Thyme in the windowsill to repel insects and to freshen the room. Place a spring under your pillow to encourage deep sleep and pleasant dreams. Make into a variety of concoctions for use around the home and in the medicine cabinet.|
|Culinary||Versatile in the kitchen! Great with tomatoes, in soups, and most savory dishes.|
|Magickal/Spiritual||Add to the bath to build up courage as well as clean the body.|
|Medicinal||Antiseptic, Disinfectant. Effective against intestinal parasites (only for strong adults), gastritis, and as an expectorant to remove mucus from the lungs. Use as a general tonic. Can also be used topically to relieve muscle spasms.|
|Use as a:||Essential oil; decoction; Mouthwash; Lotion|
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Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York: DK Pub. ;, 1996. 142, 274-275, 284, 297. Print.
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