The Greeks and Romans would burn quantities of thyme to fumigate their rooms. In medieval times thyme was used in drinks and cordials, and because they were slightly intoxicating the herb came to be regarded as a symbol of courage and bravery.
The thyme, thymus vulgaris, is the one known as the common or garden thyme. It is an aromatic evergreen perennial herb with small, dark green leaves growing densely on short stalks along the woody stems. A neat bushy plant, thyme grows up to 9 in (23 cm) high, the tiny pale mauve flowers appearing on whorls at the top of the stems. The herb flowers in July. There are many varieties of thyme which can be found growing in the wild and some of these are also cultivated. The garden thyme is closely allied to the wild thyme, but has a better flavour and is more fragrant than the wild. Lemon thyme, also a variety of the wild thyme, has a lovely lemon flavour and scent and is particularly useful in cooking. All the thymes are very good bee plants and thyme honey is quite delicious.
In the kitchen, every bunch of herbs used to flavour meat casseroles, soups and sauces should contain a sprig of thyme. It is much used in stuffings for poultry and adds a pleasant flavour to meats and some fish when used in the cooking. Thyme is a strong-flavoured herb and should only be used in small amounts. Lemon thyme can be used in similar dishes and also added to fresh fruit salads and creams where the lemony flavour is refreshing. An unusual use for a sprig of thyme is to set it among damp papers, as it is said to prevent them from going mouldy.
Garden thyme can be grown from seed sown in March or April if the weather is mild. Sow the seed thinly in good garden soil in a sunny spot where the plants are to flower and when large enough thin the seedlings to l2in (30cm) apart. Established plants can be divided in the spring. The plant has creeping fibrous roots and so needs room to spread. It will act as a fragrant ground cover.
Thyme is a small herb and the stems, leaves and flowering tops are used in the home either fresh or dried. For drying, the herb is cut down when in full flower and dried and stored in the usual way.
Thyme is used to flavour and perfume commercially-made toothpastes, soaps, deodorants and hair lotions. At home, thyme tea is a pleasant drink and is helpful for digestive upsets and flatulence, loss of appetite and exhaustion.
* To make the tea: Pour 1 cupful of boiling water on to 2 teaspoons of thyme. Leave to infuse for 5-10 minutes. Strain and add honey to sweeten, Make fresh tea each time and drink as required before or after meals. Warm tea will help to dispel a headache if taken immediately the symptoms appear. Thyme tea can also be taken for mild chest complaints and will help to relieve catarrh.
Thyme is said to be a good herb for easing distressing whooping cough. Thyme syrup can be taken at the onset of the complaint. It is also said to be beneficial for a sore throat if taken a teaspoonful at a time.
* To make the syrup: Add sufficient honey to 3 handfuls of freshly pulped thyme to make a thick syrup.
Alternatively a decoction can be used.
* To make a decoction: Put a handful of thyme into an enamel pan with 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, or until it is reduced by half Strain immediately and add honey to sweeten. A tablespoonful can be taken once or twice a day.
An infusion makes an effective gargle for sore throats and can be used as a lotion for cuts and abrasions.
* To make a strong infusion: Pour 2 cupfuls of boiling water on to 3 handfuls of either fresh or dried thyme. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes, then strain into stoppered jars.
As a compress the infusion helps to relieve painful joints. Dip pieces of lint in the infusion, place over the affected part and secure in position. Renew the compress as necessary until relief is obtained.
Thyme is said to stimulate the circulation and when added to the bath water provides a refreshing tonic bath for those with rheumatism or sufferers from skin complaints.
* To make a herbal bath: Make a decoction by adding 6 handfuls of thyme to 4 cups of water in an enamel pan. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for a further 5 minutes before straining and adding directly to the bath water.
* The strong thyme infusion (see Medicinal Use) is a helpful treatment for acne, spots and pimples. Use the warm infusion to bathe the affected area.
* To prevent falling hair and to improve the circulation to the scalp rub the decoction (see Medicinal Use) into the scalp daily.
* Thyme mixed with other herbs can be added to a decoction of soapwort and used as a shampoo to improve the condition of the hair and. leave it easy to manage.
Thyme acts as a good skin tonic. Used in the form of a face pack it improves a dull complexion, stimulating the circulation.
* To make the face pack: Mix ½ cup of natural yoghurt with 2-3 teaspoons of dried or fresh thyme. Leave it to permeate for 30 minutes. Cleanse the face in the ordinary way and brush the pack over the skin, avoiding eyes and mouth. Cover the eyes with pads of cotton wool wrung out in cold water. Relax for 15 minutes. Wash the face pack off with warm water and finish with a splash of cold water to close the pores.
* Dried thyme flowers and leaves add a lovely scent and colour to potpourri mixtures. Small muslin or cheesecloth bags filled with the herb can be made for hanging in cupboards (closets) and putting among clothes and linen to give them a pleasing fragrance.