Thyme (Thymus) is a native of the Mediterranean area, its origin from the Greek word, thymon, meaning "courage". and is now grown throughout the world. There are over 100 varieties of thyme, all of which are fragrant to some extent, and used in various ways; culinary, crafts, medicinally and magickly. Thyme is drought resistant, but will suffer from root rot if the dirt has poor drainage.
The use of thyme has been recorded as far back as 3000 BC when it was used as an antiseptic by the Sumerians. The early Egyptians also used thyme as one of the ingredients in their mummification process.
To the ancient Greeks, thyme came to denote elegance, and the phrase "to smell of thyme" became an expression of stylish praise. Thyme was widely used; medically, in massage and bath oils, as incense in the temples and as an aphrodisiac. The Romans also associated thyme with courage and vigor, bathing in waters scented with thyme to prepare themselves for battle.
The Scottish Highlanders would prepare a tea of wild thyme for the same purpose, as well as for warding off nightmares. During the Middle Ages, ladies embroidered a sprig of thyme on tunics for their knights, as a token of courage. It was also believed that fairies made their homes in patches of thyme, and gardeners of old set aside patches for them.
Types of Thyme
Because of the vast amount of varieties, only a few will be covered.
Lemon thyme(Thymus citriodorus) is a compact, upright shrub that grows to a height of 12 inches. The leaves are tiny and heart shaped, ringed with a splash of yellow. As the name implies, lemon thyme has a bit of a citrus tang, but is milder than most other thyme. This makes it a natural choice for seasoning seafood dishes and desserts. The citrus flavor also helps to lighten fatty dishes. The natural, volatile oils also work as a digestive aid. These same pungent oils make lemon thyme a favorite in aroma therapy for the treatment of asthma.
Common (Thymus vulgaris), also known as "garden thyme" or "English thyme" is the variety which most people use, and can be purchasd in grocery stores and markets. A shrubby perennial that grows six to twelve inches, its narrow, pale grey, green leaves have a pungent, woody aroma. A native of the Mediterranean, it grows in areas where there is plenty of sun and good drainage. Drought conditions tends to concentrate the oils, producing a more potent herb. When cooking with thyme be sure to add it early in the process so the oils, and thus the flavor, has time to be released.
Creeping thyme (Thymus drucei), also called "mother of thyme" or "wild thyme", is a low-growing variety, more often used for gardening than for cooking. It is ideal for filling in garden pathways and between stepping stones in areas of light foot traffic, producing a soft, fragrant carpet under foot.
Silver thyme (Thymus 'Argenteus') is a bushy, rounded shrub with branching stems and narrow, lance-shaped , lemon-scented, white-edged leaves. It grows to about a foot in height and is good in hanging baskets as an accent plant. Plant where low-growing plants are needed, such as along pathways and in rock gardens.
Thyme is one of the "fines herbes" in French cuisine. This is a combination of minced chervil, parsley, thyme, and tarragon which is added to food at the very last minute of cooking. Thyme is also one of the herbs in the classic blend called "bouquet garni". This blend is tied in a cheesecloth bag or tucked between two stalks of celery and tied together to give flavor to the dish without the flecks. A bouquet garni includes thyme, parsley, bay, peppercorns, whole allspice, cloves, and marjoram.
In "herbes de Provence", thyme is typically combined with rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf, and lavender flowers. Herbes de Provence are mostly used to flavour grilled foods such as fish and meat, as well as vegetable stews. The mixture can be added to foods before or during cooking, or mixed with cooking oil prior to cooking, so as to infuse the flavour into the cooked food.
Thyme is prescribed by herbalists for intestinal worms, gastrointestinal ailments, bronchial problems, laryngitis, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. It has antiseptic properties, and can be used as a mouthwash, skin cleanser, anti-fungal agent for athlete's foot and as an anti-parasitic for lice, scabies, and crabs. For skin inflammations and sores, make a poultice by mashing the leaves into a paste; as an anti-fungal agent or a parasitic, mix four ounces of thyme to a pint of alcohol. The essential oil can be used on the skin, but can be irritating. Using the oil, in aromatheraphy, helps to loosen phlegm and relax the muscles in the respiratory tract.
To make a tea, use two teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Add sage to the tea if you have a nagging cough. Only drink one cup per day as large doses may cause intestinal problems, such as diarrhea or bloating. A stronger tea is useful as a mouthwash or rinse to treat sore gums.
Thyme Chicken Marsala
I developed this recipe, in February 1995, for a "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine recipe contest, and received second place. It was the first time I had ever entered a recipe contest, and it inspired me to keep on entering contests and develop my cooking skills.
Place each chicken piece, boned side up, between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Working from the center to the edges, pound lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove plastic wrap. Coat the chicken with flour, shaking off excess. Set aside.
In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add carrot strips; cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add sweet pepper strips, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Divide the vegetable mixture between 2 dinner plates. Cover and keep warm.
In the same skillet heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add chicken. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink, turning once. Place the chicken on top of cooked vegetables.
Add Marsala and thyme to skillet. Cook and stir for 1 minute, scraping up any crusty browned bits from bottom of skillet. Pour the Marsala mixture over chicken. If desired, serve with linguine.