T is for Thyme

Thyme plants on sale at The Kent Garden Show

Thyme plants on sale at The Kent Garden Show

Thyme (Thymus Sp) is another herb which is often overlooked due to its common nature and abundance in supermarkets. Being an advocate of simplicity I wanted to include a few ‘kitchen’ herbs in the Alp-herb-et, after all why spend money and wait for delivery of expensive rare herbs when you can either take a trip out to gather your own, easily grow your own or run into the nearest supermarket?! Sometimes, especially in magical work where timing can be everything, we don’t have the luxury of waiting, we use what’s on hand and just because herbs like Thyme, Sage or Mint etc. are so common place these days, doesn’t make them any less powerful for magic and healing.

Growth and Cultivation

Like many of its Mediterranean cousins, Thyme was most likely introduced to the British Isles via the Romans. Thyme is a member of the Lamiacea family along with herbs such as Nettle and Sage. Nowadays there are hundreds of varieties of cultivated Thyme including variegated and lemon thyme….even Furry Thyme! I will be focusing mainly on Thymus vulgaris, Common or Garden Thyme with its tiny dusky bottle green leaves, heady, warm yet earthy scent and effervescent pale pink flower heads. Not many people realise but Thyme does grow wild here in the UK as well as throughout Europe. It is quite low growing which is why many will fail to notice Thyme growing wild until it flowers, at which point the abundance of Bees hovering around the pale pink flowers will be a huge give away (as well as the scent of course). Thyme likes a warm, dry and bright position in a well-drained soil. Close to where I live, Thyme grows very well along a very dry stony gravel path which is exposed to the noon day sun, the soil in this area is chalk and flint and bakes in the height of summer. If you haven’t yet found wild growing Thyme in your area, the herb would be a perfect addition to any drought prone, dry garden and is ideal for growing in pots. However, just because a plant is drought tolerant doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be watered ever! Plant in a south to west facing position in fertile but well-draining soil (well-rotted garden compost mixed with grit) and leave Thyme to do its thing. Thyme is incredibly low maintenance, like its Mediterranean relatives it can grow woody and brittle so regular harvesting in the growing season will keep the herb producing fresh growth, far better I think to do that than prune hard which the woody herbs don’t always respond to.

Thyme can be grown from seed but cuttings is best. Take semi ripe cuttings in late spring when the plant is growing but not flowering. Choose a single stem which is about 5 inches long, strip of the lower leaves and trim the heel before gently inserting into a gritty seed compost down the edge of the pot. I usually do four cuttings to a pot, cover the soil surface with a thin layer of grit and then cover the whole lot with a clear polythene bag or leave on a warm windowsill / greenhouse and keep the soil moist. When you see new growth the cuttings can be individually potted on! Easy!

Even more Thyme varieties on sale!

Even more Thyme varieties on sale!

Culinary Uses

Thyme gets used a lot in my kitchen generally where a recipe features chicken and / or mushrooms. Fresh or dried thyme does something to mushrooms and whether baking a pie containing chicken and / or mushrooms I always include Thyme. I also like to use a little Thyme in some cheese dishes…cheese omelette especially, but only when I use a very strong flavoured cheese like an extra mature cheddar.

On the sweeter side Thyme compliments Lemon really well, I once made a lemon and poppy seed cake and infused thyme leaves into the syrup drizzle and it was delicious. Less is definitely more where Thyme in sweet recipes is concerned!

Healing Uses

Thyme contains a volatile constituent known as ‘Thymol’ which is found in high concentrations in the herb but slightly less in the essential oil. Thymol is a powerful anti-fungal and anti-bacterial and was used in embalming the dead and preserving books from various moulds. Applied to the body, Thyme can be beneficial in foot baths for those who suffer with athlete’s foot and the essential oil can be used on fungal toenail infections etc. Thyme can also be included in mouthwashes and throat gargles for any kind of mouth / gum infection or infections such as bacterial tonsillitis.

I also make frequent use of Thyme in cough syrups or teas for use during the first onset of a cold…I don’t find Thyme to be overly effective on its own however when mixed with other herbs like Coltsfoot and Horehound, Thyme seems to give a little something extra.

Thyme in full bloom

Thyme in full bloom

Magical Uses

Culpepper assigns Thyme to the planet Venus, giving Thyme powers associated with Love, femininity and Fertility. When I see a mass of frothy pink Thyme flowers crowing those tiny richly scented green leaves I am inclined to agree with him. However there is something hot about Thyme…more passionate and intense than mere romantic love…include Thyme in love spells where you want to be wined, dined but also kept warm at night! Or perhaps include some ‘special’ Thyme in a romantic dinner for two to inject a little more zing and sparkle into the relationship?

Thyme was also said to imbue the bearer with courage and Roman soldiers bathed in Thyme infused water to bestow vigour and strength during battle. Granted this doesn’t strike me as an especially Venusian quality but the Romans were using Thyme long before Culpepper so who am I to argue? After all, they did conquer the world (almost). Following the Romans’ lead perhaps incorporate Thyme into a magical charm pouch when going for a job interview to help keep the jitters at bay, when attending court or when faced with some other nerve racking situation and you need to keep your head! You could try empowering a little of the essential oil and wearing (diluted of course) as a perfume.

Thyme, along with its other Mediterranean cousins like Sage, Rosemary and Lavender all possess powers of purification (a nod to the later discovered antibacterial properties) so Thyme can be added to baths and so on to magically purify before ritual or used around the home. When cleaning the home a good bunch of Thyme, Rosemary and Lavender can be used like a feather duster to sweep away magical crap from around the place, followed by a good few whacks around the threshold to drive off anything unpleasant. Alternatively use the bunch to sprinkle water around the home or over special objects to purify.

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