Garden Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is a popular herb which originally comes from drier Mediterranean regions. There are many different varieties, most of them easily available in the UK. Each variety has a subtly different flavour.
There are some 400 or more varieties of thymes; some are get for cooking with, some are best left to for the bees and to make your garden look and smell beautiful. The most widely used in the kitchen come from of “Thymus vulgaris”, which may be sold as common, English or French thymes or sometimes as winter thyme. However I really like Lemon thyme T. x citriodorus for its lemony flavour.
Please don’t think you ever need to be limited to the small dried leaves you buy in jar from your supermarket; growing and using fresh thyme is a whole different experience. Best to pop to your nearest garden centre for a small pot of thyme which shouldn’t cost you more than £1.50 – less than a jar of dried herbs!
It will be as much at home on a warm windowsill as it would be in a pot outside your back door. It loves to creep over walls or overhand the pots it is planted in. However please don’t be nice to it by overwatering of feeding, or you will kill it! It also prefers gritty well drained soil!
Using thyme in cooking:
Always choose the freshest looking leaves, with green flexible stems. Wash, then either use the whole sprig or remove the leaves and discard the stalk. To strip the leaves from the stems, hold a stalk at the top and then firmly run the thumb and forefinger of your other hand along the stalk from top to bottom – the leaves should break off as you go.
Fresh cut thyme should be wrapped in damp kitchen paper, placed in a perforated bag and stored in the fridge. It will last for up to 5-6 days. Dried thyme should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place – it should last for 4-6 months.
What can you use it for?
Thyme is a potent herb and a “less is more” in terms of quantities and flavour. It can be overpowering if you add it too generously. It has many garnishing uses such as in adding a few finely chopped leaves to some melted butter to glaze young carrots. The uncooked fresh leaves (particularly older ones), , can taste bitter but cooking softens their flavour. I like adding thyme to casseroles, soups and stews with a sprinkle of other herbs such as rosemary and oregano. Omlettes and pizza toppings also always benefit from its flavour. Lemon thyme compliments both chicken and fish dishes.
It’s great to make a honey, thyme and pinenut glaze to coat your chicken on the BBQ
In fact while you’re at it, if you toss a few twigs of thyme or rosemary on the BBQ, you will be rewarded by a wonderful, aromatic blast.
Whilst you’re enjoying the flavour of thyme, you might just find it an interesting topic of conversation to bring up that Thyme used to be used by the Ancient Egyptians for embalming! Not only that, Thyme used to be used to make Tussie Mussies. For the uninitiated, these were posies of strongly scented common herbs which were placed all around the house in the Middle Ages to ward of nasty smells.
Well as they say … there’s no THYME like the present to get started!