Even if you love the way thyme tastes on chicken or lamb, you may not have given much thought to its lore. But this popular herb has a long history dating back to Greek mythology, and is known for many uses beyond adding flavor to soups and stews.
The thyme we are most familiar with is a form of the wild thyme originally found in mountainous areas close to the Mediterranean. While it’s not certain at which point it was introduced into northern Europe, there is evidence of the herb existing in medieval Europe and possibly earlier. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon says “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.” It is thought that “thyme” originates from the Greek word thumus, which means bravery or courage. The herb has also been well-known since ancient times for its antiseptic and cleansing properties. It is even thought that the manger where Mary gave birth to Jesus may have contained thyme.
Thyme is a staple in both Herbes de Provence — an herbal mixture commonly used to flavor stews and grilled meats — and bouquet garni, the bundle of herbs tied together that is commonly used to season stocks, soups and stews and removed before serving. Thyme is also commonly partnered with grilled meats, eggplant and egg dishes.
Historically and in current times, thyme has been used for treatment of lung illnesses like bronchitis, whooping cough and tuberculosis. Its oil is known as a powerful disinfectant, and is used in mouthwashes and as an antifungal skin treatment. Herbalists use thyme to treat digestive issues, infections of all kinds, sore throats and even depression and anxiety.
Different varieties of thyme can be found blooming year-round: Summer Thyme flowers from May until August, while German or winter thyme is hardy up to -20 degrees and can be harvested throughout the winter in some climates. Thyme is generally considered easy to grow and will spread readily; it also grows well in containers and indoors.
No doubt about it, thyme boasts a long history of enthusiastic use. Will you make room for thyme in your garden this spring?