Thyme is a delicate looking herb with a penetrating fragrance. Although it ends up being a secondary herb, not getting the attention of more popular herbs like basil or sage, thyme is invaluable in the kitchen. It has a light subtle minty flavor and a dry aroma.
The name Thyme, in it’s Greek form, was first given to the plant as a derivative of a word which meant ‘to fumigate,’ either because they used it as incense, for its balsamic odor, or because it was taken as a type of all sweet-smelling herbs.
Others derive the name from the Greek word thumus which signified courage. The plant being held in ancient and medieval days to be a great source of invigoration, its cordial qualities inspired courage. This courageous meaning was the intent of the use of thyme in the folk song “Scarborough Fair”.
Thyme leaves are curled, elliptically shaped and very small. The upper leaf is green-grey in color on top, while the underside is a whitish color. There are over one hundred varieties of thyme, with the most common being Garden Thyme and Lemon Thyme. The many types are so close in appearance, it is often difficult to differentiate them.
Thyme is grown in southern Europe, inlcuding France, Spain, and Portugal. It is also indigineous to the Mediterranean but is prone to disease and insect infestation in the deep south. Southern gardeners may want to grow thyme indoors in containers so that conditions may be carefully controlled. Most varieties grow to only six to twelve inches in height, and they make an attractive edging for the perennial border. Leaves are dark gray-green in color, and pale pink flowers bloom at the tips of the stems in summer.
Along with fresh sprigs of parsley and bay leaves, thyme is included in the French combination of herbs called bouquet garni used to season stock, stews and soups. However you can add a variety of herbs to the bouquet depending on the type of stock you are preparing. Simply bunch the stems together and tie with a string. Add your combination to your stock while simmering to infuse the most flavor. Before consumption, the bouquet is typically removed.
Although Thyme grows easily, especially in calcareous light, dry, stony soils, it can be cultivated in heavy soils, but it becomes less aromatic. It dislikes excess of moisture. To form Thyme beds, choose uncultivated ground. If Thyme grows up walls or on dry, stony land, it will survive the severest cold of that particular country. If the soil does not suit it very well and is close and heavy it may become angry and revolt. In a gritty soil it will root quickly, but it does not like a close, cold soil among it’s roots. But who does?
If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own, keep in mind that thyme leaves are sweetest if picked just as the flowers appear. You can start thyme from seeds to get a wider selection of varieties. Most nurseries carry transplants in spring and summer. It prefers a sandy, dry soil and plenty of sun. If your soil is acidic, add some lime. If you live in a very cold climate, protect the plants in winter by mulching heavily. Once established, the only care will be regular pruning of the plants and removal of dead flowers and pruning to remove old wood.
Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. Fresh, dried, and powdered thyme are readily available year-round in most markets.
Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g. in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded, but you can save the stems and throw them your barbeque coals for an aromatic grilling experience. Usually when a recipe specifies ‘bunch’ or ‘sprig’ it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme. To strip a stem of it’s leaves, place the stem between your fingers and pulling the stem in the opposite direction of the leaf growth.
As mentioned earlier, thyme can be used in the French bouquet garni. But you can rub minced garlic and thyme over lamb, pork, or beef roasts. Season cheese, tomato, and egg dishes with thyme or blend fragrant thyme into poultry stuffing, spaghetti or pizza sauce, and chili along with any combination of marjoram, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, or garlic.
There are also a lot of health benefits from making thyme tea. In Germany, concoctions of thyme are frequently prescribed for coughs, including those resulting from whooping cough, bronchitis and emphysema.
Jim received a thyme infused tea from his co-worker, Uzeir. The Azeri tea (from Azerbaijan) was comprised of black tea and thyme. It is very delicious with a hint of mint. The taste is quite delicate but the aroma is fiercely thyme-like. It was very relaxing. Purchase your own Azeri Thyme Tea (Purrengi Tea) and let me know how you like it. I’m sure Jim and Uzeir would be glad to know others enjoy it!
Lisa from the cooking blog My Own Sweet Thyme points out, you can also create a tea out of just thyme. I have submitted her recipe to Tasty Planner so everyone can enjoy this lemony treat. It is basically comprised of lemon thyme and a lemon slice brewed in hot water to create this throat soothing tea.
Be careful when using thyme, however. The flavor can sometime overwhelm dishes so use the herb sparingly until you become more aware of its properties. Check out these other thyme recipes on Tasty Planner.
Store fresh thyme in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator or stand sprigs in a glass of water on the refrigerator shelf.
When cooking with thyme, be aware that one fresh sprig equals the flavoring power of one-half teaspoon of dried thyme. As with most leafy dried herbs, be sure to crush the leaves between your hands before adding them to your recipe. To dry your own, hang bundles of sprigs upside-down in an warm, dry, airy location for about ten days.
Dried thyme should be stored in a cool, dark place, in an airtight container for no more than 6 months.
Nutritional Information –
Thyme is an excellent source of iron, manganese, and vitamin K. It is also a very good source of calcium and a good source of dietary fiber.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Thyme.
Thyme has a long history of use in natural medicine in connection with chest and respiratory problems including coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion. Only recently, however, have researchers pinpointed some of the components in thyme that bring about its healing effects. The volatile oil components of thyme are now known to include carvacolo, borneol, geraniol, but most importantly, thymol. These volatile oil components of thyme have also been shown to have antimicrobial activity against a host of different bacteria and fungi. Staphalococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli and Shigella sonnei are a few of the species against which thyme has been shown to have antibacterial activity.
So plant some thyme and get in the kitchen! Happy Cooking!