Thyme has a long and colorful history

Last week, we learned a bit about then history, legends and lore of lavender. Thyme is another herb of the Mediterranean area that has been in use for just as long. Thymus vulgaris is most often used in the kitchen these days, however in ancient times, it was often carried by soldiers to ensure their bravery in battle. Ladies often gave their ribbon favors to their favorite soldiers tied with a sprig of thyme to give them courage. The actual ancient words for courage were thymos or thymus, depending on whether you were Greek or Roman. They frequently used it as incense and as a floor herb that released its scent when walked upon. Soldiers would also rub their bodies with thyme oil in hopes that it would make them braver.

Lore and beliefs about thyme

There are about 350 species of thyme, most native to Europe, so the scent was familiar to many cultures. Even if it wasn’t, the Roman army made sure to aquatint them with it as they conquered the region. Thyme oil has antibacterial and antiseptic properties, so was often used to bind wounds. These beliefs have substance and there are toothpastes, lotions and ointments that contain thyme oil today. However, the ancients also believed that drinking tea made from thyme leaves would cure a Roman hangover, but that seems to be wishful thinking. Further north in England, Germany and neighboring countries, they used thyme in embalming to help the dead seek the afterlife. It was also believed that faeries loved the scent of thyme, so depending on whether you wanted to attract them or repel them, you either kept thyme growing around your door, or planted it elsewhere.

thyme plant

Thyme is easy to grow just about anywhere

Thyme is one of the easiest plants a gardener can grow. It loves sunny conditions, fast-draining soil and very little fertility. You can divide the perennial rootball, root cut stems or just plant the seeds, so there’s a method to suit every skill level. Many big box stores even offer transplants every spring, so you can even go that route to get your thyme garden started. Thymus vulgaris, the species plant, is hardy in zone 5-10, so just about everyone should be able to grow it as a perennial. Other types of thyme, such as the lemon thyme, Thymus x citriodorus, are a little less hardy, so need winter protection above zone 6a. Other gardeners either treat it as an annual, or bring it indoors for the winter. It is quite happy as a container plant, so is perfect for a balcony garden or as a windowsill plant. Keep your thyme trimmed and use the clippings. Thyme enjoys regular haircuts and as long as you prune it before it blooms, the flavor will stay good. It tends to turn bitter after it blooms. If you are leaving it outside for the winter, quit pruning it about a month before the first frost so that new growth will toughen up and survive the winter. In the warmer areas of its growing zone, it is often evergreen.

Easy ways to use thyme in the kitchen

Cooking with thyme is fun and there’s a couple of things that are easy to do with your thyme. First of all, chop your thyme and put it in ice cube trays. Pour olive oil over it and freeze. Pop the frozen cubes out and store in a freezer baggie. Every time you need just a little seasoning, grab a thyme/olive oil ice cube and toss it in the pot. Easy-peasy. Another thing that you can do is make seasoned salt. Buy some coarse Kosher salt and put a couple cups in your food processor. Add the zest of a lemon and ¼ cup minced thyme. Pulse together until thoroughly combined. Spread on a parchment sheet and bake at 250F for 15 minutes. This dries the moisture from the thyme and lemon. Sprinkle on anything you are cooking. If you want, add rosemary to the mix as well, it pairs wonderfully with the other flavors. I keep a shaker of this sitting on my stove to season as I cook.

Here's made in USA, BPA free ice cube trays to make those olive oil/herb seasonings.

bread baking in dutch oven

Everyone needs a Dutch oven

Herb bread is a wonderful treat and if you have a Dutch oven, this recipe is so easy. A Dutch oven is a heavy pot with a lid. Mine is an heirloom cast iron that has been in the family for generations. What this specific pot does, is create a mini oven inside your oven and the lid seals moisture and steam in, keeping the bread soft enough to rise nicely. They are also wonderful for roasting meats and making soup/stew in your oven. Campers find that many things can be baked in a Dutch oven over a campfire too. They are basically a prehistoric crock-pot.

A Dutch oven is something every cook needs. Here's a good one.

Get a cookbook with Dutch oven recipes to go with your new pot.

herb bread

Make Thyme/Rosemary Herb Bread

For the No Knead Thyme and Rosemary Bread, take 3 cups of all purpose flour and put it in a large bowl. Add ½ teaspoon of yeast, 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, 2 tablespoons minced, fresh rosemary, 3 tablespoons of minced, fresh thyme. Stir to mix and add 1 ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of robust olive oil. Mix well. It will be a sticky, shaggy dough. Scoop into a ball and cover the bowl with cling wrap for between 12 and 18 hours. It should double in bulk. About an hour and a half before baking, dump the dough out on a lightly floured surface and fold it over several times to form a nice, firm ball. It will still be sticky and soft. Brush parchment paper with olive oil and place the ball, fold side down on it. Cover with a slightly damp towel and let rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Mine didn't rise much, but turned out ok anyway. Thirty minutes before baking, put your Dutch oven with the lid in the oven and preheat to 500F (450F will work if your oven doesn’t go that high). When you open your oven, it will probably set off your smoke detector, but don't worry. All it will do is scare the cat. Take the Dutch oven out and open the lid. Cut a couple of slits in the dough to help it rise and place it, parchment paper and all, in the Dutch oven and put the lid on. Let the extra parchment hang over the edges instead of folding it in the pot. Lower the temperature to 425F and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes to brown the top. Remove from the oven and let cool about 30 minutes before slicing. Most people do not realize that bread isn’t done when you take it out of the oven. It needs this cooling period to finish releasing steam held in the dough. After that, slice and eat with your favorite sandwich, soup, or just dunk it in some high quality olive oil and enjoy.

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