A well-known and important herb, common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a perennial subshrub and is still used in the kitchen after many centuries to flavour meat, fish and vegetable dishes, in bouquets garni. It is a charming, attractive plant for the herb container. There is a number of thymes that can be used in the kitchen including T. herba-barona, with the scent of caraway traditionally used to flavour a baron of beef, and some creeping thymes.
Thyme is a shrubby perennial with small, oval, narrow, grey-green leaves, long, woody, branched stems, and sturdy roots. This plant blooms in mid-summer and has lavender-pink flowers that occur in small clusters. The flowers attract bees and the honey produced is highly valued. The leaves are very aromatic. Leaves, stems, and flowers may all be eaten.
Thyme originated in the Mediterranean area and prefers a sandy, well-drained soil, especially when the plant is dormant. Thyme goes into dormancy in the wintertime. If the ground becomes overly wet, it can lead to root rot and kill your plant. Once your thyme plant has become established, it can withstand dry soil and drought.
Thyme can be planted directly from seed in your garden or by purchasing young plants at your local gardening center. You can also start thyme from seed indoors several weeks before the last frost date in your area and transplant the seedlings to your garden, after hardening them off, by bringing them outdoors every day for several hours during sunlight.
Common thyme can grow to be about one foot tall and spread to approximately one foot wide. It is classically used as a seasoning added to meat and vegetable dishes while cooking. Thyme is an evergreen plant and is impressive in a rock garden or when used as a border plant in your herb garden. Thyme plants live for approximately five or six years. When you notice that your plants aren’t doing as well as they did previously, you should give them an extreme pruning to help rejuvenate them. Do this by clipping them low to the ground with a sharp pair of gardening shears.
Creeping thyme will only grow to about two inches tall and can spread up to eighteen inches wide. It is a good choice to grow along edges or between the stones of walkways as it is very low growing and tough to kill. Creeping thyme will attract bees to your garden.
All thyme plants need to be pruned regularly to maintain a neat appearance and to promote healthy growth of the plant. Be careful not to cut into the woody part of the stems as this can cause irreparable harm to the plant and it may not recover. Make sure your thyme receives good air circulation to avoid any fungal diseases. A good tip to help your plant remain moisture free is to put some light colored pebbles around its stem to help redirect the sunlight underneath the plant.
Uses of thyme
Both types of thyme come in many different scents and flavors. Common thyme can be used with beef, poultry, lamb and pork with good results. There is Lemon thyme of both the creeping and common varieties which has a distinct lemony scent and flavor that is particularly good when used with fish. Lime thyme has a lime like scent and flavor, which is good when used in salad dressings or incorporated into a fruit salad. Oregano thyme has a taste similar to oregano and can be used in recipes that call for both thyme and oregano. Citrus thyme has a strong orange like flavoring and scent and is especially good when used in chicken dishes.
Thyme can be preserved by freezing or drying. To dry, lay the stems of thyme flat or hang them in bunches in a shady, dry location. Strip the dry leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container. To freeze, lie on a cookie pan, freeze, store in airtight freezer bags, and use as required.
Thyme is also used as an antiseptic and an insect repellent. Used as a tea bag and warmed it can cure styes, and greatly aid pink eye or conjunctivitus. The combination of the soothing warmth of the tea bags and the drawing qualities of the herb add up to pure relief when used in this manner. If drank as a tea or eaten raw it can help gastroenteritis greatly, too. Because of its antispasmodic qualities it is also of great relief to women suffering from cramps during their monthly periods. Many herbalists recommend its usage for whooping cough, cold, and for sore throats.
Secrets of success
Soil: Well-drained, sandy loam. Also add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at or before planting and again each spring.
Propagation: Sow seeds in spring in a cold frame. Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Pruning: Thyme needs little care except for a regular light pruning after the first year. Do this after the last spring frost, so that the plants do not get woody and brittle.
Watering: Water only in very dry conditions and feed sparingly.