One kind word can warm three winter months.-Japanese proverb
Kind Greetings from Suzanne and I. We are now in the midst of the shortest day of the year. It is a charming time in itself. There is a graceful clarity adorning the winter landscape. The decidious trees are free of their foliage display and reveal the beauty of their natural shapes and forms. The fields and meadows are tinted with greys, rusts, browns, yellows and other fine colors of the season. When tinged with frost they offer to the eye a jeweled spectacle.
The past week here in the Pacific Northwest was one of cold nights and crystal clear days. It made for fine outdoor work weather and I joined in with Tim, the creative genuis building rock walls and steps in our garden. Suzanne split wood and weeded in the garden while we moved stones into place. Actually the creative part was left entirely to Tim while I did what I could to keep him supplied with the materials he needed. It is a pure joy to watch someone create something of great beauty out of ancient stone. The careful placement of rock has done wonders to display the many plants we introduced to the garden through the summer and fall.
As he completes each stage of his work we are going back and planting different varities of thyme on the walls and by the flagstone steps. It is a new education for us in terms of thyme and all its varities. There are so many combinations of colors of flowers, foliages and fragances and we are looking forward to planting as many as we can to bring the garden a feeling of age and grace.
The other plants in our garden are now enjoying the cheerful company of camphoraceous thyme, lemon thyme, wooly thyme, mother of thyme, silver thyme and will soon be joined by lavender thyme, caraway thyme, oregano thyme, coconut thyme and orange balm thyme, and many more. It brings a lot of gladness to think of how in ones own small garden one can have so much fragrance and beauty.
In investigating the theme of thyme in English literature I discovered that many authors known and unknown have described this beauty and fragrance of this humble plant. I have included a number of quotes amidst other information you may find useful.
On one side of the road boundless oatfields, intersected in places by small ravines which now showed bright with their moist earth and greenery, stretched to the far horizon like a checkered carpet, while on the other side of us an aspen wood, intermingled with hazel bushes, and parquetted with wild thyme in joyous profusion, no longer rustled and trembled, but slowly dropped rich, sparkling diamonds from its newly-bathed branches on to the withered leaves of last year.
So delicious was the wondrous scent of the wood, the scent which follows a thunderstorm in spring, the scent of birch-trees, violets, mushrooms, and thyme, that I could no longer remain in the britchka. Jumping out, I ran to some bushes, and, regardless of the showers of drops discharged upon me, tore off a few sprigs of thyme, and buried my face in them to smell their glorious scent.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris Linnaeus) is a centuries-old potherb native to the western Mediterranean. The herb was called thymon by the ancient Greeks from thyein meaning to make a burnt offering. Thyme was burned as incense in temples and later to sanctify or purify houses.
Thymon was apparently later confused with the Greek word thymos meaning mind, soul, spirit, and courage. A person said 'to smell of thyme' meant someone of admirable style, activity, and energy. Gerard's Herbal (1633) declares of thyme, "Of his native propertie it relieveth them which be melancholicke." The herb was taken as a cordial to invigorate and inspire courage. <img>
Thyme has inspired poetic praise from Virgil to Kipling, who wrote of "wind-bit thyme that smells of dawn in Paradise.' Its fragrance is particularly strong on the hillsides of Mediterranean lands.
To the Greeks, thyme denoted graceful elegance "To smell of Thyme" was an expression of stylish praise. After bathing, the Greeks would include oil of thyme in their massage. Thymus may derive from the Greek word thymon, meaning "courage," and many traditions relate to this virtue. Roman soldiers, for example, bathed in Thyme water to give themselves vigor. In the Middle Ages, European ladies embroidered a sprig of thyme on tokens for their Knights-errant.
Thymus may also derive from the Greek word for "smoke";, as the Greeks burnt it both when making sacrifices to the gods and also as incense to dispel insects and contagion. Thymus is the original Greek name used by Theophrastus for both Thyme and Savory.
The Romans slept on thyme to cure melancholy, and in the 16th century John Gerard said thyme was "profitable for such as are ferful melancholic and troubled mind." It was considered a strengthening tonic to the brain and an aid to increased longevity.
A soup recipe of 1663 recorded the use of thyme and beer to overcome shyness, while the Scottish highlanders drank tea made of wild thyme for strength and courage, and to prevent nightmares.
The powerful antiseptic and preservative properties of thyme were well-known to the Egyptians, who used it for embalming.
It is still an ingredient of embalming fluid, and it will also preserve anatomical and herbarium specimens, and protect paper from mold.
