Evergreen hardy perennial Thyme (Thymus spp.) originates from the Mediterranean, has a great number of medicinal and culinary uses and is easily grown in containers, making it ideal for the Urban Herbologist. It is a strong herb containing volatile oils and should be avoided by pregnant women and used sparingly by others.
Growing Thyme in Containers
There are a vast number of Thyme varieties, each having a slightly different scent, appearance and flower colour. Thymus vulgaris is the Common Garden Thyme. All Thyme varieties have relatively shallow woody roots and form a soil covering carpet. A healthy plant can be easily “split” to give you many new plants for free. Being a Mediterranean herb, it does well in poor soil and should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Thyme will quite rapidly use up the nutrients in soil, so do re-pot every year or so to encourage healthy growth. The leaves of Thyme develop a more intense flavour and scent when grown in strong sunlight although dark leaved varieties can thrive in fairly shady locations.
This year I am experimenting with Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus) grown in a container, around the base of a Lemon Verbena. I bought one small pot of organic Lemon Thyme from my local garden centre and split the plant into four before re-potting. Lemon Verbena is quite a tender deciduous shrub so drops its leaves in winter and needs to come inside to survive. Thyme is winter hardy but has the same watering requirements as Verbena so they should do well together. I’m also hoping that Thyme’s shallow roots won’t out-compete the Verbena, when spring arrives.
Since ancient times Thyme has been prized for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It was used widely in combination with other herbs for; embalming, temple incense, nosegays to ward off disease, room purification and even to induce visions of fairies. The Romans used it to add an aromatic flavour to cheese but generally ancient people used it medicinally.
These days Thyme is best known as a culinary herb, it has a strong, pleasant flavour and reportedly has good antioxidant properties. Many stews, salads and sauces are enhanced by adding a little Thyme. Chicken and fish dishes are particularly well suited to it. Because of its strength I far prefer Thyme as a culinary herb, adding it to food more regularly when the cold and flu season is upon us. If you like the taste of lambs liver, try cooking it with a simple sauce made from softened onion, garlic, chopped tomato and thyme.
Some people find Thyme tea a useful hangover remedy but it is more widely used as a throat gargle or mouthwash to help with sore throats or gum infections. Thyme has expectorant properties so Thyme syrup or honey may be useful as a cough remedy. However due to the strong volatile oils in this herb, it shouldn’t be used regularly as a tea, syrup or in any other concentrated form.
To make tea from Thyme simply add a few fresh or dry sprigs to a 2 cup teapot (maximum 1/2 teaspoon of dried chopped Thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh chopped Thyme), fill with boiling water and leave to steep – but only for a short time. Check the taste and appearance after just five minutes, that should be enough to release some oils and impart a good flavour. If you cannot seed oil droplets on the surface of the tea then you may like to leave it to steep a little longer, perhaps another five minutes but be cautious with this herb. It is strong and the volatile oils are unsafe in concentration or when used regularly.
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