You can walk on it and bathe with it, eat it, drink it, or just enjoy its scent. It’s supposed to boost your courage and decrease your melancholy, repel snakes and attract faeries to your garden. It’s a trouble-free garden plant that asks for nothing more than dry feet and a decent amount of sunshine.
Is there anything not to love about thyme?
The ancient Greeks certainly didn’t think so. They adored thyme, and used it in many ways. Women would braid sprigs of it in their hair, and bathe in thyme-scented water to enhance their attractiveness. Warriors rubbed themselves down with oil of thyme before battle to enhance their courage — it’s thought that the Greek word for courage, thymon, is the source of our name for the herb.
The Greeks weren’t the first to use thyme, nor were they the last. Egyptians used thyme for medicinal purposes a thousand years before the Greeks, apparently having figured out that it is has both antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Is that where the connection to bravery comes in? Certainly it would help your courage to know that you’re smeared with an oil that helps heal wounds. The connection between thyme and bravery lasted long past the Greeks. Scottish warriors drank thyme water before going to battle, and in between battles to prevent nightmares. And medieval European women often wove images of thyme into scarves, which they gave as a favour to knights to help them remain brave.
The connection may also have had something to do with thyme’s legendary toughness. This is particularly true of the low-growing varieties of thyme — there are around 350 native thymes growing in Eurasia, and of course plant breeders have developed thousands of cultivars since. Most of them grow very near the ground and spread to form a dense carpet, but there are some that stand quite tall.
These thick swathes of thyme are beloved by bees, so if you’re looking for plants that will help native pollinators thrive, thyme is a great addition to the garden.
Natural beds of thyme were supposedly a favourite spot for faeries to dance: According to Witchipedia (yes, that’s a real thing), thyme is still a useful tool when trying to communicate with the fey folk.
In recent years thyme has once again become popular as an alternate ground cover, particularly when planted in between stepping stones. It’s tough enough that you can walk across it without harming it, and in the process you release the glorious herbal scent.
Because it forms a dense mat, once established it tends to crowd out all competitors. But it can be tricky to get it to that point, since thyme grows slowly. It also germinates slowly — although you can establish a bed of thyme by scattering seeds on sandy soil and watering, we prefer to plant seedlings in order to give the plants a head start.
After planting it requires minimal care, needing no fertilizer and just occasional watering. The only thing that will really kill thyme is wet feet — it does best in sandy soil with full or moderate sun.
Once you’ve got your thyme bed established, using it in cooking is a simple matter of snipping a stem whenever you need it. To strip the leaves just run the stem through your pinched fingers — the tiny leaves will come off easily, and the woody stem can be discarded.
You can also hang snippings of thyme to dry — the leaves retain their flavour quite well, unlike some other herbs that are considerably diminished by drying.
Thyme has a distinctive, lemony flavour which goes particularly well with fish, eggs, and mild vegetables. It can be overwhelmed by strong flavours, although it does go nicely with lamb.
Try adding some fresh thyme leaves to a cheese and tomato omelette, or scattering some in a tossed salad. Sprinkle leaves on grilled chicken or fish once it’s removed from the grill.
For a simple, fast meal, cook fresh pasta then toss with thyme, garlic butter, parmesan cheese and chopped fresh tomatoes. Enjoy on the deck with a glass of chardonnay, and feel your courage rise. Just keep your eyes open for the faeries.