Sprigs were included in judges' posies and clasped by nobility to protect themselves from disease and odor.
Thyme is the first herb listed in the Holy Herb Charm recited by those with "Herb cunning" in the Middle Ages, and it is featured in a charming recipe from 1600 "to enable one to see the Fairies."
In common with many pleasant-smelling plants, Thyme came to symbolize death, because the souls of the dead were thought to rest in the flowers; the smell of time has apparently been detected at several haunted sites. It is also associated with various rituals once carried out by young women to reveal their true love.
Next day she went her ways as usual, and continued her custom of walking in the heath with no other companion than little Eustacia, now of the age when it is a matter of doubt with such characters whether they are intended to walk through the world on their hands or on their feet; so that they get into painful complications by trying both. It was very pleasant to Thomasin, when she had carried the child to some lonely place, to give her a little private practice on the green turf and shepherd’s-thyme, which formed a soft mat to fall headlong upon them when equilibrium was lost.
Thomas Hardy-Return of the Native
During the age of chivalry, a lady embroidered a design of thyme with a honeybee on a scarf for her champion. The knight carried the scarf as a symbol; she would not mind him hovering around.
This 'affection' of honeybees for thyme was noted by the ancients. Virgil's Georgic IV (29 BC) is dedicated "Of air-born honey, gift of heaven", a treatise on beekeeping. Virgil mentions thyme honey or the use of thyme in six places.
The 'essence' of thyme is a crystalline phenol, thymol. Thymol is a useful disinfectant having both antifungal and antibacterial properties. Since 1987, a parasitic mite (Varroa jacobsonii) has been causing the loss of honeybees in North America. In studies by the apiculture industry, it appears the mite is susceptible to thymol.
Smoke is known to calm bees. By trial and error, the ancient keepers learned to use burning thyme. In later lines on the maintenance of beehives, Virgil asks, "Yet who would fear to fumigate with thyme, Or cut the empty wax away?"
She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.
IN THE BEGINNING. Thyme's origins are logged by history and culture. It has been used variously for religious purposes, a flavoring in foods, a tea, as a food preservative, and as part of the Worlds pharmacopoeia. Its name has been attributed, in part, to Theophrastus, the Third Century B.C. philosopher and naturalist, though it was well known and well used prior to his naming it. Greek history gives various attributes to thyme which include its use to restore vigor and acuity to the mind, and its role as a fumigate against illness and disease, infertility in animals, and general malaise in the home. It was burned as a religious incense, as an empowering herb for courage for whatever task was set before a person. It was one of the chief ingredients in ritual altar fires, purifying the sacrifices to make them acceptable to the gods, and seasoning the viands at the same time.
Thyme also served in the rites of passage, burned as an incense at funerals and place in the coffin of the dead as an adornment. It was believed that the soul of the deceased took up residence in the flowers of the thyme plant. As a funerary herb, thyme assured their passage into the after life.
FOR THE FAERY FOLK. Thyme has long been with mythical folklore. It is one of the plants in the garden that quite happily serves as home to the garden fairies. Due to its matted growing pattern, it can easily hide small secretly constructed houses. Its flowers are full of perfume and nectar for the bees, traditionally the messengers of the faery world. The bower of the Fairy Queen Titania in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is described as being in "...a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows...". Indeed no garden is complete without a patch of thyme set aside for the fairies. They are the night workers of the garden, washing leaves, herding insects, painting flowers and generally cleaning up and tidying the plants to be ready for the next day.
All this bubbling of sap and slipping of sheaths and bursting of calyxes was carried to her on mingled currents of fragrance. Every leaf and bud and blade seemed to contribute its exhalation to the pervading sweetness in which the pungency of pine-sap prevailed over the spice of thyme and the subtle perfume of fern, and all were merged in a moist earth-smell that was like the breath of some huge sun-warmed animal.
Aurelia went on with the business with calm equanimity, and made even profits every year. They were small, but more than enough for her to live on, and she paid the last dollar of the mortgage which had so fretted her father, and owned the old house clear. She led a peaceful, innocent life, with her green herbs for companions; she associated little with the people around, except in a business way. They came to see her, but she rarely entered their houses. Every room in her house was festooned with herbs; she knew every kind that grew in the New England woods, and hunted them out in their season and brought them home; she was a simple sweet soul, with none of the morbid melancholy of her parents about her. She loved her work, and the green-wood things were to her as friends, and the healing qualities of sarsaparilla and thoroughwort, and the sweetness of thyme and lavender, seemed to have entered into her nature, till she almost could talk with them in that way.
