Notes from Herb Heaven

Thyme

Thyme is found growing wild in the Mediterranean countries. It is a shrubby evergreen that grows to about 30cm high. Grow thyme in any well-drained soil, particularly on a sunny, stony slope. It will also grow in partial shade, and does well in rockeries. Creeping thyme is best suited to cooler areas but manages in the heat when grown in shade. Although thyme grows best in warm, dry climates, it will also grow in the subtropics. Both kinds of thyme will grow happily in window boxes and pots.

Add a little compost to the soil to make it friable. Common thyme will self-seed readily if some flowers are left on the bush. Sow seed in trays in spring or autumn and keep them misted for about a week. Harden off seedlings outside for about a week before transplanting into the garden. Replace thyme plants every two to three years, or peg down low-growing branches of old plants and once they have taken root, cut them free and transplant. You can also lift a plant and divide the roots. Thyme does not like soggy feet, so do not over water, but give them enough in dry weather.

It is not necessary to fertilise thyme, although container plants need some feeding with organic plant food such as Seagro or Nitrosol. Keep faded flowers snipped to encourage a bushy growth as it has a tendency to straggle. Unlike most other herbs, thyme is most aromatic when dried. Cut sprigs before it flowers and hang in a dry shady place for a couple of weeks. Rub the leaves from the stems and store in airtight containers. Thyme can be frozen in plastic bags and kept in the freezer for up to 2 months. Losing hair? Try a cooled infusion of thyme (one cup of thyme to 1 litre water) rubbed into the scalp. A tea of thyme with a spoonful of honey can be taken to ease a cough and cold. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is used mostly in stews, potjies, casseroles and stuffings, and is a classic component of the French bouquet garni.
Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is lighter and has a fruity flavour, marrying well with meatballs and custard puddings.
The leaves and flowers of Thyme can be eaten fresh in salads.


Tomato, Carrot and Thyme Soup (serves 6)

300g tomatoes, skinned and chopped
200g carrots, grated
4 spring onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tsp lemon juice
1 large bunch of thyme, tied with a piece of thread
1.5 litres chicken stock
salt and pepper
1½ Tbs chopped parsley or chives

Put all ingredients, except the parsley
or chives, into a saucepan. 

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Remove the thyme, taste and adjust seasonings. 
Serve and sprinkle with parsley or chives. 

Variation: Blend the soup and stir in a swirl of cream if liked.

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