Thyme (Thymus L., 1753) is a genus of aromatic plants of the Lamiaceae family, used both in cooking and for therapeutic purposes and of which, one of the best known species is the greater thyme (Thymus vulgaris L., 1753).
Origins and History –
Thyme is a small shrub species that together with savory, rosemary and sage contributes to perfume the Mediterranean scrub.
It grows spontaneously in all regions with a temperate climate, especially in well-drained soils. Thanks to its ease of cultivation numerous hybrid species have been created (today we know at least 300 of them). In addition to Italy, the thyme plant is also grown in Morocco, Spain, France and Greece.
From ancient cultures we learned that thyme had a prominent place in everyday life and that its use concerned various fields of application, among which that related to cooking was decidedly marginal.
In ancient Egypt, for example, it was used for embalming; the Romans used them to keep food supplies longer; in Greece it was considered as a symbol of courage, in fact the Greek soldiers rubbed their chest with its leaves to receive strength and vigor, or they used to bathe with thyme water before going to battle. The word thyme in fact derives from the Greek (thýmon) and really means strength, courage. In the Middle Ages this belief was still vivid, so much so that the thyme became an ornament of tunics and scarves, which the ladies used to embroider for their knights as a symbol of good omen; moreover, always in that period it was believed that placing the branches of this plant under the pillow could keep nightmares away.
This plant, therefore, in ancient times, was appreciated in the kitchen both for its taste and for the digestive and antiseptic properties conducive to the preservation of meat.
This small perennial shrub was among the first medicinal and aromatic plants to be widespread in the Mediterranean basin. Dates back to 2700 BC. a cuneiform tablet where the preparation of a dough made with pulverized thyme, figs and pears is recommended.
The Egyptians relied, as mentioned, on the virtues of this aromatic herb to embalm the deceased. For the Greeks there was no more celestial perfume, and they greatly appreciated a honey obtained from a species of thyme very frequent on the Athenian mountains, recognizing its extraordinary virtues in breast diseases. Galen, a Greek physician and philosopher, suggested it in powder form to those who suffered from joint pain, and considered it the most powerful known antiseptic.
The Etruscans and Romans began to introduce thyme into the kitchen and to perfume wines and cheeses with it.
In the Middle Ages, it was considered by naturalists to be “a very good smelling and very sweet herb”. The ladies used to donate it to the knight of the heart to protect it from battle. In the first weeks of the year, the girls placed some twigs under the pillow as a good omen for a probable marriage.
Medicine has also recognized this herb as antiseptic, so much so that some have called it “the antibiotic of the poor”. For external use it cleanses and disinfects the skin, in the form of rinses it is beneficial against diseases of the respiratory tract.
Furthermore, when there were no refrigerators, thyme was used for food preservation, given the significant presence of essential oil with anti-fouling action.
Today this herb makes many preparations pleasant. Its leaflets enter the Provencal mixture of herbs, or the Egyptian one of spices. In Central Europe soups, marinades, meat, fish and eggs have the privilege of being accompanied by thyme. Used fresh it has a less intense aroma, therefore it is preferable to dry it in the shade, in an airy place, placing the sprigs on a sheet of paper. It can be kept in glass or porcelain containers.
Thyme is a small, odorous, perennial shrub or suffrutice, 10-60 cm tall, with erect, very branchy quadrangular stems, which tend to lignify after 4 – 5 years of life, forming dense grayish or whitish green bushes; lignified branches with brown bark.
The leaves are initially revolved only on the edge, 3 mm wide and 7-9 mm long lanceolate, then tube revolved and apparently linear, opposite, sessile or briefly petiolate, gray-green, lighter on the lower page due to the presence of hairs. The flowers are collected in a subspherical or elongated inflorescence with lanceolate bracts similar to the leaves but smaller; 3-4 mm long calyx, with 10-13 nerves and convex tube on the back, velvety with two cilia lips of which the upper trifid with teeth welded on more than half the height, the lower bifid with lanceolate-lesiniform, separated teeth from a deep breast; 5-6 mm long pinkish-white corolla, with protruding and straight tube, bilabate, with straight upper lip and margin, the lower three-lobed; 4 protruding and diverging stamens, almost equal, with bilocular, ellipsoidal anthers; bifid stylus, with short, divergent lacinias.
