Thyme is a low-growing perennial that no culinary herb garden should be without. In fact, with a taste ranging from lemon to nutmeg and caraway to clove-like, it is a classic addition to Creole, Cajun and French cuisines. The latter consider thyme one of the fines herbes and use it in bouquets garnis, salads, stews and various condiments. It pairs well with garlic, basil and numerous vegetables, meats, eggs and cheese and rice dishes. Greek gourmets flavor honey with thyme and the herb imparts its delicate flavor to Benedictine liqueur.

Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), received it's genus name from the Greeks, but it is uncertain what the actual meaning was intended to convey. Some linguists and herbalists believe that it was named for the Greek equivalent of "courage" due to its invigorating properties. Others contend that it's name means "to fumigate," referring to the herb's ability to ward off insects.

Whatever the origin of it's name, thyme has been revered by cultures around the globe and throughout history. Wearing sprigs of thyme during the Middle Ages signified that you were of a chivalrous nature. To the ancient Greeks, thyme was a symbol of elegance and social grace. In France, thyme became an icon of the Republican movement. Gardeners have always appreciated thyme for it's understated beauty, aroma and its ability to attract bees. In some cultures, fairies were believed to inhabit thyme patches and many a gardener made a point of isolating a few plantings to accommodate their little friends.

Medicinally, thyme has held a long place in history as a remedy for a variety of ailments. It was once used as a vermifuge to expel intestinal parasites, particularly hookworm. The Greeks treated nervous conditions with thyme and considered the herb to be an antiseptic. In Medieval Europe, thyme was used to ward off plagues and the essential oil (a source of thymol) was a standard antiseptic in first-aid kits carried on the battlefields of World War I. The essential oil is still used today to flavor cough syrups.

Thyme was also once applied to various mental health disorders. Pillows stuffed with thyme were made for those suffering from depression. Thyme was also believed to be a mild sedative and the tea thought useful in preventing nightmares. When prepared in a soup or served in beer, thyme was said to help one to overcome shyness.

Thyme is still popular in cosmetics and is important to the perfume industry. The dried leaves and flowers are often added to sachets and potpourri. Due to its antiseptic action, thyme is also an ingredient in some soaps and aftershave lotions.

Author's Bio: 

Karyn Siegel-Maier, owner of The Herbal Muse Press and founder of, is a freelance writer specializing in botanical therapies. She has written for many magazines, including Let's Live, Natural Living Today, Real Woman, The Herb Quarterly, Your Health, American Fitness, Mother Earth News, Delicious!, Better Nutrition, Natural Pharmacy and several web sites. She is also the author of The Naturally Clean Home (1st and 2nd editions, 1999 and 2008), 50 Simple Ways to Pamper Your Baby (2000) and Happy Baby, Happy You (2008). She has been the subject of numerous interviews with national magazines and newspapers and has been a guest on several radio shows, such as Gary Null's Natural Living and The Deborah Ray Show.

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