So I noticed that it had been awhile since the last Herb Series installment – slap me on the wrist! This time around we’ll look at thyme, and I solemnly vow to keep the “thyme/time” puns to a minimum. With that out of the way, let’s explore this very common little herb that has more interesting uses than being sprinkled on chicken.
Thyme goes back a long, long way. It was a common ingredient in the embalming process for Egyptians, and the Greeks used it as an incense and in perfumes, believing that its scent gave courage to the wearer. The Romans were thought to have been the arbiters of thyme across Europe, and they were probably the first to use it primarily in food and beverages. It also had many uses throughout the Middle Ages; it was placed under pillows to aid in sleep and ward off nightmares. It was a popular item at funerals, believed to help the soul pass into the afterlife properly. Ladies would give sprigs to soldiers and knights, a nod to the old idea of courage. Today, it’s uses are largely culinary, although it is a key ingredient in many natural remedies, which I’ll talk about more below.
There are numerous varieties of thyme, but they are all perennial evergreens that grow best in the well-drained soil of a hot, sunny climate. However, it will grow without optimal conditions, being drought-resistant, capable of surviving hard freezes and elevations of up to 800 meters. It can be propagated from seed, cuttings and by dividing rooted plants. At its best, fresh thyme should be a vibrant grayish-green and free from yellowing or dark spots. Although the dried version is widely available to the general public at various price points, it is recommended that fresh be used, as it is more flavorful. The fresh sprigs will only last just under a week in refrigeration, but if properly frozen, can be kept for a few months.
This hearty little herb also has some really nice health benefits as well. The main component that everyone is so excited about is Thymol, which is basically the oil of the plant. It contains lots of antiseptic properties, so much so that it happens to be one of the active ingredients in most commercial mouthwashes, like Listerine. Historically, thyme oil was used on bandages before antibiotics became available, and as a tea for respiratory issues like bronchitis and chronic cough. And it has proven very effective against certain kinds of fungi, and is an ingredient in all-natural hand sanitizers. Not to mention its status as a great source of vitamins C and A, copper and manganese.
As a culinary subject, thyme has long been used in poultry dishes and as a requisite ingredient in the well-know bouquet garni, a small sack of mixed herbs in cheesecloth used to flavor stews, stocks and soups, largely in French cuisine. It is also an excellent accessory in various egg, vegetable and bean dishes. And let us not forget giving a boost to breads. I was pretty happy to locate this recipe below, courtesy of the gang over at www.allrecipes.com:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and cream of tartar in a large bowl. Cut in cold butter with a fork or pastry cutter until mixture is in pea-sized crumbles. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add milk, cheddar cheese and thyme. Gently mix into a soft dough; roll out on a floured surface to about 3/4 inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter of choice and place on a baking sheet. Bake for approximately ten minutes or until bottoms of biscuits are golden brown.