In some areas, a sprig of thyme worn or carried by a woman traditionally indicated that she was looking for a sweetheart.
Gives a new meaning to "good thyme girl," doesn't it?
Thyme (pronounced "time") has a rich and varied history. It's been used to scare away venomous sea animals, embalm ancient Egyptians, increase Roman bravery and to enable someone to see elves or fairies, although the instructions for just how you'd do that are a little fuzzy.
Thyme is one of the most commonly used herbs, and with good reason -- it's sharp, pungent flavor work with many other foods like tomatoes, eggs, beans, potatoes, cheese and mushrooms. It's also great in gravies, stuffings, herb butters and flavored vinegars, and is often used in conjunction with parsley, sage and rosemary.
Thyme is a native of the Mediterranean region and today grows wild from Greece to the British Isles, courtesy of the Romans, who brought it with them on their travels (as they did cilantro, parsley and many other herbs).
Once it made it there, the English took it up with fervor and medieval ladies embroidered sprigs of thyme on their knights' scarves to inspire their bravery in battle.
There are many varieties available -- common thyme, mother of thyme, lemon thyme, wooly thyme, lime thyme, to name but a few -- but the one you'll find most often in your grocery store is common thyme. If you want to experiment with other varieties, you'll have to grow them yourself.
Fortunately, thyme is easy to grow, which may explain its abundance all over Europe. It likes a light, sandy, well-drained soil and full sun. It's small leaves and low growing habit make it great for the front of a garden bed or even grown in a container.
The best time to harvest thyme is when it's in bloom -- like most herbs, that is when the oil is concentrated in the leaves. The blooms are edible, too, and are a favorite of many chefs who like to use blooming sprigs as a garnish.
Growing and Using Thyme
Growing and Using Thyme covers the following topics:- Types of Thyme
- Growing Thyme
- Harvesting and Preserving Thyme
- Crafts and Gifts
- Herbal Remedies
- Dozens of Recipes
Bees also love the blooms, which makes thyme a great plant to grow in your garden to lure them to pollinate your other veggies. If you don't love bees, or are allergic, simply pinch back the flower buds before they open and the bees will leave it alone.
The honey those bees make from their thymely trips has been prized for centuries--both the ancient Greeks and Romans and their modern counterparts love it.
You'll usually need to strip the leaves from the stalk to use thyme. It's easy--just grab a sprig near the top with one hand and use two fingers of the other to slide down the stem and remove the leaves. It's best to keep the stems out of most dishes, since all but the newest growth is too tough to chew. You can use any leftover thyme stems when grilling--try laying them on a chicken breast or even directly on the coals to add some flavored smoke.
Store fresh thyme wrapped loosely in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag in your refrigerator.
Thyme dries extremely well -- keeping much of its flavor. To dry it, you can simply tie stems together and hang them in a well-ventilated place or put them in a paper sack in a dry area. In both cases, strip the leaves from the stems after the thyme has dried and store it in an airtight container.
If you have a lot of thyme on your hands, consider putting some in the linen closet -- thyme has long been folded into stored clothing as an insect-repellant.
My favorite varieties of thyme are lemon thyme (Thymus citiodorus) and common thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Lemon thyme has a softer thyme flavor with a strong touch of lemon that makes it perfect with chicken and fish.
Regular thyme packs more punch and is better when you need more thyme flavor, such as in stocks and with beef stews. It's a part of that famous triad, Bouquet Garni. Tie it with sprigs of parsley and bay to make it, and use in soups, stews and sauces.
Use dried or fresh thyme in salad dressings and marinades to add flavor and kick. This simple marinade is great with grilled chicken or could, in a pinch, even serve as a terrific salad dressing!
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (1 teaspoon fresh)
Combine all the ingredients and use to marinate chicken for several hours before cooking.
Thyme also goes well with all kinds of game -- particularly venison -- and it's terrific with pork, too. I especially love whole pork loin rubbed with dried or fresh leaves, garlic and salt and roasted or grilled -- it's a simple dish that will thrill any guest.
Of course, it's all in your thyming.
Drop me a line at passioncook(at)aristotle.net if you have thyme. I'd love to hear from you!
About the AuthorSyndicated cooking columnist Leigh Abernathy has been an avid gardener for over 10 years and has been writing about eating what she grows for over five. Her articles have served as the inspiration for everything from family activities to half-a-dozen junior high science fair projects and as research for a masters candidate's thesis. When not playing in her gardens or kitchen, she's working on her cookbook or coaching judo at a local college.