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Thyme is, in my opinion, one of the most useful of herbs and a very versatile garden plant as well. I would argue in fact that this herb is, if not itself the king of herbs, certainly a member of the royal family.
Common thyme, thymus vulgaris, is a perennial herb with a woody stem which grows quickly into a small shrub about 45cm. While there is nothing wrong at all with the common thyme there are over 300 other species many of which are more decorative.
The species of thymes come in many different colours from white and pale pink through to deep purple. When I had my front garden as a herb garden I grew about 10 different varieties of creeping thymes planted in gravel near to the pavement to give passers by the scent. These flowered at different times throughout the summer and very soon formed a beautiful, jewel coloured, aromatic carpet which constantly hummed with bees. Now they, or their offspring, grow here there and everywhere on the patio.
Given the well-drained positions that Mediterranean herbs so love thyme will grow quickly and spread easily. They are also very easy to propagate. So unless you want an instant garden buying the smallest plants will be the most economical choice. Most garden centres stock common thyme but it is worth seeking out other varieties or finding your nearest specialist garden centre to see what other varieties are available. My personal favourites include T. vulgaris ‘Silver Posy’ which has white edged leaves and creeping thymes T. serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’, ‘Lanuginosis’, ‘Albus’, ‘Coccineus’, and ‘Aureum’.
Thyme is of course one of the best bee plants and it also attracts butterflies. If you have ever been to Greece you may be familiar with thyme honey, which is supposed to be the very best honey available, and herbalists frequently use it to sweeten herb teas.
As a culinary herb thyme is very versatile and goes into many dishes. It is an essential ingredient in bouquet garni and here I do think fresh has an edge on dried.
Medicinally thyme has many properties but perhaps above all it is strongly antiseptic. I have used this herb to alleviate a sore throat and the same infusion can be used to bathe wounds and as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers or toothache. Thyme oil is, of course, the basis of ‘thymol’ which is frequently found in toothpastes and mouthwashes.
An infusion is made in the same way as making tea. You can use dried or fresh thyme; using either one teaspoon of dried or two teaspoons of fresh thyme to a cup of water. Make it as you would ordinary tea but leave for about 10 minutes before straining. Why not try it for yourself and see just how effective it is.
Thyme has many other medicinal uses but if you are interested it is best to consult a proper herbal. However, I have heard that thyme tea at bedtime, made as above but possible sweetened with honey, has proved effective in stopping older children from bedwetting.
All in all thyme is a plant that no garden should be without.