Time for Thyme

December 7, 2019

At this time of year I love to peruse cooking magazines in pursuit of fresh takes on holiday side dishes or a new twist for everyday standards. It is amazing how frequently thyme is a primary ingredient. This very versatile herb adds depth to savory dishes and cuts the mouth feel of fatty foods. Be forewarned that fresh thyme turns black in acidic dishes (think tomatoes), so always used dried in those recipes.


There are over 100 varieties of thyme. The ones I see most frequently in our garden centers are German, English and French thyme. German is the most cold tolerant.   English has the most intense flavor while French is best for drying. The best time to harvest leaves for drying is while the plant is blooming.


Lemon thyme is a cross between common and French thymes. Its lemony tang comes from higher levels of geraniol. 


Thyme, a sub-shrub, is native to the Mediterranean.  Like other members of Club Med, it wants somewhat alkaline, well-drained soil and full sun. 


Thyme was well known to the ancients. Egyptians used it in mummy making. The name is derived from the Greek thymon, meaning courage. The Romans bathed in thyme-infused water for increased vigor. The Celts drank thyme tea for strength and to prevent nightmares. During the Middle Ages, thyme incense was believed to ward off disease. In fact, thyme does contain thymol, a natural antiseptic that is the principal ingredient in Listerine mouthwash.


Thyme is not just for cooks. Creeping thyme is a wonderful ground cover. It is very low maintenance, never needing to be mowed or fertilized. It can be used in place of small turf lawns or planted around stepping stones or along garden paths. One does need to kill existing vegetation before planting the thyme. Pre-emergent herbicide applications are needed to keep it weed free.


I once had a  waste-of-space lawn about the size of an area rug. I rounded it up and planted thyme through the thatch on one-foot centers. Not being familiar with creeping thyme I used a mix of red, white and wooly. The white was the slowest to fill in while the flowers of the red thyme clashed with everything. Wooly thyme does not bloom and so is a soft silvery foreground around which to feature flowers and shrubs. In cold weather it turns a soft mauve pink for fabulous winter interest.


Soon I hope to visit my favorite fictional herb shop Thyme and Seasons and enjoy the small-town world created by Susan Wittig Albert. There I am both entertained and

educated about herbs. Thyme of Death is the first book in the series. I must see if the it’s in the library.


Master gardener Ann Barlett, when cold weather keeps her from the ornamental beds surrounding her home, kills a little thyme in the kitchen until the thaw comes.

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