The fruits are tetrachenes made up of smooth ovoid nucula.
Active principles –
Thyme is an evergreen plant rich in substances that promote the well-being of the body. The most important components it contains are:
– essential oil, consisting of thymol (30-70%), carvacrol (3-15%) p-cymene, terpinene and a series of secondary components;
– flavonic glycosides: luteolin, luteolin-7-glucoside, luteolin-7-diglucoside;
– caffeic acid, lip acid, ursolic acid, oleanolic acid;
– saponins, tannins.
Thyme is also an excellent source of fiber, calcium, iron, manganese and vitamins A, B6 and C.
Properties and Uses –
The food and pharmaceutical properties of the thyme are linked to the particular presence and composition of its active ingredients.
These compounds have important properties which, in addition to imparting a pleasant taste and smell to the thyme, enrich it with beneficial properties: antifungal, antibacterial and insecticide.
From the flowering tops of the thyme, a precious essential oil is produced, extracted mainly from Thymus vulgaris, through the steam distillation technique. Thyme essential oil is used for therapeutic purposes and is very suitable because it stimulates the immune system against the attack of harmful agents, thus curing numerous ailments. It also constitutes a powerful antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and mood tonic.
Thyme is also used in dermo-cosmetics as a component of numerous natural remedies, for the production of different products: detergents, soaps, mouthwashes, toothpastes, perfumes etc.
In fact, what has so far made popular thyme is its use in the kitchen as a highly appreciated aromatic herb, thanks to the excellent smell and flavor it gives the dishes. In reality, the culinary aspect takes second place if we think that the essential oil obtained from the plant has different therapeutic properties.
According to some research, carvacrol exerts antibiotic-like effects such as streptomycin, penicillin and vancomycin. Thyme has antimicrobial activity against various fungi and bacteria, such as: Staphylococci, Streptococci, Pneumococci, Enterococci, Candida Albicans and Corinebacteria.
Other 2004 studies revealed that thyme essential oil was able to decontaminate lettuce infected with Shigella, a gram-negative bacterium responsible for gastrointestinal side effects. After examining the antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of 8 different plants, the researchers said that thyme essential oil is the most effective in eliminating the colonies of many bacterial species.
The natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, together with the antispasmodic and expectorant action, therefore make this plant an excellent remedy for cooling diseases of the upper airways. For this reason, thyme is particularly useful in the treatment of flu, bronchitis, sore throat, cough and cold.
Thymol and carvacrol, substances that the plant possesses, act both as a cough suppressant and as an expectorant, protecting the airways. Furthermore, these components are able to fight infections, acting as real natural antibiotics, encouraging the production of white blood cells and eradicating antibiotic-resistant germs. Unlike any other chemical antibiotic, the thymus does not harm the stability of the immune system and the balance of the intestinal bacterial flora. Serbian researchers have shown that thymus promotes heart health, as there are components within it that can stabilize cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Due to its particular composition, thyme is a great source of antioxidants, including apigenin, luteolin, saponins and tannins. These compounds allow to neutralize the action of free radicals before they can cause damage and oxidative stress, increasing omega 3 fatty acids. The latter allow to keep the brain active, the body’s cells in good health and slow down the aging process. . Fatty acids also help build cell walls and also preserve the structure of the nervous and circulatory systems. Precisely for this reason, thyme is considered a powerful tonic for body and mind.
In addition, the properties of the thymus are also a cure-all for health and oral hygiene as it is able to defeat all the bacteria in the mouth and infections that cause gingivitis, tooth pain and bad breath.
