Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples, believing that thyme was a source of courage. It was thought that the spread of thyme throughout Europe was thanks to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to “give an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs”. In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares. In this period, women would also often give knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves as it was believed to bring courage to the bearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life.
Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. While summer-seasonal, fresh thyme is often available year-round.
Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters (“leaves”) spaced ½ to 1″ apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. If the recipe does not specify fresh or dried, assume that it means fresh.
Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g. in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually when a recipe specifies ‘bunch’ or ‘sprig’ it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme.
Leaves may be removed from stems either by scraping with the back of a knife, or by pulling through the fingers or tines of a fork. Leaves are often chopped.
Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs. As usual with dried herbs less of it is required when substituted in a recipe. As a rule of thumb, use one third as much dried as fresh thyme – a little less if it is ground. Substitution is often more complicated than that because recipes can specify sprigs and sprigs can vary in yield of leaves. Assuming a 4″ sprig (they are often somewhat longer), estimate that 6 sprigs will yield one tablespoon of leaves. The dried equivalent is 1:3, so substitute 1 teaspoon of dried or ¾ tsp of ground thyme for 6 small sprigs.
As with bay, thyme is slow to release its flavours so it is usually added early in the cooking process.
Thyme is primarily used as a culinary herb. It also is used commonly to treat respiratory infections.
Upper respiratory: Thyme can help to make coughs more productive and aid in respiratory treatment. It is also an antiseptic that helps to fight infection.
Tonic: Thyme is used to help give the immune system a boost and promote overall good health.
Muscles: Thyme can relieve muscle pain when applied externally.
Skin: Thyme can be used to treat scabies, lice, and thrush.
Parasites: Thyme can be used to treat intestinal worms.
Desinfectant: Thyme tea is an excellent mouthwash. (Thymol is the main component of Listerine)