Ingredient of the Week – Thyme

Related to the mint family, thyme is just as much aromatic and visually stimulating as the next green-leafed herb. Its uses have varied throughout time and it has been found to embrace multiple medicinal qualities. This small herb packs quite a punch so consider including it in your next meal not just for taste but for health benefits, as well.

History: Thyme is native to Asia, southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, but it is also cultivated in North America. It has been used as an embalming agent by the ancient Egyptians to preserve their deceased pharaohs and has been burned as incense in temples in ancient Greece. Since the 16th century, oil of thyme has been used for antiseptic properties as a mouthwash and topical application. Seen as a symbol and source of courage, thyme was also used in baths. The spread of the herb has been mythically credited to the Romans, stating that thyme was used to purify the rooms they lived in.

In cooking: Thyme, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor. Thyme can be added to pasta sauce recipes, omelets, soups and stocks. Beans also gain exceptional flavor when the herb is added to the mix.

Benefits: Thyme has a long history of use in natural medicine in connection with chest and respiratory problems including coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion. Oil components of thyme have also been shown to have antimicrobial activity against a host of different bacteria and fungi. This herb ranks high as an excellent source of iron and manganese, as well as calcium and dietary fiber. Current research has shown that both thyme and basil contain constituents that can both prevent contamination and decontaminate previously contaminated foods. Therefore, including thyme in foods that aren’t cooked – such as salad – is a smart choice.  

Storage: Refrigerate fresh thyme in damp paper towels and in a plastic bag. Stored this way, thyme will keep for up to one week. Store dried thyme and ground thyme in a cool, dark, dry place. Dried thyme will stay fresh for up to one year, while ground thyme will stay fresh for up to six months.

Fun Fact: In the days of chivalry, ladies embroidered a symbolic sprig of thyme and a honey bee on their scarves, which they gave as “favors” to the bravest knights.

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