What is Thyme?
There are as many as 100 varieties of thyme found worldwide. Their flavors and fragrances range from mint to lemon, pine, licorice and even nutmeg. Many of the above mentioned types are small creeping varieties grown in rock gardens for their visual beauty and fragrant blooms. It is interesting to note that in the Middle Ages this delicate and fragrant plant was actually known as a symbol of courage. Ancient Roman soldiers bathed in thyme water to gain courage and strength, and knights of the Middle Ages often carried scarves that contained a sprig of thyme embroidered into the fabric.
The type of thyme which is primarily used in the spice trade is the sweet or garden variety. It is a member of the mint family and is native to the Mediterranean region. The tiny leaves and flowers of the plant are harvested in bloom and dried to become the spice known as whole thyme. The leaves are about 1/4 inch in length and are grayish green in color. Thyme’s purple blossoms grow in clusters on its stem ends which may be upright or prostrate, depending on the variety.
What is it used for today?
Thyme has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity in the United States and is used in various herb blends for meats, soups, prepared stuffings and croutons. It is a common ingredient in clam chowders and Creole seafood dishes and is one of the herbs used in the classic French Bouquet Garni.
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