Thyme

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A bundle of thyme
Flowering thyme

Thyme /ˈtm/ is any of several species of culinary and medicinal herbs of the genus Thymus, most commonly Thymus vulgaris.

History

Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage. The spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to "give an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs".1 In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares.2 In this period, women would also often give knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves, as it was believed to bring courage to the bearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals, as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life.3

The name of the genus Thymallus first given to grayling (T. thymallus) described in the 1758 edition of Systema Naturae by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus originates from the faint smell of the herb thyme, which emanates from the flesh.4

Cultivation

Thyme is best cultivated in a hot, sunny location with well-drained soil. It is generally planted in the spring, and thereafter grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or by dividing rooted sections of the plant. It tolerates drought well.5 The plants can take deep freezes and are found growing wild on mountain highlands. Along the Riviera, it is found from sea level and up to 800m.

Culinary use

In some Levantine countries, and Assyrian, the condiment za'atar (Arabic for thyme) contains thyme as a vital ingredient. It is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence.

Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful, but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. While summer-seasonal, fresh greenhouse thyme is often available year round.

Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters ("leaves") spaced 12 to 1" apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. Dried thyme is widely used in Armenia (called Urc) in teas.

Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g. in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually when a recipe specifies "bunch" or "sprig", it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme.

Leaves may be removed from stems either by scraping with the back of a knife, or by pulling through the fingers or tines of a fork.

Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs. Substitution is often more complicated than that because recipes can specify sprigs, and sprigs can vary in yield of leaves.

Medicinal use

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) essential oil in a clear glass vial

Oil of thyme, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains 20–54% thymol.6 Thyme essential oil also contains a range of additional compounds, such as p-Cymene, myrcene, borneol and linalool.7 Thymol, an antiseptic, is the main active ingredient in various commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine.8 Before the advent of modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages.1 Thymol has also been shown to be effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails.9 Thymol can also be found as the active ingredient in some all-natural, alcohol-free hand sanitizers.

A tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis.6

One study by Leeds Metropolitan University found that thyme may be beneficial in treating acne.101112

Important species and cultivars

Variegated lemon thyme
  • Thymus citriodorus — various lemon thymes, orange thymes, lime thyme.
  • Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme) is used both as a culinary herb and a ground cover, and has a very strong caraway scent due to the chemical carvone.
  • Thymus praecox (mother of thyme, wild thyme), cultivated as an ornamental
  • Thymus pseudolanuginosus (woolly thyme) is not a culinary herb, but is grown as a ground cover.
  • Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme, creeping thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees. All thyme species are nectar sources, but wild thyme covers large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe (Greece is especially famous for wild thyme honey) and North Africa, as well as in similar landscapes in the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains of the northeastern US. The lowest-growing of the widely used thyme, it is good for walkways.
  • Thymus vulgaris (common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme,13 or garden thyme)14 is a commonly used culinary herb. It also has medicinal uses. Common thyme is a Mediterranean perennial which is best suited to well-drained soils and full sun.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Grieve, Maud (Mrs.). Thyme. A Modern Herbal. Hypertext version of the 1931 edition. Accessed: February 9, 2008.
  2. ^ Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan.
  3. ^ Thyme (thymus), The English Cottage Garden Nursery.
  4. ^ Ingram, A.; Ibbotson, A.; Gallagher, M. "The Ecology and Management of the European Grayling Thymallus thymallus (Linnaeus)". East Stoke, Wareham, U.K.: Institute of Freshwater Ecology. p. 3. Retrieved 2014-02-27. 
  5. ^ Herb File. Global Garden.
  6. ^ a b Thymus Vulgaris. PDR for Herbal Medicine. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company. p. 1184.
  7. ^ Chemical Composition of Thyme Essential Oil
  8. ^ Pierce, Andrea. 1999. American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: Stonesong Press. P. 338–340.
  9. ^ Ramsewak, Russel S.; Nair, Muraleedharan G.; Stommel, Manfred; Selanders, Louise (April 2003). "In vitro antagonistic activity of monoterpenes and their mixtures against 'toe nail fungus' pathogens". Phytotherapy Research 17 (4): 376–379. doi:10.1002/ptr.1164. PMID 12722144. 
  10. ^ "Early days for 'thyme acne treatment'", National Health Service, March 28, 2012
  11. ^ Cythia Graber Thyme Kills Acne Bacteria Scientific American, March 28, 2012
  12. ^ Denise Mann Thyme's Time as Acne Remedy May Be Coming Soon: Study Shows Thyme Fights Acne-Causing Bacteria WebMD, April 12, 2012
  13. ^ http://www.sandmountainherbs.com/thyme_french.html
  14. ^ English thyme. Sara's Superb Herbs.

Bibliography

  • S. S. Tawfik, M. I. Abbady, Ahmed M. Zahran and A. M. K. Abouelalla. Therapeutic Efficacy Attained with Thyme Essential Oil Supplementation Throughout γ-irradiated Rats. Egypt. J. Rad. Sci. Applic., 19(1): 1-22 (2006).‏ ‏
  • Flora of China: Thymus
  • Flora Europaea: Thymus
  • Rohde, E. S. (1920). A Garden of Herbs.
  • Easter, M. (2009). International Thymus Register and Checklist.







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