Thyme is an evergreen, perennial shrub, with a woody stem. Belonging to the mint family, it usually grows to a height of about 4-8 inches, some varieties attaining a height of 12 inches. Its stem is sometimes covered with gray-green to green leaves and its small flowers, divided in two lips, range in colours from pink to purple. Thyme is native to the Mediterranean region but now grown in many parts of the world. The word “thyme” is said to be derived from the Greek word “Thymon”, meaning “to fumigate”, as the Greeks used thyme as incense, because of its odour. But some say it’s derived from the Greek word “Thumus”, meaning courage, the plant being a symbol of courage for the Greeks. Thyme found many uses in the ancient world. The Egyptians used it for embalming. In the middle ages, in Europe, it was placed beneath pillows, to aid in sleep and it was also given as gift to knights, by women, to provide them with courage.
Thyme is used mainly for culinary and medicinal purposes, its leaves being extremely aromatic with a warm pungent taste. Its strong flavour is due to the presence of a chemical called “thymol”. Thyme is a favourite ingredient in the cuisine of European, Middle Eastern and South Asian countries including Indian, French, Italian, Persian and Turkish cuisines. It is also widely used in Caribbean cuisine. It is mainly used to flavour meats, stews, soups, fish, vinegars, bread etc. and often used along with lamb, tomatoes and eggs.
In its medicinal uses thyme is used to produce “oil of thyme”, which is used treat many bacterial, fungal and viral infections. It is used in anti- depressants because of its effects on the psychological system. It is used in the treatment of a number of other health problems like asthma, dental decay, sore throats, dandruff, stomach diseases, congestion of lungs etc.
There are hundreds of varieties of thyme, some mentioned below:
1. Orange Scented Thyme: Thymus fragrantissimus: This variety is unusual and has the traditional flavour of Old English Thyme with an aromatic orange scent and pale pink flowers with bluish green leaves.
Sowing Seeds and growing: Sow seeds from February to April not to deep, on the surface of seed compost that is moist and well draining. Cover the seeds with some vermiculite or compost. Place container or pot in a polythene bag or propagator at about 13 to 15 degrees C, until germination which takes about 21 days. Transplant later in to a bigger pot or in garden, where it receives plenty of sun and keep it well watered.
2. Thymus vulgaris : This is the name of the Common thyme which is widely used for culinary purposes.
Sowing seeds and growing: Sow the seeds in soil that is well drained but not too rich in nutrients. Cover the seeds with a little compost and place in a warm, sheltered spot that receives plenty of sun. Seedlings should emerge in about a week’s time. When the plant is about 10cm high, transplant it to its final growing spot. Mulch to protect from frost and water normally.