‘I need a ground cover for between the pebble stepping stones’ I thought yesterday, while revamping a garden bed in my front yard. The first plant to come to mind from the existing plants I have, was thyme. Thyme is a Mediterranean climate herb. Not really a ground cover of course, but low growing and useful enough to grow in this bed between stepping stones (that would only be used by me) and in a garden which features a rosemary hedge. ‘If I needed a quick bouquet garni, I could collect it on the way through, from the car’, I thought.
I do like a nice bit of efficient ingredient collection, when it comes to meal preparation. But what’s a bouquet garni? It is the French name used for a collection of fresh herbs (garni) tied together (bouquet) used in soups, stews, stock – in this case, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. These herbs were described in an old English folk song ‘Scarborough Fair,’ popularised by Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960s. It’s a love song rather than one about culinary herbs, but the bouquet garni ingredients are described in the herbs and flowers ‘she’s’ instructed to collect in her basket. I break into this song whenever I think of bouquet garni, or thyme. The song takes me back to an age I never knew, but feel I do.
I digress. So out into the back garden I went in search of my thyme treasure. I found four plants I’d made from cuttings some months before, all in need of a very harsh haircut. As usual when one job is begun, ten more emerge. I snipped off the tops of the plants, threw them into my harvest basket and planted the thyme plants into the front garden bed.
With the garden bed complete, I’m having a more restful day today. So dealing with the thyme-drying is an ideal Sunday job. Thyme is one of those herbs which I believe offers its best flavour to food, when dried. Except when used fresh in a bouquet garni of course. Thyme suits egg and vegetable dishes but is used with poultry, game, fish, beans, pizza, sauces, and is always an ingredient in stuffings like that found inside a BBQ chicken.
If you’re not familiar with the taste, I always describe it as the ‘woodsmoked end of mint’. To me it’s the ‘meaty’ version of herbs–and that’s what I thought even before I was a vegetarian. It gives ‘meaty savouriness’ to any vegetable dish.
I recommend a light touch if you haven’t used it before–it is strong and will overpower a recipe if you’re heavy-handed with it.
To Prepare Dried Thyme
- Cut fresh thyme sprigs from your thyme plant
- Rinse then dry thyme on a tea towel
- Dry the thyme stems in your dehydrator 100 °F (38 °C) for 1 to 2 hours (I did mine for 1.5 hours) Alternatively you can air dry it in a dust free covered area for 5 or so days depending on the temperature and air humidity
- Remove leaves from stems by ‘scrunching’ into a bowl
- Store dried thyme in an air-tight container (preferably glass)
I don’t use any preservatives when drying my herbs, so the 1 to 3 years pantry storage time recommended for thyme, will vary depending on the conditions it’s kept in. As is my usual advice, do your own research, be aware of your own storage conditions and never consume mouldy or otherwise perished herbs.
The other way I like to enjoy the smell of thyme is simply fresh leaves in a bowl of hot water. The scent is beautiful and will waft around your home as a natural air freshener. I use this idea in winter, as thyme is said to be antibacterial, antiviral and insecticidal. Thyme was used in the embalming process during The Black Death in Europe, which is perhaps where these properties were most appreciated. Before using it for any medicinal purpose though, research for your own situation and needs. This is one of the good references to read, here
As a final note, it’s great to have chemical-free dried herbs on hand for cooking. Herbs are so easily grown in small spaces, so don’t feel you need a garden bed. A container with drainage holes will do! Thyme requires very little in the way of attention, it’s resilient and used to a hot Mediterranean climate. Just be sure the soil you plant it in has a pH of between 6 and 8, and drains well. Keep it watered in a sunny spot. A simple delight!
Happy gardening 🌸