Thyme

Thyme has a centuries long history of use, in both the pharmacy and kitchen. This fragrant, ground-hugging scrub was grown in monastery gardens in southern France and in Spain and Italy during the middle ages for use as cough remedy, digestive aid and treatment for intestinal parasites. These days sprigs of its pungent minty leaves are mandatory in a "bouquet garni" the mixture of seasonings used to spice up just about every French food from soup to salad. And its still being used medicinally. A solution of thyme's most active ingredient, thymol, is used in such over the counter products as Listerine mouthwash and Vicks Vapo-rub.

 

Thymol is added to these products because of it well-known antibacterial and antifungal properties. Thymol apparently also has a therapeutic effect on the lungs. The oil from the leaves of the plant, when ingested or inhaled, helps to loosen phlegm and relax the muscles in the respiratory tract. In Germany, where herbal medicine is considerably more mainstream than it is in the United States, concoctions of thyme are frequently prescribed for coughs, including those resulting from whooping cough, bronchitis and emphysema. In the United States, thyme extract was included in a popular cough syrup, that is no longer on the market. Thymol isalso a strong antiseptic which should be useful for bacterial and fungal infections. It has also been mentioned as having anti-aging properties.

 

The ancient Greeks valued the herb for its pungent scent and delicious flavor, and believed it symbolized courage and the essence of life. Before competitions, athletes at the games anointed themselves with thyme oil to give them strength, and soldiers bathed in thyme-scented water to gain fortitude in battle.The Romans wrote extensive treatises about the cultivation and benefits of thyme - Virgil, Apicius, Varro and Plautus all discuss thyme, and the encyclopedist Pliny the Elder gives no less than 28 diseases and ailments that were helped by thyme, as well as extensive advice on thyme recipes, planting, cultivation and varieties. Thyme has been noted as one of the "manger herbs," sometimes referred to as "Our Lady's Bed Straw." In the folklore of the British Isles, knotted, matted, and twisted branches of thyme in the garden or on hillsides were where the fairies lived. Fairies were the night workers of the garden, washing leaves, herding insects, painting flowers, and cleaning up and tidying plants for the next day. It is said that if you wash your eyes with the dew from the eaves of thyme before the sun rises on May 1st, you can see the fairies just at the moment of first light. Since the days of the Pharaohs, people have believed thyme has powerful antiseptic and preservative qualities. The Egyptians used it as a main ingredient to preserve mummies and, in fact, thyme is still used in embalming fluid. As late as World War I, thyme was commonly used in the battlefield to help heal wounds and prevent infection. Thyme also has well-known expectorant qualities and is widely used in modern cough drops and syrups.

 

Thyme is a perennial native to the Mediterranean. It is hardy to zone five, but is prone to disease and insect infestation in the deep south. Southern gardeners may want to grow thyme indoors in containers so that conditions may be carefully controlled. Growing thyme is not difficult; thyme prefers a well-drained soil in full sun. This is important because thyme's only real problem is a susceptibility to fungal diseases in damp conditions. It actually thrives in poor, dry sites. Problems can occur in heavy soils or where gardeners water plants too frequently. One insect pest that can pose a problem is red spider mite. Regular scouting and appropriate control measures should keep population levels in check. Some species may need replacement every few years because their centers become woody and open. Thyme may be propagated by cuttings, much like rosemary, or by seed. When seeding, it is best to sow directly into small pots in which the plant will grow, rather than using flats and then transplanting. The seed should germinate in less than a week, but it requires a temperature of about 70 degrees, so sow indoors, and preferably use bottom heat. 

Most thyme varieties are relatively hardy the hard part is choosing which type to grow. There are numerous varieties of thyme, generally divided into two groups, creeping and bush thyme. For culinary needs three are used the most; garden thyme, lemon thyme and caraway-scented thyme. Growing these three plants will provide you with a wonderful herb to accent almost any dish, even desserts. But for the really adventurous, check out the different varieties offered by Richters (www.richters.com); there are orange spice, coconut, lavender, mint, nutmeg, oregano and many others. Leaves can be harvested or fresh use throughout the summer, but the flavor is best just before flowering. To dry, cut the stems just as the flowers start to open and hang in small bunches. Harvest sparingly the first year.

 

Thyme flowers are edible, too. Let a few develop so you can surprise friends and family with the tiny blossoms floating on tea or sprinkled on a salad or casserole. To dry thyme for future use, place rinsed and dried stems in a dehydrator at 105 degrees for two hours, then turn the temperature down to 95 degrees. It takes less than a day to reach the crisp-dry stage. A dehydrator gives best results, but if you have no dehydrator, put it in a low oven with the door left open to let moisture escape, or microwave a minute at a time until dry.

To use thyme safely and effectively, brew a tea or infusion. Use two teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Add sage to the tea if you have a nagging cough. A stronger tea is useful as a mouthwash or rinse to treat sore gums.

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Extra seed can be stored in a cool dry place in a tightly sealed jar. The extra storage time will reduce germination so saved seeds should be planted thicker. If the seeds are not left in the packets, copy the plant name and its cultural requirements and place it in the container with the seeds. Two tablespoons of dry powdered milk in 2 layers of tissue will help keep the seed dry.

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Selecting the perfect fruit tree for home growing is a difficult process and requires quite a bit of forethought. Shopping for trees takes some time and effort, which is paid off by beautiful, healthy trees. Many catalogs and nurseries do not discuss fruit pollination to any extent, so it is essential to have some knowledge of pollination when selecting trees. Often, the right combination of varieties are necessary for the trees to produce fruit. Self-fruitful trees will pollinate themselves and do not need other trees nearby in order to set their fruit. Some of these trees include: Peaches, Sour Cherries, and Nectarines.

Self-unfruitful trees require cross- pollination from another tree or a different variety in order to set fruit. This different variety can be on the same property or on one nearby - the distance bees will carry the pollen depends on the weather (they are more active in a warm and sunny spring). Most apples are partially self-fruitful and will set some fruit off their own pollen, however most varieties will set more fruit if cross-pollinated another variety. When cross-pollinating, it is important to select one that blooms at about the same time so that the pollen will be available.

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Brandie

"I have found, through years of practice, that people garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon our land."

 

 
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