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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thyme and a Little Imagination

"Excuse me," said Basil to Rosemary Sagely, "do you have the Thyme?”

Believe me when I tell you I really, really, really tried to surprise you all with a post yesterday. Alas, it just didn’t happen. The mulch got in the way:) (I mulched until I just couldn’t mulch anymore and I haven’t even gotten to the actual garden yet!)

You see, yesterday was International Herb Day.

A day devoted to herbs, it doesn’t get much better than that in the culinary garden arena now does it? Good thing May is also National Herb Month too!!! (it’s also Barbecue Month, Salad Month, Asparagus Month, Hamburger Month, Vinegar Month and yes, Strawberry Month:)

You might be surprised that I’m not celebrating National Herb Month with Artemisia, which as you all know has been proclaimed Herb of the Year for 2014 by The International Herb Association. I have a reason, my Tarragon plants still have quite a bit of growing to do:) We’ll get to them when they’ve had a few months to grow.

Instead, I thought it might be fun to celebrate another herb in the classic bouquet garni; Thyme.

But, before we begin, I don’t know about you, but I can never get my herb and spice definitions straight. Spices & Herbs; What’s the Difference? Perhaps The Herb Society of America's New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses by Deni Bown will help.

"The term "herb" has more than one definition. Botanists describe an herb as a small, seed bearing plant with fleshy, rather than woody, parts (from which we get the term "herbaceous"). In this book, the term refers to a far wider range of plants. In addition to herbaceous perennials, herbs include trees, shrubs, annuals, vines, and more primitive plants, such as ferns, mosses, algae, lichens, and fungi. They [herbs] are valued for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal and healthful qualities, economic and industrial uses, pesticidal properties, and coloring materials (dyes).” (source)

Or, Culinary Herbs Their Cultivation, Harvesting, Curing and Uses By M. G. Kains; Associate Editor American Agriculturist ©1912 (available free online)

”It may be said that sweet or culinary herbs are those annual, biennial or perennial plants whose green parts, tender roots or ripe seeds have an aromatic flavor and fragrance, due either to a volatile oil or to other chemically named substances peculiar to the individual species. Since many of them have pleasing odors they have been called sweet, and since they have been long used in cookery to add their characteristic flavors to soups, stews, dressings, sauces and salads, they are popularly called culinary. This last designation is less happy than the former, since many other herbs, such as cabbage, spinach, kale, dandelion and collards, are also culinary herbs. These vegetables are, however, probably more widely known as potherbs or greens.”

Did you know all that? I’m more inclined to favor the second point of view:) Now for some Thyme!

The Thyme that you see above has been my friend in need since Spring has decided not to leap in my neck of the woods this season. As soon as I was once again able to investigate what was hidden underneath the snow, there was my Thymus praecox 'Coccineus’ (Red Creeping Thyme) inching ever so slowly to awaken. (The bloom color of Red Thyme is lavender, however, not red:)

Oh! where do fairies hide their heads,
When snow lies on the hills,
When frost has spoiled their mossy beds,
And crystallized their rills?

~Thomas Haynes Bayly~

I wasn’t always fond of Thyme. As a matter of fact, there was a time in my life that I detested it. Yes, it’s true. My mother had an attachment to Thyme that was well beyond the scope of normalcy. She put it in everything! It wasn’t until I was forced to eat baked beans, which I also detested, when I was younger, that I “saw” thyme in a whole new light. Now, not only do I like baked beans, Thyme is on my good list too:) It’s delicious with lentils too! This recipe is an oldie.

Baked Lentils:
Two cups lentils that have been soaked over night. Boil until soft, with 2 small onions and 1 teaspoon each of thyme, savory, marjoram, and 4 cloves. Drain. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, and put into baking dish. Dot with fat. Bake for 30 minutes.

I could go on and on about not only the culinary uses of Thyme, but also of its medicinal value as well. (Did you know oil of Thyme; Thymol, is sometimes used as an ingredient in toothpaste?) Here are a few more interesting facts I discovered about Thyme.

It’s value is not only as an ingredient in cooking. It has long been recognized that it has effective medicinal properties; it is antiseptic and anti-fungal. Thyme is also rich in minerals and vitamins. Because of these characteristics thyme has a long history of use in natural medicine, particularly for chest and respiratory problems…In the case of thyme, the European Commission, after lengthy investigations, issued a formal Decision that thyme can be included in the list of herbal substances for use in traditional herbal medicine…The list of plants governed by these regulations is very extensive and include; rosemary, sage, garlic, green tea, rhubarb and nettles. (Lost in the Myths of Time)

About Thyme

1. Butterflies and bees are attracted to Thyme. According to Botanical.com, ”The affection of bees for Thyme is well known and the fine flavor of the honey of Mount Hymettus near Athens was said to be due to the Wild Thyme with which it was covered, the honey from this spot being of such especial flavor and sweetness that in the minds and writings of the Ancients, sweetness and Thyme were indissolubly united." (I can attest to this, Michele brought me honey from Greece and to this day, I can still remember it’s distinct taste, aroma and flavor. Amazing!

2. Despite its strong associations with Greece, the History of Thyme goes back even further, in fact, to ancient Sumer and Egypt.

3. Both the Greeks and the Romans used Thyme to flavor cheese and liquor.

4. Egyptians used Thyme in the embalming process.

5. In times past, a soup of beer and thyme was used to overcome shyness:)

6. Like the Language of Flowers where flowers are bundled to reflect a sentiment, in times past, herbs had special meanings also. In the Language of Herbs, Thyme is the symbol of courage, strength, happiness, energy and affection.

