Thyme leaves may be small, but they pack a powerful punch. Thyme is the most popular culinary herb besides mint, it retains its flavour well in long slow cooking. It is one of the savory herbs, which are main course herbs used to flavour hardy meals, bone warming soups, and piquant sauces. They blend their essence with other savory herbs like Tarragon and Savory to create some memorable flavours.
Thyme is an attractive edging plant or a spreading plant among and over rocks, growing best in light, well-drained soil. They also make interesting plants for the window sill or in hanging baskets.
Sowing: Sow in Spring or Autumn at around 13°C (55°F). Sow seed on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays. Do not cover as they need light to germinate. Cover the seed container with a piece of glass or clear plastic and leave in a position which receives diffused light. Once some of the seeds have germinated air should be admitted gradually. Germination 15-30 days.
When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10-15 days before planting out after all risk of frost. For best results, provide any ordinary, well-drained soil in full sun. When transplanting pinch out the tip of each stem to encourage the plants to bush outwards. Plant 30-45cm (12-18in) apart.
Aftercare: Thyme, like Rosemary and Lavender, is one of those plants which will not re-grow if cut back too hard, if you need to trim them wait until new growth buds appear in the spring and cut back to the lower ones.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvested for fresh use throughout the summer; the flavour is best just before flowering. Harvest sparingly the first year. To store, cut the stems just as the flowers start to open in spring and again in late summer and hang in small bunches to dry. Save some sprigs in olive oil.
One thing to remember: Fresh thyme has a softer flavour and is less intensive that dried thyme. Dried thyme has an added smokiness that goes well in spicy foods.. The dried herb surpasses the fresh one in intensity by a factor of two or three. This phenomenon can also be observed in both oregano and rosemary.
Culinary Uses: Thyme aids in the digestion of high fat foods, and is used to preserve meat. Thyme is best known as one of the primary components in a classic bouquet garni. When combined with fresh sprigs of parsley and leaves of bay, it will enliven and give depth to the flavour of soups, stews and sauces. Thyme is also a key element in the traditional, dried, aromatic blend Herbes de Provence and is one of the flavourings in the liqueur, Benedictine. Thyme honey, made when bees collect pollen from thyme flowers, is excellent.
It is popular for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Tea preparations are used for sore throats and coughs as well as to improve general immune system functions.
It is used as an antiseptic lotion and mouth wash; as an ointment for skin affections and burns and perfumed with lavender, to keep off gnats and mosquitoes. It is also used for embalming corpses.
To make a tea: Use two teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Add sage to the tea if you have a nagging cough. A stronger tea is useful as a mouthwash or rinse to treat sore gums.
Other Uses: Thyme is the companion plant of Cabbages, repelling the Cabbage worm. Dried flowers are used to repel moths from clothing. In Perfumery, Essence of Thyme is used for cosmetics and rice powder. Thyme also enters into the formula for Herb Tobacco.