It’s About Thyme

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Any information found on thegigglinggardengnome.com is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have a medical condition or are seeking medical advice, please speak to your doctor or other medical professional. 

Botanical Information

Scientific name: Thymus Vulgaris

Family: Lamiaceae

Active compound: Thymol

There are a TON of varieties of thyme, but we’re discussing “common” or “garden” thyme specifically.  It is a small, woody, perennial plant in the mint family. It has short, thin, stems with tiny, evergreen, aromatic leaves. The small flowers range in color from white to lavender.

Though diminutive and delicate looking, it is a seriously tough little plant. Drought and poor soil loving, it can withstand intense neglect and dry weather conditions. It can also tolerate a great deal of pruning and trampling. I know this because we recently had a blistering hot summer with strict water restrictions followed by an early and intense cold snap. Then, several people wandered through my garden walking all over my plants. The kale, thyme, and rosemary were the only survivors.

“But men of sense, just as bees extract honey from thyme, the most pungent and driest of plants, often in like manner draw from the most unfavorable circumstances something which suits them and is useful.”

Theodorus the Atheist, according to Plutarch “De Tranquilitate Animi” Section 5 Lines 39-40

History

Photo by Anja Junghans on Unsplash

Thyme is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean area of Europe and Africa. It was used in ancient Egypt as part of the embalming process. Its antimicrobial properties and strong aroma made it useful for this application. The Greeks and Romans infused their bath water with this herb to cleanse and strengthen them. They also burned it as an incense to purify the area and give them courage.

Growing Information

Thymus vulgaris is one variety of thyme that can be grown from seed. However, it is tricky to germinate. The tiny, spindly seedlings are too fragile to push through soil, so the seeds have to be on top of the growing medium with a very small amount of medium sprinkled over it. Also, thyme is prone to damping off, so water only when it is almost totally dry. Keep it warm and literally MONTHS later, when it is four inches tall, transplant into the garden. 

The preferred method for propagating thyme is by taking softwood cuttings. To do this, cut about three inches of new growth in the early spring or summer. Stick it into a small pot of sand, water, and put it into a sunny window. Pot it in a well draining soil once it roots. Keep it inside and safe until the next spring and then transplant outside. 

This herb grows best six to twelve inches apart in full sun with poor, well draining soil. It also doesn’t require much feeding (if any at all). The only protection it needs is from wind and cold weather. Prune in late summer after flowering to make it all bushy and pretty. Because it is so short and spreads out, it makes a good ground cover. 

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Lore

Thyme is considered to have strong antiseptic and antimicrobial properties that make it a favorite for herbalists and cosmetic producers alike. The oil extracted from it is found in many mouthwashes, toothpastes, and hair products. Herbalists have been known to use infusions with thyme as a gargle for sore throats and coughs and the steam from it for sinus problems. It has even been used to clean wounds.

In Victorian plant symbolism, it represents courage and strength. In ancient times, it was burned for cleansing and to attract vitality and good health. A sprig under your pillow is reputed to ward off nightmares and promote restful sleep. Interestingly, it is also rumored to increase psychic powers and help you to see fairies.

Warning

As with other herbs, ingesting the leaves and infusions (or tea) made from it is considered safe. However, the oil from this plant is dangerous when taken internally. Use caution when diffusing it into the air, as it may be toxic to pets. Always seek medical advice when treating a medical condition. 

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

Sources

These are the books and articles that I read when I was researching this article. For more information, check them out. They are wonderfully informative.

“Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers.” The Farmer’s Almanac, 17, Oct 2022, www.almanac.com/flower-meanings-language-flowers. Accessed 6, January 2023.

Guinness, Alma E (Ed.). (1993). Family Guide to Natural Medicine. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest. P. 323-324.

McVicar, Jekka. The Complete Herb Book, Introduction by Penelope Hobhouse, Firefly Books, 2007. P. 246-249.

Cutler, Karan Davis. Burpee- The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener: a guide to growing your garden organically, Macmillan/Burpee. 1997, New York. P. 398-400.

Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Llewellyn Publications,1985, 2000. P. 242-243.
Conway, DJ.  Magical Folkhealing Herbs, Oils, and Recipes for Health, Healing, and Magic, Llewellyn Publications, 2019. P. 190.

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