Newest Review: ... friend to water! The plant will produce tiny green leaves on a thin woody stem. In the summer Thyme produces small delicate flowers that c... more
Make Time For Thyme
Member Name: sandemp
Advantages: Very forgiving and easy to grow, attracts bees, hardy, great for cooking, lots of varieties
Disadvantages: Just for once I really can't think of any
We don't add salt to our food in the Sandemp household, not when cooking or after just before eating. That doesn't mean we like our food bland, quite the opposite, we love food that is bursting with flavour, the more the better. To ensure that our food tastes wonderful, but doesn't contain heart-attack inducing salt, we use herbs, lots and lots of herbs, and to ensure we get the maximum flavour from those herbs, we grow them ourselves. One of our herb staples has to be thyme, in various forms, I have three different varieties of thyme growing in the garden, each has it's own distinct scent, taste and look, but all three are wonderful plants. There are literally hundreds of varieties of thyme available, from the vulgar (or common) thyme to the far more unusual pine thyme. What these different plants have in common is that they are generally fairly compact plants that spread to create ground cover, produce tiny flowers that are a favourite with bees and are hardy perennials that can survive even severe frosts. Thyme does like the sun though, does best in a sunny location with free-draining soil and is pretty tolerant of drought conditions.
Although thyme can be started from seed, when I tried this I had a poor success rate as I couldn't get the conditions quite right. So all three of my plants were adopted from the local garden centre as young plants in three inch pots. A quick tip here is that very often my local garden centre has exactly the same varieties of thyme labelled as herbs and alpines, with the alpines being twenty pence or so cheaper. When picking your thyme plants you should apply the same criteria as you would any other plant, so look for those specimens with the most luxuriant foliage and check that they are not completely pot-bound (you should be able to see some roots, but there shouldn't be a mat of roots outside the bottom of the pot).
Thyme can be grown either in the soil or in pots, I have one growing in a herb patch and two others in reusable herb bags. I've not found that they require particularly rich soil, in fact the one in the back garden is growing in a stony area with only a very shallow layer of soil and is doing better than fine. If growing in pots/bags then good drainage is essential, so add a layer of stones, broken pots or polystyrene to the bottom of the pot before adding the compost. The addition of sand, vermiculite or perlite can further aid drainage, but you must weigh up the fact that perlite is a non-renewable resource. Once you have decided where you will be growing the thyme it is simply a case of digging a hole a little larger than the original pot, turning the plant out, placing it in the hole and then compacting the soil around it. I've found that as with any plant, thyme does appreciate a good soaking to water-in and then regular watering until it is established, but after that point it really only needs watering after a few dry, hot days.
Once established thyme requires very little care (in my experience), it certainly doesn't require feeding and left to it's own devices it will slowly spread to cover any ground it can find. Because of the way it spreads and it's low water and nutrient needs, thyme is a fantastic plant for using in crevices in walls or in a rock garden. Just from the point of view as a decorative plant, thyme is certainly attractive, small pointed leaves tend to form along stalks and depending on the variety these leaves can range from light green through to a very deep green, or variegated green and yellow, or even silver. In late spring/early summer tiny purple, pink or even white flowers form at the tips of the leaf stems in prodigious amounts. Not only do these flowers look very pretty, but they are also a great favourite with bees and any vegetable/fruit gardener will tell you how important it is to attract those bees so they can pollinate the runner beans.
I do feel that as well as being great for culinary uses, thyme has it's place in any garden simply for it's looks and scent. It makes an excellent bedding plant and has the added attraction of giving out a lovely scent when brushed against. Once you have one established plant it is also easy to propagate more simply from taking cuttings or splitting roots. To take cuttings, I simply cut off a stem (younger growth), remove the lower leaves (these go in whatever I am cooking) and then stick the cut end in moist (not wet) compost to root. I generally find that roots start to form within a couple of weeks and the plants are ready to be passed on within a month. This is a wonderful way of sharing more unusual varieties with family and friends and unlike with seeds, you know that the babies will be identical to the parents. Not only this, but you can literally produce hundreds of plants from one and many, many of my thyme plants have found their way onto stalls at fairs and fêtes.
Thyme has had many uses over the centuries, including being used by the Egyptians for embalming, burnt as incense and as an antiseptic (it is still used now in some hand sanitisers) but I only put it to a couple of uses. The first of these is that I will often add it to a barbecue to add flavour as I grill. This is just a case of place a handful on the glowing coals and it adds a certain something to such foods as pork chops. The other use is of course in my cooking and how I use it (and which variety) does depend greatly on what I'm cooking.
If I'm adding thyme to a stew then I will cut several stems and then tie them in a bunch to add to the pot. This makes them easier to remove after cooking, and I really would recommend removing the stalks as they are rather chewy and not pleasant to eat. With food that cooks much quicker, I will strip the leaves from the stalks and then bruise them before adding them to the sauce or marinade. I've also made a thyme butter on more than one occasion and this is a yummy way of adding flavour to foods that are grilled or cooked en papiotte (in paper). To make the butter, you need a good handful of thyme leaves, which I would bruise, these are then added to and thoroughly mixed into softened butter. The butter is then rolled into a sausage, using cling film to hold it in place and chilled in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to use the butter, you simply need to cut off a slice and as it melts it will infuse the meat with a subtle thyme flavour.
With there being so many different varieties of thyme available, there are so many different combinations you can try. Common thyme is of course fantastic with almost any meat and a staple when cooking stews, but have you ever tried chicken infused with pine scented thyme. Although it seems a strange combination, it's actually really nice, with a delicate and unusual flavour. Lemon thyme is also wonderful with chicken, but it's even better when made into a butter and then cooked with white fish. As well as being great with savoury foods, thyme can also be used in deserts, it can be added to biscuits or even ice cream. Both lemon and honey are the perfect partners to thyme and there are some gorgeous recipes out there using thyme to add an earthy undertone to sweet foods.
If I haven't already convinced you that one (or more) thyme plants deserve a place in your garden, or on your balcony, or on your patio, then I will simply add that thyme was one of the first plants I placed in my garden and is a beautiful, useful addition that I simply couldn't do without. There are so many varieties that the only difficulty is that as I add to my collection I will soon run out of space. So whether you are simply looking for a plant that will add flavour to your stews, or will look decorative in your garden or a plant that will attract the bees needed to pollinate your fruit and vegetables, then believe me thyme is for you.
Summary: This versatile and tough herb deserves a place in every garden, or on a patio, or on a balcony
More reviews in the field of Plant
- Cineraria: an unusual silver-leaved addition to a garden
- They grow on and on and on
- Up, up and a bay
- Carol, Carol, how does your cactus grow?
- Pumpkins are for life, not just for Halloween
- Fly Magnet
- Know your onions
- Strawberry fields forever
- My garden can't give up smoking
- A is for Algarve and Apricot