Mary Wilkins-A Gatherer of Simples
Chemotypes, also known as chemovars, also exist. The classic example of an oil with different chemotypes is Thymus vulgaris, thyme oil. In this case, all the plants look identical so cannot be separated out taxonomically into subspecies, but great variations occur within the chemical constituents, and this is reflected in the aroma too. There at at least 6 chemical variations within this species, two of which contain principally a phenol, either thymol or carvacrol, while the others have an alcohol as the main component. The alcohol may be linalol (also known as linalool), geraniol, thujanol-4 or -terpineol. The chemotypes are written as:
Thymus vulgaris ct. carvacrol
Thymus vulgaris ct. thymol
Thymus vulgaris ct. linalol
Thymus vulgaris ct. geraniol
Thymus vulgaris ct. thujanol-4
Thymus vulgaris ct. -terpineol
Often the common names of these will be reflected by their chemotype: those with phenolic components are called red thyme, while those with alcohols are called sweet thyme. In cases where thyme is collected from the wild without regard to chemotype, it is known as population thyme. It is only by propagating plants from each chemotype. ie. cloning, that a chemotype will remain distinct. If seeds are used from a particular chemotype, there is no guarantee that the resulting chemotype will be the same as that of the parent. These plants are also known as population thyme.
Thymus vulgaris has many chemotypes:
Red Thyme (T. vulgaris) --This is oil that hasn't been redistilled, so it retains a deep red color.
Thuyanol Type --This type is high in thuyanol and terpenes, but low in the more toxic phenols.
White Thyme (T. vulgaris) --This has been redistilled, yielding a clear oil. It is somewhat less potent than "red thyme" oil.
Moroccan Thyme (T. satureioides) --Sometimes referred to as "sweet thyme," this species contains 70-80 percent borneal.
Spanish Oregano (T. capitatus)-See "Marjoram."
The grandfather seemed to feel an especial sympathy for this little invalid charge, for he tried to think of something fresh every day to help forward her recovery. He climbed up the mountain every afternoon, higher and higher each day, and came home in the evening with a large bunch of leaves which scented the air with a mingled fragrance as of carnations and thyme, even from afar. He hung it up in the goat shed, and the goats on their return were wild to get at it, for they recognised the smell. But Uncle did not go climbing after rare plants to give the goats the pleasure of eating them without any trouble of finding them; what he gathered was for Little Swan alone, that she might give extra fine milk, and the effect of the extra feeding was shown in the way she flung her head in the air with ever-increasing frolicsomeness, and in the bright glow of her eye.
GROWING FOR OIL
The production of Thyme oil is a broad acre enterprise, with large areas of plants required to produce limited quantities of oil. The oil yield varies between cultivars and countries usually lying some where between 0.5 and 2.5%. The best time to harvest Thyme oil is around flowering as the oil concentration in the plant is then at its highest. A plot in Northern NSW with irrigation should enable at least two harvests per year. VOLATILE OIL CONSTITUENTS
As with many herb oils, the characteristics of Thyme oil vary between countries. This is most likely a result of both different environmental conditions, and different cultivars. Usually an oil yield of 2 to 2.5% is obtained, however, some sterile individuals and hybrids have been reported to produce 6% volatile oil (Rey, 1992). The oil is a colourless to yellowish red liquid with a pleasant odour characteristic of the herb. The ordinary Thyme oil (Thymus vulgaris) contains 42% to 60% phenols mainly thymol or carvacrol (crystallisable). Adulteration of Thyme oil can be assessed by crystallisation of the phenols as synthetic carvacrol will not crystallise (Prakash, 1990).
The principal constituents of Thyme oils are: thymol and carvacrol (up to 60%), cymene, terpinene, camphene, borneol and linalool, depending on the source. It can also contain geraniol, citral and thuyanol.
There are many chemotypes occurring throughout the world and in different regions. The most notable are the thymol and carvacrol types, the thuyanol types and the linalool or citral types. (Lawless, 1992).
HARVESTING FOR VOLATILE OIL
The timing of harvest is determined by the composition and quantity of the oil in the plant. The oil yield and oil components vary during the year, but when the oil yield and the desired oil components are at their maximum, harvesting should commence.
The actual process of harvesting can utilise a standard forage harvester which will cut the material, and deposit it into a trailing distillation bin. This reduces the need for double handling of the material prior to distilling. It is not necessary to de-stem or chop the material as this may cause oil loss and increase the cost of processing.
May all of you have a fine Holiday Season in which peace and happiness abound-
Christopher and Suzanne