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Thyme

 

Synonyms: common thyme, garden thyme

botanical name: Thymus vulgaris


Thymian

 

Thymus vulgaris is the species that is probably most common in Germany. In addition there are quite a few other pleasant-tasting varieties, e.g. lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus), caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona), common thyme (Thymus pulegiodides), and wild or sand thyme (Thymus serpyllum), with the same or similar characteristics.

 

Thyme is native to the countries of the western Mediterranean, where it was known and valued even in ancient times as a seasoning and medicinal plant. In the Middle Ages thyme was also cultivated in cloister gardens.

 

It requires a great deal of sun to grow and tolerates aridity; in the Mediterranean area it is still found growing wild on mountain slopes and in summer meadows.

 

Among the chief growing areas, in addition to the Mediterranean countries, are Eastern Europe, the USA, Argentina, Morocco, and East and South Africa. It is being grown increasingly in India and Indonesia as well, and considerable amounts are also harvested in Germany.

 

Availability

Thyme is harvested twice a year for commercial trade, in June and September. Fresh leaves or shoots are sold primarily at local markets; dried thyme is available all year. Some supermarkets also sell fresh thyme in small plant pots.

 

In your own herb garden you can pick the fresh leaves all year round; the best time for collecting them is just before the plant reaches full bloom. The plant should be protected from frost during the winter.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Thyme is an evergreen shrub, usually multi-annual, and belongs botanically to the mint family (Lamiaceae). It reaches a height of 20-40 cm, and its branched stems are more or less woody and stand upright.

 

The remarkably small, grey-green leaves have very short stems; they are ovoid and pointed at the tip and at most 1 cm long. They are hairy on the underside and often somewhat rolled up on the edges.

 

From June to October the white to violet-pink blossoms appear and give off an intense, characteristic scent. Thyme smells very spicy, pleasantly earthy and peppery. It has a species-specific strong and slightly bitter taste with a note of cloves and mint.

 

There are numerous broad or narrow-leaved varieties of the species Thymus vulgaris. In addition, we differentiate between low-growing, frost-sensitive plants, i.e. the French thyme or summer thyme that can be grown only annually, and various robust frost-resistant varieties such as Deutscher Winter, Aroma or Lemonal.

 

Ingredients

Thyme contains 1.5-4% essential oil; in summer thyme the content may be as much as 6.5%. The composition of the oil depends on the variety. Among the most common ingredients are thymol, cymene, terpenes, linalool and carvacrol.

 

In addition flavonoids, saponines and tannins, e.g. rosmarinic acid, are found in thyme.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Thyme develops the best aroma when it grows in very sunny locations and in poor soil. The best time for harvesting is when it begins to blossom. You can test the scent of the leaves by rubbing them lightly with your fingers.

 

Fresh thyme keeps in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days. It freezes well, but it can also be dried in an airy place without losing much of its aroma.

 

The dried herb should be stored as cool, dry and in the dark as possible. It keeps well in an airtight container.

 

Presumed effect on health

Owing to its aromatic flavour, thyme presumably stimulates the production of gastric juices and is considered to be appetizing and a digestive. It is held to be restorative in general and an invigorating herb for the organism.

 

It is also supposed to have a calming, antispasmodic and mucolytic effect. In folk medicine it is recommended for use in children who have spasmodic digestive problems and diarrhea.

In the treatment of whooping cough, bronchitis, asthma and other disorders of the respiratory system, thyme extracts or infusions are taken internally or added to the bath water. In the case of sore throat, gargling several times a day with an infusion of thyme is said to help.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

For use as a seasoning, the fresh leaves and blossoms of thyme are stripped off of the stems.

Dried thyme leaves are sold almost exclusively in rubbed form; however, the leaves and blossoms can also be found whole, coarsely chopped or ground.

 

Whole twigs of thyme can be used in cooked dishes and removed prior to serving, or they can be cooked in an herbal infuser or a tea filter.

 

Thyme is one of the herbs most commonly used and in the most varied ways in Europe, particularly in Mediterranean cuisine. It is used alone or mixed with other herbs, e.g. as Provençal herbs.

Thyme is especially popular for flavouring stews, hearty vegetable soups, and sauces based on tomatoes and wine. It goes well with pizza, pasta, olives and salads, also with meat dishes such as mutton, pork or duck, and is used to enhance trout and other fish dishes.

 

Mushrooms, potatoes, legumes / pulses, and vegetables, particularly tomatoes, aubergine / eggplant, paprika and zucchini, cabbage or carrots taste good with thyme. It is also used to season sausage.

 

The essential oil is used industrially to flavour foods, liqueurs and herbal extracts, but also to make cosmetic products.

 

Seasoning tip

Because of its strength, thyme should be used sparingly. In contrast to many other herbs, its strong aroma survives even long cooking times. Dried thyme tastes more intensive than fresh.

 

Thyme mixes well with bay leaf, nutmeg, rosemary and sage, but it also harmonizes with basil, dill, summer savory, marjoram, oregano, parsley and garlic.

 

 

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