Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Time for Thyme

Ancient Egyptians used thyme in embalming. Then the ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples. This was believed to be a source of courage. Along with many other herbs, it was the Romans who brought thyme to Europe as they used it to purify the rooms and add aroma and flavour cheeses and liqueurs. Thyme was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares in the middle ages. Thyme was also used as incense and put on coffins giving a clear passage into the next life.

Thyme is now a very well known herb and widely-used in many culinary recipes. It is easy to grow and a pleasant view to the eye in many gardens.

In food, thyme is used in flavouring in salads, soups, sauces, breads, vegetable and meat dishes, and even jellies and desserts. It is also part of the bouquet garni array of herbs and incidentally the major ingredient in the famous Benedictine liqueur. this versatile herb has it's rightful place as one of the cooks' favourite herbs.

Being a member of the mint family thyme is a perennial evergreen shrub. It has woody stems, which are covered with small, pale green to green leaves. It has a double-lipped flowers ranging light pale pink to purple. It's fruit bear a small nut type fruits, which comes in groups of four. The whole plant is deeply aromatic.

With over one hundred varieties of thyme the most common is the Garden Thyme and Lemon Thyme. It is often difficult to tell the difference between them. Lemon thyme has a lemony fragrance and used with fish recipes. Bees love Thyme and the honey that is produced from it is highly prizes in food circles.

Apart from bees, most insects don't like thyme. So it is good to plant this herb around you garden seating area, doorways and windows as a repellent.

Thyme are readily available throughout the year in most markets and comes on both fresh and dried versions. If you grow your own thyme leaves are sweetest and most aromatic when just on the point of the flower blooming.

Fresh thyme should be kept in a plastic bag in your refrigerator or alternatively stand some sprigs in jar glass of water and refrigerate.

To get the most out of the flavour of thyme you need to crush the leaves before adding them to your recipe.

To dry thyme from fresh the technique is to hang bundles of sprigs upside-down in an warm, dry, airy location for about two weeks. Then stored in a cool, dark place, in an airtight container. It will keep for up to 6 months.

Thyme is blessed with many uses in medicinal treatments and is great as an antiseptic. It also has expectorant and deodorant properties. Being an aids to digestion, added to dishes composed of fatty meats counteracts the gastrointestinal problems attached them. Meats such as such as duck, lamb, and pork are classic examples where thyme helps digestion.

Herbal research has found that the use thyme in infusions such as teas and bath preparations and gargles, indicate that thyme strengthens the immune system.

Oils from thyme are now big commercial business as antiseptics, toothpaste, mouthwash, gargle, hair conditioner, dandruff shampoo, skin cleanser, various toiletry items, and even insect repellent goods. It is also an important ingredient in commercially made expectorants prescribed for whooping cough and bronchitis.

I must admit the thyme is one of my great favourites and I grow and dry my own every year. It is one of the most touched plants in the garden for its strong scent that is left on you hands.


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