The small, delicate leaves of this pungent, peppery herb can enhance the flavor of many dishes. But thyme also offers a buffet of healing benefits for the herbal apothecary.
The common thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is native to Southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. It is a member of the mint family and has been used since antiquity for a wide range of purposes.
In ancient Egypt, the herb was used for embalming. In ancient Greece, it was burned as an incense in temples. That practice was modified by the Romans, who used the smoldering herb throughout their households as well as at public events, believing that the smoke purified and cleansed the air.
You’ll find dozens of cultivars of common thyme, as well as more than 300 different species of Thymus, to choose from. All are considered edible, although some are considered more palatable than others.
Additionally, many of the types grown as ground covers have very small leaves. These are generally regarded to be too much effort to harvest in any useful quantities.
Thyme in the Kitchen
Thyme is widely used in a number of cuisines and is possibly the most widely used herb in kitchens around the world. It shows up commonly in Spanish, French, Italian and Turkish dishes.
The herb can be used either fresh or dried and has an earthy, slightly lemony flavor. This lemon flavor is even more pronounced in lemon thyme cultivars that have become more widely available in recent years.
The list of uses in the kitchen is almost endless. Use the leaves in beef, pork, poultry and seafood dishes, or drop on roasted vegetables, beans and lentils, rice dishes or even eggs.
Try adding the herb to soup stocks, marinades and sauces.
Thyme is often included (along with savory, rosemary and oregano) in a culinary herb blend known as Herbs de Provence, which has become a signature flavor in foods from the Provence region of southeastern France.
Thyme in the Apothecary
It’s quite likely that thyme was utilized for its medicinal qualities long before it was ever enjoyed in the kitchen. One of the most traditional uses was to quiet a dry cough. And like many other members of the mint family, it is used to relieve indigestion.
A strong tea brewed from the dried leaves of thyme is beneficial for both of these ailments, as well as to ease a sore throat. Brew 1 tablespoon of thyme in 6-8 ounces of hot water and allow it to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Try blending the herb with mint or rosemary for additional benefits, and add a bit of honey to sweeten.
Learn more about the medicinal befits of Thymus vulgaris in my book The Artisan Herbalist.
Thyme is a low-growing, hardy perennial that will thrive in your garden once established. The herb loves full sun but will still do well in partial shade. It is also quite drought tolerant.
You’ll find many interesting thyme cultivars to choose from, including some with variegated leaves. Some plants have a more erect growth habit, while others are low-growing, ground cover plants.
Adding a few different types of thyme to your garden will allow you to enjoy its many forms, colors and flavors.
Growing thyme from seeds can be tedious, as the seeds germinate quite slowly. Consider purchasing a young plant from a nursery. Or ask a friend for a cutting of their thyme plant to get you started.
The herb propagates easily from cuttings or root division.
Space your plants between 12 to 24 inches apart to give them room to spread. Thyme also does quite well in containers and is a great choice for gardeners with limited growing space.
Pollinators love the flowers, so bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects will visit your garden all summer long. Whether you plan to enjoy it in your kitchen or your herbal apothecary, or if you’re just growing this herb as an attractive, pollinator-friendly companion plant, be sure to make time for thyme in your garden this year!