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If you’re visiting for the first time, this column explores the nature, history, medicinal and culinary uses of herbs in cuisine in general, and in Italian recipes. If you’re a regular welcome back to The Herb Garden! Today we investigate thyme, or as it is known in Italian, timo.
Thyme is an ancient herb useful for medicinal and culinary purposes. It is best cultivated in a hot and sunny location and is planted in the spring which means it grows as a perennial. Sold both fresh and dried, making it versatile in flavors and in uses.
Traditionally, thyme has been used to preserve and promote wellness. The ancient Egyptians used it in the embalming process and the ancient Greeks burned it in their temples to instill courage as well as adding it to their bathwater. The Romans used thyme mainly for culinary purposes such as flavoring meats and cheeses and alcoholic beverages. Thyme was also placed under pillows to promote sleeping and to ward of nightmares and was placed on top of coffins during funerals to assure a safe passage into the after life for the deceased.
The oil that thyme produces contains thymol, which is used as an antiseptic in, among other things, mouthwash. It has properties that get rid of various fungi infections and reduce blood pressure. Throughout the centuries, it has also been used to medicate bandages and treat coughs and bronchitis.
Thyme can be used in its freshest form or in its more commonly found form, dried. Fresh thyme is more pungent and flavorful but less accessible due to a short storage life (which is around one week). Dried thyme, on the other hand, can be stored for several months.
Thyme is commonly used in Italian and other Mediterranean dishes. It is commonly used in the seasoning of poultry, fish, lamb, veal and sauces. In other Mediterranean countries, thyme is also commonly found in certain teas as well as in preserved olives and meats.