In addition to giving our body numerous internal benefits, thyme also proves very effective for topical use. Given its antimicrobial properties, it fights bacteria that cause acne (or other types of inflammation), giving the skin a better appearance and eliminating all the hassles associated with this blemish. Many types of shampoos or hair products contain thyme, since this ingredient is able to stimulate hair growth, giving nutrients to the hair follicles. In addition, this substance improves blood circulation also at the scalp level, cleanses the skin from dandruff and excessive sebum production.
Thyme essential oil promotes digestion and allows you to easily remove air from the belly.
Since thyme is a source of vitamin K, calcium, iron and manganese, it also plays an important role in bone health.
This herb is also an excellent remedy for cramps and against different types of muscle spasms. For this reason it is very suitable for athletes and also for women who suffer from menstrual pain.
Thyme has an invigorating and calming effect and is suitable for promoting sleep, removing nightmares and fighting weakness, tiredness and stress.
Thyme oil is highly recommended to eliminate toxins, water and excess mineral salts, promoting diuresis and avoiding fat deposits.
Studies have shown that thyme helps fight certain types of cancer (such as breast or colon cancer) as it promotes the death of cancer cells.
In addition to giving benefits to body and mind, thyme is also used as an insect and parasite repellent (vaporizing it in the air or on plants), to increase the duration of food preservation and to perfume the rooms.
As always, it is good to know also any contraindications.
In this sense, it can be said that thyme is a harmless herb (except for allergy sufferers, who are almost always the same allergy to oregano) and does not cause discomfort to the body; however, there are rare cases, mainly due to its enormous use, in which it can cause some small annoyances.
In fact, excessive consumption of thyme could generate gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea and vomiting.
It is also not indicated during breastfeeding as it has certain substances that could create a slight irritation to the mucous membranes of children, which have yet to become stronger.
Finally, it is not recommended to take thyme to people with hypothyroidism because this herb interferes with the activity of the thyroid.
Thyme is an important plant, with a very strong, penetrating and pungent aroma, which vaguely resembles rosemary but which changes completely depending on the type and shape used (vulgaris, lemonade, fresh, dry).
Thyme can be combined with many different foods, from meat to fish through vegetables and legumes, managing to enhance the raw materials available to us.
The most common use of thyme with fish involves its use especially for cooking in the oven with whole fish, to allow the aroma to spread better thanks to this type of cooking; or in a pan, when we are dealing with fillets to be cooked at high temperatures; Finally, it is also excellent for stews or the famous “crazy water”.
With meat you can use dry thyme, even with pan cooking, to give an extra touch of flavor, but it is its fresh version that makes meat dishes truly unique, in particular stews, stews and all recipes that require baking in the oven, which for technical characteristics and times allows the thyme to release all its aroma.
Thyme is the ideal ingredient for flavoring salads, but it also goes well with legumes (helps make beans more digestible) and boiled cereals, summer vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines and peppers; and more soups, soups and vegetable soups, omelettes and finally marinades and sauces. The use in burgers and vegetable meatballs is also extremely interesting, it is also found in many recipes regarding the cooking phase of foods such as carrots, onions, mushrooms, potatoes and pumpkin. Finally, it is also suitable for flavoring fresh fruit salads.
There are many simple and quick preparations that involve the use of thyme, and which contribute to enriching the dishes to be brought to our table. For example, by mixing 15 grams of freshly chopped thyme with a knife with 100 grams of softened butter we obtain a flavored butter that can be wrapped in parchment paper and kept in the fridge to give it the classic shape again, or can be rubbed on meats such as pork or chicken before cooking them in the barbecue or in the oven.
Always with the same flavored butter, also enriched with a pinch of chopped rosemary, it is possible to brush the bread dough before being baked in the oven. Another easy and tasty idea is to prepare a cream spread with thyme, mixing a teaspoon of dried leaves with a pinch of salt, one of white pepper and about 100 grams of soft cheese, using a blender to obtain a consistency homogeneous. The cream is excellent to spread on slices of toasted bread or crackers.
Finally, a last solution is to use the flavored butter, also adding a pinch of salt, a grated lemon zest and a little pepper, to season salmon steaks before cooking them on the grill.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.