A member of the mint family, thyme is native to the hot, dry Mediterranean region where it has been used for millenia as food, fragrance and medicine.
Thyme contains essential oils with potent antiseptic and detoxifying properties. It’s especially useful in combating coughs, respiratory and skin infections. Thyme tea is said to aid sleep, soothe sore throats and especially effectively calm even severe coughs. In France, thyme is used as a cleansing liver tonic, stimulating the digestive system and liver function, and gall-bladder complaints, skin complaints and lethargy. There is evidence that thyme has a particularly unique effect in that it inhibits the mechanisms that can make bacterial cells resistant to antibiotics.
While thyme is primarily known for its ability to address digestion, infection, and upper respiratory symptoms, it has also been long used for pain. Maude Grieve recommends using thyme externally on painful joints as a rub. Many historical herbalists recommend thyme for delayed menses and painful menstrual cramps. Culpepper recommends thyme for gout and sciatica, as well as general aches and pains.
English thyme is along-lived, low, woody shrub where it’s hardy and well-placed. The aromatic evergreen leaves are small and needlelike. It blooms in summer, producing clusters of tiny lavender flowers. Thyme is a beautiful plant in any garden or container.
Sow seeds in the spring directly in the garden after the last frost or start indoors 6 weeks before last frost. Barely cover the seeds with soil and tamp down. Keep warm and just moist until germination, which may take a week or two. Thyme needs full sun and well-drained soil. Mulch or protect from temperatures below 0ºF.
Harvest & Keeping
Snip wands of thyme and strip the leaves from the stems for fresh culinary use. You may also bundle the wands with other whole herbs for bouquet garni to flavor soups and stews. For use in tea, extracts or tinctures, emerse the whole stem. Dry thyme wands, then strip the leaves and store in glass jars.
Thyme may act like an estrogen in the body. People with conditions that could be made worse by estrogen exposure should avoid thyme. Also, do not consume large quantity or in essential oil form while pregnant.