Thyme – the health-giving herb
In ancient times, Thyme was known as a health and life-giving herb. It was used medicinally for such broadly differenting ailments as tonsillitis, asthma, gout, and headaches and it was considered one of the best cures for whooping cough. In modern times, however, Thyme is mostly used for culinary purposes. It is primarily used in meat dishes, especially with beef. Thyme can also be used in herb butters and with vegetables.
Related to other fragrant herbs
A member of the mint family (Labiatae), Thyme is related to other familiar organisms such as Marjoram, Oregano, and Sage. Thyme itself contains a special substance, thymol, which gives it its characteristic taste and fragrance and has a cleansing and antiseptic effect. There are about 300-400 different species, most of which grow in the countries around the Mediterranean. A few hardier varieties grow further north and east, but the most common is the southern European Garden Thyme, Thymus vulgaris.
Also called Common Thyme, Garden Thyme is a small semi-woody shrub with a mounding growth habit. It can be between 6-15 inches in height and has tiny, dark-green leaves.
The plant comes into bloom in June-July with small dense clusters of tiny whitish to lilac flowers. Common Thyme is quite hardy and has no real problems overwintering, but it's also a good idea to overwinter a little pot of Thyme indoors on the windowsill. It will also grow well in a balcony box in the summer and can easily be renewed with seed. Garden Thyme is the most commonly used Thyme for cooking.
Lemon Thyme– Thymus x citriodorus
This Thyme can be distinguished from Common Thyme by its scent. As the name suggests, it has a strong lemon essence when rubbed. The golden-yellow variety 'Aureus' is particularly attractive and is often grown for its decorative value alone.
Wild Thyme– Thymus serpyllum
Wild Thyme can be found growing on cliffs and heathlands of Northwestern Europe. It has mat-forming stems which send down roots from the nodes as it grows. In this way, the plant can spread over broad areas with its low, creeping growth. It is quite attractive when the pretty purple flowers are out in midsummer. There are also cultured varieties with colors ranging from white, through pink to deep, dark red.
Thyme can be easy to increase by dividing older plants, in the spring; new "plantlets" should be planed out at a distance of 6-10 inches apart.
The Garden or Common Thyme is best propagated with seeds sprinkled out on a warm, sunny seed bed or in a seed tray. The seeds need not be covered, just lightly pressed into the moist soil. Very young plants need regular watering, but they can later tolerate periods of dryness without real difficulty. Thin out the plants to a distance of about 10 inches in June-July and cut back, though not too severely, to encourage a more bushy growth.
Lemon Thyme is fairly easy to propagate with cuttings taken with a little "heel" from the main stem. Plant the cuttings in porous, sandy soil.
Harvesting Thyme for cooking
Thyme is best harvested in late spring / early summer, just before flowering. To use it fresh, snip small pieces. To dry Thyme, use longer pieces placed in a tray or hung upside down in a shady, well-ventilated area. Once dried, strip the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container in a cool place.
Thyme is not normally attacked by insects or disease and the greatest threat to its well-being is to be given the wrong home in cold, damp soil with poor drainage. Two to three year old plants overwinter better than older plants and it is a good idea to renew Thyme every other year.
Seeds and plants are available in most nurseries.
Lifespan: Thyme should be renewed every second or third year.
Season: As an herb, harvest immediately before flowering. As a decorative plant, all year, especially in the flowering season from June through August.
Difficulty quotient: Very easy.
Size and Growth Rate
Thymes are small perennial shrubs grown both for decoration and cooking purposes. Common Thyme and Lemon Thyme can be anywhere between 6-15 inches tall, while Wild Thyme has a more creeping growth.
Flowering and fragrance
Thyme blooms from June through August / September. Common Thyme has flowers ranged in color from white to lilac. Wild Thyme has purple flowers, but there are varieties with colors ranging from white through pink to deep red. Lemon Thyme has pale lavender flowers. All of the plants have a strong, aromatic fragrance and Lemon Thyme has a lemon-like fragrance.
Light and temperature
Thyme is a real sun worshiper and thrives best in a warm spot in the garden; for example, facing south out of the wind against a wall. Younger plants are more winter hardy than older ones, which can die in the winter frost.
Watering and feeding
Potted plants should be watered regularly, but allow the soil to dry quite a bit between waterings. In the garden, do not let tiny seedlings dry out; established plants can tolerate considered daught. Feed with a weak fertilizer solution only 1 or 2 times, in the spring, since Thyme actually thrives better in a rather poor soil.
Soil and transplanting
Thyme prefers a light, well-drained soil. Plants which have been overwintered in pots should be potted on in March. Potting soil with extra sand added is best. Use a larger pot, if necessary.
If Thyme is used for flavoring, harvest just before flowering, since this is when the aroma is stronger.
Propagation is easiest with seed, but also propagate by division or with cuttings taken with a heel.
Grow Thyme in any sunny area – in the garden, in a window box, or on a windowsill indoors.
Source by Carol J Miller