If I had to choose only 10 culinary herbs for my kitchen, thyme would make the list, for sure. It’s used in many cuisines all around the world: Cajun, Jamaican, Italian, French, Greek, Middle Eastern, Australian… Although indigenous to the Mediterranean, species are also found in Asia, North Africa and Australia. Thyme was introduced to North America by early European settlers, and I have introduced it to my garden as well:
Thyme is a versatile herb that is easy to grow, easy to cook with, and dries well for later use. It pairs beautifully with fish, seafood, meat, and poultry, making it the perfect herb to use in jambalaya, which typically contains shrimp, chicken, and sausage or ham. It’s also a common ingredient in shrimp Creole, clam chowder, and seafood pasta. Thyme also complements soups, stews, potatoes, mushrooms, and most vegetables. Find links to recipes using thyme by scrolling to the end.
There are around 300 types of thyme that will provide the garden with a variety of colors (including green, blue, silver, gold, and variegated), scents (lemon, lime, orange, caraway, etc.), and forms (prostrate, upright, mounding, creeping, and ground-hugging). They all have tiny little flowers ranging from white to red to purple, which will attract beneficial insects and birds to your garden.
But there’s more to thyme than adding flavor to a meal and visual interest to your garden. Thyme represents courage and strength when used in flower arrangements. Because both of these qualities are essential for a long and happy marriage (as well as the wedding planning process) they have traditionally been included in bridal bouquets and table decorations.
Thyme also has many therapeutic uses, but is primarily known for its antiseptic properties. In fact, the word “thyme” comes from the Greek “thymon” which means “fumigate.” Thyme oil, diluted in water, has been used to kill and prevent mold growth as well as chase away stinging insects like mosquitoes. It has antimicrobial and antifungal properties, and herbalists recommend its use in cases of nail fungus or infections of torn nail beds. It is also a common ingredient in mouthwash.
Thyme has been used traditionally in many countries for coughs and other respiratory ailments, because of its antitussive (relieving coughs) and expectorant properties. Thyme can be a useful seasonal therapy to assist the immune system in fighting the inevitable cold viruses you will be exposed to both at school and work this fall and winter.
Also, did you know that…
- thyme tea is a folk remedy to ward off nightmares
- a soup of beer and thyme was said to cure shyness
- legend has it that thyme sprigs were used in the hay that the baby Jesus lay on in the manger
- fairies are believed to use thyme for their beds
So, use a little thyme in your food to add flavor, but also at the first sign of a cough or cold. I actually add thyme essential oil to my all-natural cleaning supplies to help kill germs, bacteria, and mold spores–and to give my house a fresh, clean scent.
Although I’ve planted some in my garden (as you can see from the above photo), I have not yet been able to catch any flower fairies stealing some for their beds!
Be sure to snip thyme frequently to encourage new growth. As with most herbs, it’s best to cut it in the cool of the morning, but unlike some herbs you can cut thyme before, during, and after blooming. I try to leave some of the flowers on the plant to feed my beneficial insects. I bundle up the sprigs and tie them together at the ends, then place them in a brown paper bag with handles so I can hang it in my pantry to dry. Any leaves that drop off will be collected in the bag.
Dried thyme holds the flavor very well, so you can get away with a direct substitution, although I like to use about double the amount of fresh compared to dried. Here’s a sampling of some recipes using thyme that can be found on this site as well as our sister site, Finite Foodie.
Copyright © by Bobbi Mullins, original article published 2012
Grieve. A Modern Herbal (©1931)
Tierra. The Way of Herbs (©1980)
Grant. Types of Thyme Plants. Gardening Know How (website). April 2018.
Featured image of Thyme by maxmann @pixabay.com.