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This article is about leaves and oils of the thyme plant. For the genus of thyme plants, see Thymus (genus). For the active ingredient in thyme oil, see Thymol. For other uses, see Thyme (disambiguation).

History

Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage. The spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to “give an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs”.[1] In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares.[2] In this period, women would also often give knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves, as it was believed to bring courage to the bearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals, as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life.[3]

Cultivation

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.[4] The plants can take deep freezes and are found growing wild on mountain highlands. According to observations in 2003, clumps of wild Mediterranean flora including Thyme and Satureja Montana were growing in abundance at 1200m above Tenda/Tende in the Val Roja/Roya in the Maritime Alps, where the climatic conditions and aspect favour a range of other plants including giant heathers. Along the Riviera it is found from sea level and up to 800m.

Culinary use

In some Levantine countries, and Assyrian, the condiment za’atar (Arabic for thyme) contains thyme as a vital ingredient. It is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence.

Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful, but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. While summer-seasonal, fresh greenhouse thyme is often available year round.

Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters (“leaves”) spaced ½ to 1″ apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. Dried thyme is widely used in Armenia (called Urc) in teas.

Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g. in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually when a recipe specifies ‘bunch’ or ‘sprig’, it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme.

Leaves may be removed from stems either by scraping with the back of a knife, or by pulling through the fingers or tines of a fork.

Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs. Substitution is often more complicated than that because recipes can specify sprigs, and sprigs can vary in yield of leaves.

Medicinal use

Oil of thyme, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains 20-54% thymol.[5] Thyme essential oil also contains a range of additional compounds, such as p-Cymene, myrcene, borneol and linalool.[6] Thymol, an antiseptic, is the main active ingredient in various mouthwashes such as Listerine.[7] Before the advent of modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages.[1] Thymol has also been shown to be effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails.[8] Thymol can also be found as the active ingredient in some all-natural, alcohol-free hand sanitizers.

A tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis.[5] Medicinally, thyme is used for respiratory infections in the form of a tincture, tisane, salve, syrup, or by steam inhalation.[citation needed]

In traditional Jamaican childbirth practice, thyme tea is given to the mother after delivery of the baby.[citation needed] Its oxytocin-like effect causes uterine contractions and more rapid delivery of the placenta, but this was said by Sheila Kitzinger[citation needed] to cause an increased prevalence of retained placenta.

Important species and cultivars

For a longer list of species, see Thymus (genus).

  • Thymus × citriodorus (synonym T. fragrantissimus,[9] T. serpyllum citratus and T. serpyllum citriodorum)[10](citrus thyme). Cultivars are selected for aromas of different citrus fruits:
    • Lemon thyme (Thymus × citriodorus)[11] — lemon
    • Orange thyme (Thymus × citriodorus ‘Orange’)[12] — orange, unusually low growing
    • Silver thyme (Thymus × citriodorus ‘Argenteus’ or variegata)[13][14] — lemon, variegated with white or yellow
  • Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme) is used both as a culinary herb and a ground cover, and has a very strong caraway scent due to the chemical carvone.
  • Thymus pseudolanuginosus (woolly thyme) is not a culinary herb, but is grown as a ground cover.
  • Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme, creeping thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees. All thyme species are nectar sources, but wild thyme covers large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe (Greece is especially famous for wild thyme honey) and North Africa, as well as in similar landscapes in the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains of the northeastern US. The lowest-growing of the widely used thyme, it is good for walkways.
  • Thymus vulgaris (common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme,[15] or garden thyme)[16] is a commonly used culinary herb. It also has medicinal uses. Common thyme is a Mediterranean perennial which is best suited to well-drained soils and full sun.
Written on June 8th, 2012 , Forestry Tags:

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