Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thyme It Is A Precious Thing

Come all ye maidens young and fair
And you that are blooming in your prime
Always beware and keep your garden fair
Let no man steal away your thyme.

For thyme it is a precious thing
And thyme brings all things to my mind.
Thyme with all its flavours, along with all its joys
Thyme, brings all things to my mind.

Once I had a bunch of thyme.
I thought it never would decay.
Then came a lusty sailor
Who chanced to pass my way
And stole my bunch of thyme away.

The sailor gave to me a rose.
A rose that never would decay.
He gave it to me to keep me reminded
Of when he stole my thyme away.

Those lines from an old Irish song, A Bunch Of Thyme, remind us that herbs mean more to us than we often realize.  In the song, the herb symbolizes virginity and chastity.  In the language of flowers, thyme symbolizes courage, vigor and strength.  All are important virtues to be guarded.  It seems that herbs strike some deep chords within us that resonate when we experience them, especially by taste or smell.  It's certainly so with thyme.  I have a small jar of it beside me now.

Thymus (pronounced TY-muss) is a genus of about 350 perennials native to warmer regions of Europe, Africa and Asia in the Mediterranean region.  It belongs to the Lamiaceae or mint family.

Thymus has been highly valued and used by western civilizations since the ancient Greeks as incense, fumigation, anti-depressant, pest repellant (though powerless against lusty sailors), vermifuge, antiseptic, antifungal agent, mouthwash, treatment for skin infections and bronchial disorders, and flavoring.  Hippocrates is quoted as instructing, "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food."  Thyme is a healthful flavoring, indeed.  It contains antioxidants, is rich in potassium, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and selenium, B-complex vitamins, beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin C and folic acid.

Thyme has small, soft, aromatic leaves.  Diminutive lavender flowers are produced throughout the growing season. 

Most species are low-growing and spreading, so they are wonderful as ground covers planted near stepping stones.  Thyme tolerates some foot traffic, so can used as a lawn substitute.  Herb gardens, fragrance gardens, hummingbird and butterfly gardens are not complete without thyme.  Bees produce excellent honey from thyme.  Thyme is drought-tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant.

Where ever you plant it, you'll find yourself looking for recipes that include thyme.  It can be used in recipes fresh or dry, and is marvelous as an ingredient in aromatic cooking oils.

Thyme is generally hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 8 or 10, requires full sun and well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.5 to 8.5.  Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service Office for proper analysis.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil. 

Space the plants 8" to 24" apart, depending upon the species. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant thyme with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly with organic fertilizer and allow soil to dry between watering.  The greatest cause of failure is over-watering.  Thyme is definitely a low-maintenance plant.

Thyme, "with all its flavours, along with all its joys", pleases the senses while it improves health and enhances the landscape.  "Keep your garden fair and let no man steal away your thyme."

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