A Moment in Thyme
by Karyn Siegel-Maier
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 its 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 its name means "to fumigate," referring to the herb's ability to ward off insects.
Whatever the origin of its 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.
Sautéed Vegetables with Thyme
2 tbls olive oil
1 cup red peppers, seeded and sliced into strips
1 cup onion, sliced
1 cup artichoke leaves
1 cup asparagus tips, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 cup sliced red cabbage
1/4 cup dried thyme or 3-4 fresh sprigs
Combine oil, peppers and onions in a sauté' pan. Stir over medium heat until just tender. Add artichoke leaves and shredded red cabbage and sauté' for 2 minutes. Add asparagus tips and thyme and sauté' 1 minute. Serve over rice, pasta or couscous.