T is for Thyme
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
Cooks have long valued thyme as a flavorful recipe addition and for its preservative qualities. It grows low to the ground and produces flavors ranging from lemon to herbal. All three hundred varieties produce flowers that attract bees and butterflies.
During Medieval times, forms of thyme were known as “Our Lady’s Bedstraw.” John Fletcher’s “Two Noble Kinsmen” mentions, “…daisies smell less, yet most quaint, and sweet thyme true…” Lord Bacon, the first acknowledged English essayist, devoted an essay to gardening, saying, “…burnet, wilde-thyme, and water mints, therefore, are set whole allies to have the pleasure when walked or tread upon…” Elizabethans used thyme to treat head and heart disorders and to settle nervous complaints. Gerard recommends thyme-infused wine for stomach complaints.
To ancient Greeks, thyme can mean “courage” and “to fumigate.” Through the centuries, it acted as a remedy for epilepsy and melancholy, worms and lice. Roman soldiers bathed in thyme to impart courage before battle. Virgil claimed thyme combats fatigue. Ancient Egyptians used thyme to help preserve dead bodies. This association with death continued in Europe where the herb grew to mask odors. The Welsh believe spirits smell of thyme, and folk belief declares the spirits of the recently departed inhabit thyme flowers. Bringing thyme plants into the house welcomes illness. Some gardeners set aside a patch of thyme for the fairy folk since they love the plant.
Thyme, with rosemary, sage, and lavender, is an ingredient in Four Thieves Vinegar, a medieval deterrent of the plague. Thyme is a source for Serpolet oil, an herbal aphrodisiac. As with many herbs, thyme can be dried and burned as a purifier, and inhaling the scent enhances psychic powers, renews energy, and banishes evil. When carried on a person, thyme inspires courage, attracts good health, and protects from negativity. Thus it is a recommended corsage or tucked into a pocket for funerals or other unpleasant occasions. Thyme can also be crafted into a sachet. Thyme can also be added to a bath or placed in a pillow to promote restful, nightmare-free dreams.
The middle Grade novel “Counting Thyme” by Melanie Conklin explores the complicated life of Thyme Owens and her family’s struggles with cancer. A Brian Eastman British television murder mystery series called “Rosemary and Thyme” ran for three seasons from 2003 until 2007. Thomas McCarthy wrote “The Rarest Thyme,” wherein “For you I would have built an herb-garden, not a pathetic patch for mint and chives, but a real olitory, with old-fashioned southernwood and rarest thyme…” “Dear Dark Head” by Padraic Colum waxes romantic with “Oh, mouth of honey, with the thyme for fragrance, who with heart in breast could deny you love?”