Growing and Using Thyme - By Kate Wall

Growing and Using Thyme

Thyme is a low growing ground cover herb which originates in the Mediterranean. It is a strong flavoured herb available in many different varieties. Thyme has been used as both a culinary and medicinal herb for many centuries.

Thyme prefers growing in sunny positions which are well drained. Thyme detests wet feet so in areas with heavy soils it is best used in raised beds or pots. As a ground cover thyme works wonderfully as a lawn alternative in low traffic areas, between pavers, or on the edge of garden beds. It also works very well in rockeries or in sensory gardens.

Thyme has very small rounded leaves which can appear quite delicate. Tiny two-lipped pale pink or lilac flowers are both ornamental and much loved by bees. Thyme species and varieties cross pollinate easily so propagation by seed is unlikely to produce seedling true to the parent plant. Thyme varieties in the Elite Herbs™ range are all cutting grown plants to ensure they remain true to type.

Thyme is a popular companion plant, suggested to help repel cabbage moth, a common pest of the brassica family, and also to be beneficial when planted with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and onions. When in flower thyme will assist in attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects into the garden.

Thyme does not like tropical humid conditions and is not recommended for tropical areas. In subtropical areas thyme can do well in free draining soils with good air flow, such as rockeries, pots or raised beds positioned with afternoon shade. Grey leafed varieties are particularly sensitive to humidity.

Thyme is a perennial herb which is very easy to grow in any hot sunny spot. Avoid over watering and harvest as desired. A light prune after flowering will encourage dense new growth. In general most plants cultivated for the leaves will stop producing leaves when they are flowering and thyme is no exception. For this reason you may wish to allow some plants to flower for their highly ornamental value and keep flower buds trimmed off other plants to ensure a good ongoing supply of leaves. All of the thyme varieties in the Elite Herbs™ range are slower to flower than other varieties and so are ideal for a long lasting supply of leaves for cooking.

Thyme has a wide range of uses in herbal medicine, and makes a popular herbal tea to treat coughs, colds and sore throats. Thyme has a long history of both culinary and medicinal use, being used by Ancient Egyptians for embalming the dead, and in other ancient cultures to fumigate temples. It was used widely in Europe to combat the plagues that swept through in the 15th to 17th centuries, and thyme oil was used as a life-saving antiseptic during World War 1.

As with many herbs, the medicinal properties are given by the same compounds which provide flavour, therefore a more strongly flavoured thyme plant will also have stronger medicinal properties.

Thyme is traditionally a strongly flavoured herb which has been used cautiously but widely in cooking. Thyme is high in vitamins and minerals and is particularly useful in flavouring low salt dishes. Thyme is beneficial in aiding the digestion of rich fatty foods, and works in rich dishes as a wonderful flavouring agent.

Thyme is wonderful with rich hearty meals, but can also be very compatible with both fish and chicken where it combines well with lemon flavours. Thyme is popular used with sage in stuffing. Thyme has a high oil content so works very well when added to olive oil to make flavoured oils, or used as sprigs added to grilled, fried or barbequed meats. Thyme is also a popular herb for use in herb butters and savoury scones.

The Elite Herbs™ range includes a unique mildly flavoured thyme, Mellow™ Thymus serphyllum 'WT01' PBR intended, which is ideal for salads or where a mild flavour is preferred. Generally it is considered too mild for use in most cooked dishes, but allows thyme to be added to many dishes it has previously been considered too strong for, such as for garnish or bruschetta.

Modesto™ Thymus serphyllum 'WT02' PBR intended is a moderately flavoured thyme suitable for most dishes where thyme is traditionally used. With a three and a half chef hat flavour rating, Modesto™ is perfect for those enjoy flavourful dishes without the risk of overpowering flavours if used to heavily. It works very well in many fish and chicken dishes or in herb butters.

Sassy™ Thymus serphyllum 'WT03' PBR intended is a full flavoured thyme suitable for use in red meat dishes, tomato sauces, flavoured oils and for drying and storing for use as a dried herb. Sassy™ has a five chef hat flavour rating and reliably strong and spicy flavours. It is far too strong for use in salads but in dishes where thyme is the hero flavour of the dish, it is ideal.

By growing a mixture of all three varieties of thyme in the Elite Herbs™ range you will have reliable thyme flavours suitable for a huge array of meals. Thyme plants are both hardy and highly ornamental in the garden, as well as valuable in the kitchen – what better excuse to plant as many as will fit into your garden?