This often-overlooked little herb is fast becoming one of my favourites. Its culinary benefits are undoubted; it is a staple of Mediterranean dishes and accompanies meat particularly well. I use it in soups and casseroles, for making stock, in pasta and - most recently - even in biscuits! More to come on that tomorrow!
Thyme is a pungent herb that really packs a punch for one so little. (Perhaps that's why I like it!) It is pretty hardy and loves a sunny spot, growing in most soils and on rockeries well. However, it won't forgive you for over-watering so do be careful.
At this time of year it is really blooming and the leaves taste best through June and July so it is an excellent time to pick and use fresh, or begin to dry for later in the year. There are many varieties, including the silver-edged 'Argenteus' (above) which grows particularly well in containers. Also to be found is the beautifully scented 'Citridorus' or 'lemon' thyme (below) which works fantastically well in recipes that require a citrus flavour: this is one type of thyme that goes particularly deliciously with fish.
In medieval times, Thyme was considered to impart courage upon those who ate it and, therefore, came to symbolise vigour and heroism. It was reputedly added to beer and drank by those who needed to overcome nerves. The ancient Romans also considered it a remedy for melancholy. Today, its health benefits are largely related to its essential oil which contains large quantities of thymol - a powerful antiseptic and antibacterial. Applied directly to cuts and scrapes, crushed thyme leaves act as an instant garden remedy to cleanse.
Thyme also possesses antispasmodic and expectorant properties, making it particularly useful in the treatment of chest infections such as bronchitis. A tea may be concocted, using a teaspoon of crushed thyme leaves, added to boiling water. Allow the herbs to steep for 10 minutes before straining and sweetening with honey. This tea should be drunk 3 to 4 times daily for the treatment of persistent coughs.