Know your herbs: Thyme
Varieties of thyme
Common/garden thyme is the principal culinary thyme. It has tiny, narrow, elliptic, grey-green leaves and whorls of white to mauve flowers.
Caraway thyme is a wiry carpeting thyme with tiny, almost glossy leaves, a delicious caraway scent and lavender flowers.
Conehead thyme is an intensely scented, compacted subshrub with tiny rigid, almost fleshy leaves and distinctive conical clusters of deep pink flowers. It has a pungent scent and is the source of Spanish oregano oil.
Spanish thyme forms a neat grey, upright subshrub with a strong oregano-thyme scent that borders of lavender or eucalyptus smell. This thyme is frost hardy its robust aroma is good for barbeques.
Lemon thyme forms spreading, bushy, fresh green-leafed plants which are redolent of lemon and thyme. They have somewhat sparse heads of lilac flowers.
Broad-leafed thyme has distinctively broad elliptical leaves, a rather sprawling habit and whorls of mauve flowers. It is variable in appearance and aroma.
Wild or creeping thyme is the mother of thyme and native to northern Europe. There are many varieties of this thyme and can be used for herbal medicines or decoration.
Thymes require good drainage and a sunny position. You can grow this herb in pots or as a border plant around the garden.
Raise thyme species from seed in spring and propagate named varieties by cuttings in summer. Creeping thymes are more easily propagated by division in spring.
Weed regularly. Propagate bushy thyme every 3-4 years as it becomes woody and less productive. Remove fallen leaves of deciduous plants from thymes in winter to prevent rotting of foliage. Watch for excess moisture as this can cause roots and foliage to rot.
Harvesting and storing
Pick sprigs of thyme to use fresh at any time. For drying, pick flowering sprigs and dry in bunches or on trays out of direct sunlight. Strip leaves from stems when dried and store in jars. Thyme retains its aroma well when dried.
Thyme has potent anti-microbial properties, which are attributed to the high content of essential oil. It also possesses a muscle-relaxant property and an ability to thin mucus in the lungs, and can be useful in relieving congestion.
These combined effects make thyme a formidable remedy when it comes to treating respiratory conditions such as colds and flu.
Thyme can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and tonsillitis. The essential oil, known as thymol, is an ingredient of many oral hygiene products. In addition, thyme alleviates the symptoms of indigestion, such as gas, bloating and cramps, and its antimicrobial properties can also be helpful in the treatment of gastrointestinal infections.
It's important to note that you shouldn't use thyme in greater than culinary quantities if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Thyme oil should not be taken internally.
Dosage: Infuse up to one teaspoon (4g) of dried thyme leaves or two teaspoons of fresh leaves in boiling water; drink three cups per day.
Around the home
Thyme essential oil is a great addition to cleaning products and disinfectant sprays.
For a powerful and fresh-smelling bathroom cleaning spray, mix 1/4 teaspoon each of lemon, bergamot, pine, thyme, citronella and tea tree essential oils with two teaspoons of vinegar, one tablespoon of ammonia and one litre of water. Then, to this solution add two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda and shake until well combined.
Use thyme essential oil in an oil diffuser in a sick room for its anti-bacterial qualities and soothing aroma.
Thyme is an essential ingredient in mixed herbs, bouquet garni and herbes de Provence. It is a major culinary herb in Mediterranean cuisines, where it excels in slow-cooked casseroles and dishes containing meat, poultry or game.
It can be assertive and dominate other flavours, so robust companions, such as onions, red wine and garlic work well.
Use thyme in terrines, pates, meat pies, marinades (especially for olives), aubergine and tomato dishes and thick vegetable-based soups. Dried thyme is often used in the jambalayas and gumbos of Creole and Cajun cooking.
Various other kinds of thyme as also used for flavouring. Lemon thyme has a delicate flavour that complements fish and chicken dishes.
More from this series:
Know your herbs: Mint