Thyme is the herb (dried aerial parts) of certain members of the genus Thymus of aromatic perennial herbs in the mint family Lamiaceae. Thyme is a relative of the oregano genus Origanum, with both plants mainly native to the Mediterranean region. Thyme has culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses, and the species most commonly cultivated and used for culinary purposes is Thymus vulgaris.
Thyme is native to the Mediterranean region. Wild thyme grows in the Levant. The ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burned it as incense in their temples, believing it to be a source of courage. The spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans, who used it to clean their rooms and "give an aromatic flavor to cheeses and liqueurs". In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed under pillows to aid sleep and prevent nightmares. In this period, women also often gave gifts to knights and warriors that included thyme leaves, as they were believed to give courage to the wearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed in coffins during funerals, as it was supposed to ensure passage to the next life.
Thyme grows best in a warm, sunny location with well-draining soil. It is generally planted in the spring and then grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seeds, cuttings or by division of rooted parts of the plant. It tolerates drought well. The plant can survive deep freezes and is found growing wild in mountainous highlands. It can be pruned after flowering to prevent it from becoming woody.
Gas chromatographic analysis reveals that the most abundant volatile component of thyme leaves is thymol 8.55 mg/g. Other ingredients are carvacrol, linalool, α-terpineol and 1,8-cineole. Several are also in the basilica. Some have antioxidant properties.
In some countries of the Levant and Assyria, the spice za'atar (Arabic for thyme and marjoram) contains many of the essential oils found in thyme. Thyme is a common ingredient in bouquet garni, and herbs de Provence.
Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is tastier, but also less convenient. The storage period is rarely more than one week. However, the fresh form can last for many months if carefully frozen.
Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig can be used (eg in a bouquet garni) or the leaves can be removed and the stems discarded. Usually, when a recipe specifies "bunch" or "twig", it means the whole form. When he defines spoons, he means leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute whole thyme for dried.
Thyme retains its flavor in drying better than many other herbs.
Essential oil of thyme (Thymus vulgaris):
Thyme oil, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains 20–54% thymol. Thyme essential oil also contains a number of additional compounds, including p-cymene, myrcene, borneol and linalool. Thymol, an antiseptic, is an active ingredient in various mouthwashes. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, thyme oil was used to treat bandages.
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