Thyme

Thyme

Thyme is one of the best known and most widely-used culinary herbs, botanically-known as thymus vulgaris, gets its name from the Greek word thymon, an herb used as incense or as a fumigator during sacrifices. Thyme is native to areas such as Asia, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region and is also cultivated in North America. Thyme is dried in the shade, where it is warm and the humidity low. The leaves are then easily removed from the stems by rubbing them over a large sieve. This lets the tiny leaves through while keeping out the pieces of woody stalk. Thyme retains its flavor on drying better than many other herbs.

Thyme has been used since ancient times for its culinary, aromatic and medicinal properties. The ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent to preserve their deceased pharaohs. In ancient Greece, thyme was widely used for its aromatic qualities, being burned as incense in sacred temples. Since the 16th century, thyme oil has been used for its antiseptic properties, both as mouthwash and a topical application. The Egyptians (who used it in the embalming process) and the Ancient Greeks (who employed it as a fumigant) both appreciated the antiseptic properties of thyme. Thyme was introduced to England by the Romans, and was common in the Middle Ages. Thyme sailed to the New World with the first European settlers, and today it grows wild in a few areas of North America. In 1725 the German apothecary Neuiuiann isolated the essential oil of thyme (thymol), however it is worth noting that up until the early twentieth century, the majority of the world’s thymol was actually extracted from ajowan seeds not the herb thyme. From the 15th throughout the 17th centuries, thyme was used to combat the plagues that swept over Europe, and as recently as World War I , the essential oil served as a battlefield antiseptic.

Description and Cultivation

Garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a small perennial shrub that may vary widely in appearance depending upon the soil and climatic conditions it is growing under. Generally this variety of thyme is stiff and bushy in appearance with many thin, erect, stalks no higher than 30 cm, that are covered by pairs of small, narrow, elliptical gray-green leaves, sometimes reddish-rust colored on the underside, and from 5-10 mm long. Thyme leaves are curled, elliptically shaped and very small, measuring about 5-10 mm long. The upper leaf is green-grey in color on top, while the underside is a whitish color. Lemon thyme is a smaller plant of similar structure that only grows to 15 cm tall. Its leaves are greener than those of garden thyme and although less pungent in flavor, have a particularly appealing lemon tang. Thyme is best cultivated in a hot sunny location with well drained soil. It is generally planted in the spring and thereafter grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or by dividing rooted sections of the plant. It tolerates drought well.

Scientific Classification
Kingdom : Plantea
Division : Magnoliophyta
Class : Magnoliopsida
Order : Lamiales
Family : Lamiaceae
Genius : Thymus vulgaris