Thyme in your garden, fresh or dried, by itself or if combined with parsley and bay leaves to make an herb mix, adds a distinctive aroma and flavouring to meats, poultry, stews, sauces, or stuffing. Thymus vulgaris, also known as cooking thyme, English thyme, French thyme, or winter thyme is just one of 350 species of the genus Thymus. Most often called the herb of courage, garden thyme can be grown inside the house or out. Thyme is a shrubby perennial plant with small, oval, thin, grey to green leaves, long, branched stems, with sturdy roots. It blooms in mid-summer and has lavender-pink flowers that appear in small clusters. The flowers attract bees and the honey that is produced is of high value. The leaves are very aromatic. Leaves, stems, and flowers can be used and eaten.
Cooking thyme grows 6-20 inches (15-50 cm) tall, prefers full sunlight, and well-drained soil. Allow the soil to dry between each watering, because this plant is prone to rotted roots and will not survive for very long in heavy wet soil. Thyme can be grown with seeds, layering and stem cuttings. Put outdoor plants in pots to easily bring them indoors during the fall. Check them for insects and spray with soap and water if needed. What are some things you need to know when growing thyme in pots indoors? Indoor plants need at least 5 hours of heavy sunlight a day. Regularly turn the plants to make sure that all sides receive equal exposure to sunlight if placed on a windowsill. If growing under fluorescent lights, hang them 6 inches (15 cm) above the plants and leave them on for about 14 hours a day.
In the garden, you can plant thyme anywhere because it is helpful in deterring cabbage worms and accenting the aromatic qualities of some other plants and herbs. In the kitchen, thyme is frequently used in sausages and other fatty meats such as lamb, pork, duck, or goose because it helps in the digestive process. Most often dried thyme is used in the kitchen, as it’s more preferred for cooking. This herb can also enhance the flavouring of tomato sauces, casseroles, soup, spaghetti sauces, eggs, potatoes, fish, green vegetables, all kinds of seafood, breads, roasted meats, meat marinades, plain rice, and even some teas.
Thyme is especially great in recipes that require long, slow cooking because it is one of the few herbs that does not lose its flavour while cooking, so it can be added early on. Sprigs can be placed in the water of boiled or steamed vegetables, or used to make thyme-scented oil or vinegar. Fresh leaves and flowers can be used in a tossed green salad, and you can use the leaves (fresh or dried), for butter and cooking oils. Strip the leaves from stems if using them fresh. Chopped fresh leaves have much more flavor than dried ones so use them sparingly if substituting for dried in a recipe. Dried flowers or leaves are sometimes combined with rosemary and spearmint to make aromatic teas and is said to be quite useful for calming the nerves and soothing headaches.
Thyme can also be preserved for later use by freezing or drying. To dry them, lay the stems of thyme flat or hang them in groups in a shady and dry place. Strip the dry leaves from the stems and then store in an airtight container. To freeze, lie them on a cookie pan, freeze, and then store in airtight freezer bags, and use as needed.
Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Suat Eman
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