Learn all about thyme cooking tips, from history and medicinal uses for this ancient herb to how to select and store it. No kitchen should be without thyme at least in the cupboard and preferably growing in your garden.
Thyme is one of the best-known and most widely-used culinary herbs. It is quite easy to grow and is commonly found as a decorative as well as a functional plant in many home gardens. It is a welcome flavor in salads, soups, chowders, sauces, breads, vegetables, and meat dishes, and even jellies and desserts.
A member of the mint family, thyme is a perennial evergreen shrub, whose sometimes woody stems are covered with small, gray-green to green leaves.
Its small, two-lipped flowers range in color from pale pink to purple and bear quadruplet nutlet fruits. The entire plant is aromatic.
There are over one hundred varieties of thyme, with the most common being Garden Thyme and Lemon Thyme. The many types are so close in appearance, it is often difficult to differentiate them.
Lemon thyme has a slightly more pronounced lemony fragrance, particularly good with fish. All varieties of thyme are highly attractive to bees. Honey from bees that feed on their flower nectar is a gourmet delight.
Yet interestingly enough, insects are repelled by thyme. Make a cup of thyme tea, put it in a plant mister, and spray around doorways and windows in summer to repel insects.
Thyme Selection and Storage
Fresh, dried, and powdered forms of the herb are readily available year-round in most markets. If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own, keep in mind that the leaves are sweetest if picked just as the flowers appear.
Store fresh thyme in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Or stand sprigs in a glass of water on the refrigerator shelf.
When cooking with this aromatic herb, be aware that one fresh sprig equals the flavoring power of one-half teaspoon of dried thyme.
As with most leafy dried herbs, be sure to crush the leaves between your hands before adding them to your recipe. To dry your own, hang bundles of sprigs upside-down in an warm, dry, airy location for about ten days.
Dried thyme should be stored in a cool, dark place, in an airtight container for no more than 6 months. It is preferable to strip the leaves from the stems for your recipes when using either dry or fresh thyme. Sometimes the stems can be woody. This is easily accomplished by placing the stem between the tines of a fork and pulling the stem in the opposite direction of the leaf growth. Of course, you can also use your fingers instead of a fork.
Thyme, botanically-known as thymus vulgaris, gets its name from the Greek word thymon, an herb used as incense or as a fumigator during sacrifices.
Native to the Mediterranean region, it was brought to Britain by the Romans.
Long-prized for its medicinal uses, ancient Egyptians used thyme oil in their embalming process.
Legend has it that thyme was an essential ingredient in a magic brew that allowed the drinker to see the fairies. It was also considered an aphrodisiac.
Thyme Health and Medicine
The flowering thyme tops contain an essential oil consisting primarily of thymol and carvacrol, along with tannins, bitter compounds, saponins, and organic acids.
Thyme’s best use medicinally is as an antiseptic, but it also has expectorant, antispasmodic, and deodorant properties. It aids in digestion. Thus, it is excellent when combined with fatty meats that often cause gastrointestinal problems such as duck.
Herbal medicinists use thyme in infusions, extracts, teas, compresses, bath preparations and gargles. Recent studies indicate that thyme strengthens the immune system.
The distilled thyme oils are used commercially in the production of antiseptics, toothpaste, mouthwash. You’ll also find it in hair conditioner, dandruff shampoo, skin cleanser, various toiletry items, potpourri, and insect repellent.
It is an ingredient in commercial expectorants and antispasmodics prescribed for whooping cough and bronchitis.
Now that you know all about this fabulous herb, go forth and put these thyme cooking tips to good use!
Thyme Cooking Tips and Thyme Flowers Photos ©2021 Peggy Filippone