2/18/2010

Never Too Much Thyme

Thyme is one of those hardy herbs that just keep on going and going, kind of like the Energizer Bunny. There really isn't a season when fresh thyme isn't available. I've gone out to the garden when everything was covered with ice and picked a sprig of icy thyme to chew on (I taste a lot of plants when they're covered with ice - try mint sometime, it's great!)

So today I was checking out the garden, sunshine had coaxed me outside, and I noticed how nicely red many of the thymes are. Standard creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), is sometimes used as a ground cover, but in the Ozarks we grow it along the edges of raised beds. Normally green in color, in winter it takes on a reddish hue. I throw a few sprigs into chicken when it's cooking.

If you've ever looked at the ingredients in Listerine, you may have noticed there are 4 ingredients besides water and alcohol: menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate, and eucalyptol. Translated out of plant Latin, that is simply oils of: mint, thyme, birch twigs and eucalyptus. (Methyl salicylate, or oil of wintergreen, is now manufactured artificially, but originally, it was made from birch twigs). Listerine was created by Dr. Joseph Lister, a pioneer in the use of antiseptics during surgery. It soon became popular for oral surgeons to use, but only took off as an over the counter product in the 1920s when Warner-Lambert, the manufacturer in St. Louis, created the term, "halitosis" as a medical condition. Promoting their product as a sure cure for bad breath , Listerine became a household name. For many years it was marketed as a preventative for colds, a treatment for gum infections and more. It does all of those things, but the company no longer makes the claims.

While traveling in Bangkok a few years ago, I was hurrying through the night market and stepped into a hole at the edge of the sidewalk. I scraped my leg and and it was late at night (the night market goes from sundown to 2 a.m.; the whole I stepped in, was the drain where all the rotten vegetables and refuse were dumped - not a great place to get a scraped leg). I went back to my hotel room, washed my scraped leg with soap and water and doused it with Listerine. It's a good antiseptic. So is thyme. You can make a strong decoction, or strong tea, of thyme leaves and use it as a mouthwash if you have cuts or sore places in your mouth.

Some of my other thymes are looking pretty good, too. The orange thyme (Thymus fragrantissimus), which is a more upright thyme with a pleasant orange fragrance, looks good any time of year, a bit grayer in winter, greener in summer. And next to it, the upright version of lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) shows no signs of damage from the snow, ice and below zero temperatures we've had.

The creeping lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus 'Creeping Lemon') is nicely robust in winter. Next spring it will green up and start blooming with deep pink flowers. The upright lemon thyme is easier to harvest than the creeper, but the lower growing one has the best lemony flavor, in my opinion.

Try my lemon balm cake, which has lemon thyme as one of the ingredients. The recipe is here, on my Herb of the Year blog. I have another version I used when Nature's Garden featured my garden a couple of years ago and here's that recipe, but without the lemon thyme, from my Recipes blog (you might enjoy browsing that blog, too). I'm not sure why I left the thyme out of that oane, maybe because that time I used a cake mix; usually I just make the cake from scratch. But there are 2 versions of the same cake, just made a bit differently. (And if  you do a search for "Jim Long's lemon balm cake"  you'll find several versions, some going back to 1992 and scattered throughout my Making Bentwood Trellis books. Yes - even when making a bentwood trellis for the garden, you need cake!) Here's an early version of my lemon balm cake recipe, actually pages from my Bentwood Trellis book, that I had no idea was on the web, listed on Google books.

If you don't have thyme in your garden, you need some. Whether creeping thyme for cooking, lemon or orange for preparing seafood or desserts, or just a little bit for a groundcover between stepping stones, this is one hardy plant, year in and year out. Happy gardening!

7 comments:

Steven Anthony said...

who knew thyme was so handy, I didnt...thanx for sharing the info;) the cake sounds devine as always;)

mas said...

Well Jim, I think it is about thyme that winter leaves us and spring arrives. I am so ready to get out and dig in the dirt. We did make a raised garden bed at the store today.

turtlewoman said...

Hi, Jim,

I always have thyme in my garden. I have also always wondered why it turns color in winter - even here in the Sonoran Desert. Now I know - that is just the way it is - changes in its chemistry during cold weather I assume. Good to know. When I first started growing this herb I was afraid it had died - but it never did.

Lindy (Thyme4Ewe)

thewritegardener said...

You can find thyme in our gardens for sure. You can also find a copy of "Body Care Just For Men" on my bookshelf. Hmmm, wonder who wrote it? (I thought I had a copy of "Making Bentwood" stuff too, it's probably hidden under all my other books!)

Jim Long said...

thewritergardener, I'm honored you have that long ago book on your shelf. That will probably be the next little book that I completely rewrite and update. I've just finished Dream Pillows & Love Potions and Herbal Cosmetics for Women, with all new text and 4 color covers. Thanks for your comment.
Jim

Lindy said...

Hi, Jim,
When can we expect to be able to purchase "Dream Pillows & Love Potions and Herbal Cosmetics for Women"? I have all of your previous books on dream pillows. Is this one an update of one of them? If so, is it very much different?

Thanks,

Lindy (A Thyme for Dreams)

Jim Long said...

Lindy,
The new Dream Pillows & Love Potions book should be ready about the first week of March. Herbal Cosmetics will be ready about the last week of March. Thanks for asking!