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A Thymely Herb

Susan Wittig Albert's Plant Mysteries
by Susan Wittig Albert
October 1, 2000

1pt.gif (86 bytes)Chances are, if you're cooking with herbs, you're cooking with thyme, one of the basic seasonings in most of the world's cuisines. Thyme is a must with beans, and is a prime ingredient in recipes with beef, lamb, pork, poultry, or fish. It's also tasty with green veggies and a familiar favorite in stuffings, egg, and cheese dishes.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)If you want thyme in your garden, start with a nursery-grown plant, or a cutting from a friend's garden. You can find thymes that grow upright (12-18" tall), thymes that creep (2-6" tall), and tiny thymes (only 1-2" tall). You can also find lemon thymes, wooly thymes, golden thymes, silver thymes, and even caraway thyme. Whatever thyme you choose, plant it in a well-drained soil with ample sunshine, prune it lightly and regularly, and keep it weeded. If you pin a branch to the ground with a wire loop or a stone, roots will form quickly and you'll soon have a new plant. Mulch if your winter temperatures dip below freezing, and divide your plants every three or four years (the clumps get woody and tend to die out in the center). You won't be the only one to enjoy your garden thyme: butterflies flock to it and bees adore it. In fact, thyme honey is thought by many to be simply the best honey in the world.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)But thyme isn't just for the kitchen and the garden--you'll find it in the medicine cabinet as well, hidden in such old-time favorites as Vick's Vaporub and Preparation H. For centuries, thyme has been used as a valuable antiseptic and all-round healer, to treat leprosy, to cure sciatica, and even to lighten depression. In 1719, a German chemist solved the mystery of what gives thyme its powerful healing abilities when he identified its active chemical constituent thymol, the name it is still known by today. During World War I, the herb was used as a vital battlefield antiseptic, and modern herbalists recommend it as a digestive aid and cough remedy. To make a cup of healing thyme tea to settle the stomach or soothe a cough, use 2 teaspoons of dried thyme per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes. Drink up to 3 cups a day.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Garden, kitchen, medicine cabinet--wherever you keep it or use it, you'll find lots of thymely ways to enjoy the mysteries of this versatile herb.

Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the China Bayles Herbal Mysteries. The series features China Bayles, a former attorney who owns an herb shop. Each of the mysteries has an herbal theme and an herb-related title. The latest is Lavender Lies. You can find out more about Susan's books and read one of her free web mysteries at

© 2000 Susan Wittig Albert. All rights reserved.

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