The thyme plants are perennials, belonging to the mint family, and exist in various shapes and colors. The plants can be erect and bushy, reaching 18 inches in height or creeping and spreading, growing to about 3 inches high. The flowers vary with many colors from white to mauve, lilac, magenta, blue-violet, and pale pink while leaf colors vary from light green to olive grey-green, golden green, dark green, silver, or bronze-tinted.
All these differences give rise to a variety of exotic names for the various cultivars such as Golden King, Silver Queen, Archer's Gold,
Thyme is one of the most fragrant and pleasant greenery's to have growing in your garden. Their small size makes them ideally suited to crevices in paving, rock gardens, and containers. They thrive in stony or rocky situations and loves plenty of sunshine. They can be used in the garden to deter beetles and other cabbage pests. For healthier growth it is important to trim them after flowering and also remove the dead flowers. Sprigs can be picked during the growing season and used fresh or dried.
The fresh or dried leaves of thyme as well as the flowering tops are widely used to flavor soups, stews, baked or sauteed vegetables, casseroles, and custards. Thyme provides a warm tangy flavor, somewhat like camphor, and can retain its flavor in slowly cooked dishes. Thyme is also used in marinades (especially for olives), and in stuffings. The leaves can also be used in potpourris and moth-repellent sachets.
The essential oil of thyme can be used not only to flavor foods, but is also added to soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, perfumes, and antiseptic ointments. The oil is used in aromatherapy to relieve pain and elevate mood. In addition, it may have a calming effect in stress-related conditions. Thyme baths have been used to help relieve aches and joint pains.
Because of its essential oil, thyme possesses expectorant and bronchial antispasmodic properties, making it useful in the treatment of acute and chronic bronchitis, whooping cough, and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Thyme enhances the action of the cilia in the bronchi and directly acts on the bronchial mucosa. The terpenoids are responsible for the expectorant activity of thyme while a variety of flavonoids are responsible for the spasmolytic effect of thyme on the bronchioles.
All the members of the mint family, including thyme, possess terpenoids which are recognized for their cancer preventive properties. Rosmarinic and ursolic acids are major terpenoids in thyme that possess anti-cancer properties.
A tea can be made by adding one teaspoon of crushed thyme in half cup of boiling water, letting it steep for 10 mins and then straining. The tea can be drunk 3 to 4 times a day for the treatment of coughs. The tea may be sweetened with honey, which also acts as a demulcent, thereby increasing the tea's effectiveness.
Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
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