7. Thyme is considered to be one of the Manger herbs.

...And thyme was on sweet Mary's bed,
To bring her courage rare,
While shepherds lifted up their hearts
In silent, joyful prayer…
~Author unknown~

8. A common use of Thyme, especially the creeping Thymes, is as a ground cover to fill in spaces between stepping stones. It springs back up even after it has been lightly stepped on. We won’t even speak of the fragrance!

9. Thyme is hardy to zone 5 and grows well in full sun and in most soil conditions, as long as there is good drainage. It survives Pennsylvania’s cold winters and can be harvested at any time, though the oil is strongest when the flowers are just beginning to open.

10. If you’re growing thyme for culinary purposes, Thyme is one of the few herbs that shares its flavor notes fresh or dried. Remember what I told you about perennials, first they sleep, then they creep and the third year they leap! Not Thyme, Thyme blooms the first year and will continue to year after year. For those who practice companion planting methods, Thyme is beneficial to eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes. You can also try planting Thyme to repel cabbage worms and white flies. Also, Lavender thrives when Thyme is planted nearby.

Raindrops are like fairy whispers.~Author Unknown

I’m feeling a bit feisty today. Kinda hard to believe considering I just came in from outside and it feels like March rather than May! Not to mention it looks like it’s going to pour any minute!

When the winds of March are wakening the crocuses and crickets,
Did you ever find a fairy near some budding little thickets,…
And when she sees you creeping up to get a closer peek
She tumbles through the daffodils, a playing hide and seek.
~Marjorie Barrows~

Literature is full of references to facts and lore concerning herbs, including Thyme.

The Flowers
"All the names I know from nurse:
Gardener's garters, Shepherd's purse,
Bachelor's buttons, Lady's smock,
And the Lady Hollyhock.
Fairy places, fairy things,
Fairy woods where the wild bee wings,
Tiny trees for tiny dames -
These must all be fairy names!
Tiny woods below whose boughs
Shady fairies weave a house;
Tiny treetops, rose or thyme,
Where the braver fairies climb!
Fair are grownup people's trees,
But the fairest woods are these;
Where, if I were not so tall,
I should live for good and all.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson~
A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods. 1913
Thyme has long been with mythical folklore. It is one of the plants in the garden that quite happily serves as home to the garden fairies. Due to its matted growing pattern, it can easily hide small secretly constructed houses. Its flowers are full of perfume and nectar for the bees, traditionally the messengers of the faery world. The bower of the Fairy Queen Titania in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is described as being in "...a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows...". Indeed no garden is complete without a patch of thyme set aside for the fairies. They are the night workers of the garden, washing leaves, herding insects, painting flowers and generally cleaning up and tidying the plants to be ready for the next day. The Herbal Touch

I no longer have my copy of Fairy Cooking. You see, I have a sprightly little grand-daughter who has been mesmerized by Tinker Bell. She now has the book:) (Noah has my Star Wars Cookbook, which is now his:)

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight
~Shakespeare~ from A Midsummer-Night’s Dream

I did manage to scan this Marzipan Toadstool recipe before giving the book to Tabi:)

It is said Where the Wild Thyme Grows, you can harvest leaves to brew a potion that enables one to see fairies. One recipe says to see fairies, make a mixture of spring water, wild thyme tops which have been gathered on the side of a fairy hill and add a few pinches of grass from a fairy throne. This recipe for Fairie Thyme Tea from Herbal Blessings may just hit the spot. There’s another recipe from 1600 available online it too is said to “enable one to see fairies.” You can find it here.

Fairie Thyme Tea
1 Tbs. thyme
1 Tbs, calendula
1 Tbs. chamomile flowers
1 Tbs. spearmint
1 Tbs. sage
1 Tbs. marjoram
1 Tbs. lemongrass

Mix all together and store in a cool, dry place that is not in the sun. To use, take one teaspoon of the mixture, add boiling water, and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes.  Strain tea and sweeten with honey as desired. Serve hot or cold.

We couldn’t very well have Fairy Tea without Fairy Muffins, now could we? This recipe for Fairy Muffins is from a vintage church cookbook published by The Altar Society of the Sacred Heart Church in Angelica, New York. It sounds like a charming small town, one I didn’t even know existed except for The Neighborhood Kitchen the book where the Fairy Muffin recipe is harvested from. I really must share this book with you one day. It’s quite charming too:) Unfortunately, it is undated. (I’m thinking 20s)

Garden fairies come at dawn,
Bless the flowers then they're gone.
~Author Unknown~

Do you have any Fairy Garden Plants growing in your garden? I think I might.

Wind chimes in your yard will serenade garden creatures — squirrels, fairies and angels. ~Author Unknown

Can’t see them? Look a little closer:) They may be hiding:)

I think it’s time for Thyme and some Fairies in Your Garden. Don’t you?

Have you seen any fairies lately? I asked the question of a little girl not long ago. "Huh! There’s no such thing as fairies," she replied. In some way the answer hurt me, and I have been vaguely disquieted when I have thought of it ever since…

Have you seen any fairies lately, or have you allowed the harsher facts of life to dull your "seeing eye?"  Laura Ingalls Wilder
All Things Laura Ingalls

Resources
1. Put Some Herbs in Your Landscape
2. Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings About Herbs
3. Quotations about Fairies
Recipes
1. Lemon and Thyme Cut-Out Cookies
2. How to make Fairy Dust