Thyme Will Tell




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Thyme to Start

By Audrey Stallsmith


I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.

Midsummer Night's Dream, II, ii

Bees love thyme. So, some say, do fairies. Thyme honey tastes so delectable, in fact, that the ancients made the herb synonymous with sweetness.

Its name derived from the Greek thumus or "courage," and thyme was often embroidered on scarves presented to knights by their ladies. To remark that a person "smelled of thyme" was the imply that he or she was top-notch, upper drawer, a real class act.

A woody perennial with narrow gray-green leaves and white, pink, or purple flowers, thyme seldom grows taller than 12 inches. But it has, as you can see, an enormous reputation.

The bustle of bees may explain why thyme stands for "activity" in the Language of Flowers. Or perhaps that definition alludes to the herb's reputation for easing depression and invigorating the feeble.

Thyme also relieves the symptoms of viral infections by expelling phlegm and encouraging perspiration. A natural antiseptic, it speeds healing of canker sores, gingivitis, and fungus problems, not to mention relieving headaches caused by muscle spasms and stomachaches caused by gas.

With a warm, resiny perfume reminscent of sunny afternoons, thyme has been used to embalm corpses. On a happier note, it can be combined with lavender for summer-scented sachets.

Finally, thyme is probably best known for its culinary virtues, being widely used to flavor meat dishes, stuffings, and soups.

The plant can be propagated easily from seed, cuttings, or divisions. It loves the sun and does best in well-drained soil, making it a good companion for lavender in the garden as well as the linen closet.

There are an amazing variety of thymes available. One catalog lists 45. Some of the most common are English, French, German, lemon, caraway, wooly, and mountain. Like chamomile, the creeping thymes will tolerate some foot traffic and make excellent edgings for stone paths.

Thyme forgivingly perfumes the shoe that treads on it. This herb, to me, epitomizes the type of person who can take "crushing" disappointments and spring back with renewed vigor. Constantly working to clean the air around it as it cleans the human body of disease, thyme is indeed an apt symbol of courage and hope. May it refresh yours!

Plant plate is from Kohler's Medizinal Pflanzen, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden Library.