Thyme along with sage, parsley and mint is one of the very few, very well known herbs but most people know it as one of the ingredients of proprietary mixtures rather than as a garden plant. Thyme has been used as a food flavouring for at least 2,000 years. It was also a noted medicinal herb with a reputation as a cough cure and for improving the digestion. The essential oil ‘thymol’ distilled from the flower heads is still used in medicines, scents and soaps. Thyme plants attract bees and honey derived from their nectar has a fine, aromatic flavour. Before houses were carpeted, thyme was included in strewing herbs.
There are numerous forms of thyme, but for kitchen use common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is usually grown and, although it is of southern European origin, it is quite hardy in Britain. The plant is a 6-8 in. spreading bush with green to greyish-green leaves and light mauvish flowers.
Established plants crop for many years. An easy way of propagating from established bushes is to dig up a plant, tear off rooted offsets and replant them 1 ft. apart. To have common thyme in the garden you may buy plants or seeds. Sow seeds fairly thinly in 4-in, deep seed drills 1 ft. apart. Thin the seedlings to 1 ft. apart. Spare seedlings ‘nay be transplanted elsewhere in the garden. I ‘here are two distinct forms-ordinary, narrow-hived and broad-leaved. The broad-leaved is preferred by the housewife because the leaves are larger.
- Thyme plants stand up well to dry soil conditions and they need a sunny situation. The soil should not be rich and should drain well.
- Fresh thyme may be picked for use from late spring until November. Take a sprig here and there from each plant. Wash the leaves well before use.
Because the leaves are small and the stems woody, thyme dries quickly in high summer. Small bunches hung apart from each other on a garden line dry well in two or three days. Rub the foliage between the hands and store in covered containers in a very dry place Indoors.
Use thyme sparingly because the aroma is very strong. For pot-pourri and for herb sachets, a lemon-scented and fragrant thyme are useful Additions, although kitchen garden thyme also may be used.
The traditional bouquet garni is made up of a sprig of parsley, a bay leaf and two sprigs of thyme. The herbs are tied together and placed in soups or stews being boiled. Thyme is essent la’ in the making of good faggots. Fresh or dried thyme may be sprinkled on to a soup, stirred into it thick gravy, or may be added to hash.
There are many recipes for this stuffing mixture for chicken and turkey. The following recipe is simple and the amount of thyme may be increased or decreased depending on the family’s liking of its flavour.
- 1 large loaf
- 4 oz. (roughly 1 heaped tablespoon) of dried thyme;
- 6 oz. of butter.
- Remove the crust from the loaf and grate the white bread for fresh bread crumbs.
- Mix bread crumbs with the thyme and add pepper and salt to taste.
- Stir or spread the butter into the mixture so that it resembles a thick paste. It is now ready for use.
For parsley and thyme stuffing mixture the following ingredients are suitable : Bread crumbs; beef suet; salt; dried parsley; dried thyme; grated lemon peel; spices.
Thyme lawns are more often come across in gardening books than in gardens. If a creeping form (any of the T. serpyllum varieties) is chosen a thyme lawn needs little attention and emits a delicious aroma when trodden on but such a lawn is more suited to see and smell rather than as a spot where the children and the pet dog may play. Prepare the site very carefully, removing every weed and its root. Dig in garden compost, rake level and sprinkle lime over the soil. Set out thyme plants t ft. apart. Pull out or hoe in all weed seedlings as soon as you spot them. Within a year the whole area will be covered with a mat-like growth of thyme.
A thyme path is best made by sinking paving stones here and there in the centre to take the tread and to plant T. serpyllum around them. The thyme will quickly clamber across the paving. A path of this sort should not be in frequent use; too much treading would damage the thyme.
Some Thymes for your garden
Although for kitchen use common thyme is the widely grown variety, there are several other forms suitable for a herb collection or for other parts of the garden.
Thymus azoricus (Azores Island’s thyme) (syn. T. caespititius)
Native to Spain and Portugal, up to 3 in. high, flowers pale purple. There is a white-flowered form. Propagate by cuttings or offsets. The aroma is a.combination of pine and orange. T. x citriodorus (lemon thyme, lemon-scented thyme). Height from 4-12 in. Spreading and bushy. Var. `aureus’ (golden lemon thyme) similar to lemon thyme but the foliage has gold markings.
T. carnosus (erect thyme) (syn. T. erectus).
Native to Portugal. Height up to 9 in. and often described as similar to a miniature, slow-growing yew. Useful for a rock garden. Narrow, green-grey leaves. Flowers white, June and July. Propagate by cuttings.
T. fragrantissimus (fragrant thyme) (probably a selection of T. vulgaris).
The scent has a trace of orange. This thyme may be used in the kitchen and in pot-pourri.
Native of Corsica and Sardinia and reasonably hardy in Britain, this is a semi-prostrate low shrub ideal for a rock garden or the front of a herb collection. It has small green leaves and mauve-rose flowers in June and July. It is said to have been used to flavour barons of beef.
T. hirsutus doerfleri.
A native of the Balkans, this forms a woody, prostrate mat with grey foliage. The flowers are pink to purple.
A native of Spain, this is similar to common thyme and equally hardy. It may be used in cooking. It forms a straggly 6-12 in. bush with but few flowers.
A native of the Mediterranean area, this forms a sprawling, shrubby bush with pale lilac flowers.
T. pallasianus (syn. T. odoratissimus).
Prostrate in habit, this is a native of southern parts of the USSR. The purplish flowers have a ‘fruity’ thyme aroma.
T. serpyllum (wild thyme).
A native of Britain, this forms a prostrate, mat habit, with 3-9 in. flower stems. The flowers are usually mauve, though there are white, pink and crimson-flowered garden forms. ‘Annie Hall’ pale pink, is a popular cultivar; citri odorus is a lemon-scented form – coccineus has little aroma. The foliage is a bronze-green and the flowers are crimson-purple; albus has small, bright green leaves and white flowers; minus is a very small-leaved form. The flowers are mauve.
This native of Spain and Portugal makes a bush up to 1 ft. high with whitish flowers in August.
Thyme plants will succeed in any sunny position and ordinary soil, but prefer one that is rather light and of a well-drained nature. It is best to start with young plants purchased in the spring and planted 8 or 9 in. apart each way. Alternatively, seeds may be sown thinly in April, either in a frame or in a sheltered border outdoors and covered with
in. of soil. Seedlings should be transferred to a sunny bed of finely broken soil in May or early June, and planted 2-3 in. apart each way to develop into sturdy young plants for removal to their final quarters the following spring.