Thymus Vulgaris

Thyme has been a constant garden companion of mine for many years. A member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, thyme is a sun worshipper. Always place it in full sunlight if you want your plant to thrive. Thyme is easy to grow. It likes sandy soils with good drainage. I have had excellent results growing it in clay pots as the pots don’t hold water and tend to dry out quicker. Ensure roots aren’t left in ground that doesn’t dry. Your thyme won’t thrive in soggy soils. However, ensure your pots are large enough to accommodate growth as this little plant likes to spread.

Thyme can be started from seeds or cuttings. I have started from seeds and they germinate quickly. Be careful the seedlings aren’t too wet as they will suffer from damp off, a fungal disease where the seedling suddenly topples over. At this point, it is too late and it will most likely die. If you have started thyme or any other seedlings using grow lights indoors, it is best to have a fan in the room that operates at least 8 hours per day. This will help prevent any fungal growth. Starting from cuttings can begin indoors in the spring if you have kept a plant overwinter. Simply cut a few stems(not to the base of the plant), dip them in rooting powder, and place in damp soil. Roots will begin growing along the parts of the stem covered with soil. Repot the thyme cuttings into smaller individual pots once roots have substantial growth.

I used to grow thyme in my garden when living up in northern Alberta. I have tried it here in our community near Edmonton, Alberta (further south than where I used to live) without any luck. While my oregano thrives here, the thyme I try to overwinter does not. This year, I covered it with dried grass and filled a clay pot with the grass and covered the plant. It was covered with snow as well and was not located in a windy spot. However, I suspect I created a lovely home for mice to sleep away their winter in. Nonetheless, I will wait patiently until the ground has thawed and spring frosts have retreated from rays of the sun. And then, and only then, I will lift that clay pot and see if my thyme has endured the winter.

Common thyme or Thymus Vulgaris is a garden staple each year, but I usually buy one or two other varieties as I just can’t help myself. Too often, I find myself attracted to variegated varieties or others, such as lemon thyme whose smell I can’t resist. There are truly hundreds of varieties to choose from.

Thyme has many uses. I often throw fresh or dried thyme into soups or stews. Tiny leaves added to fish and salads offer bits of flavour. For years, thyme has stocked many medicinal shelves. Two parts of the essential oil, thymol and carvacrol, contribute to the flavour of the herb (The Uncommon Thyme: Thymus Vulgaris Rexford Talbert. By Rexford Talbert April/May1997,http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/the-uncommon-thyme.asps). They also are part of the healing properties of thyme. In one study thyme was found to inhibit bacterial growth, especially thyme in flower. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10492476). For myself, I find picking a few stems and rubbing on my arms or bare legs help keep away mosquitos.

Whatever herbs you decide to include in your garden, I hope one of them is thyme.

Electuaries….What are they???

This summer I had the opportunity to take a wild crafting workshop at the Devonian Botanical Gardens just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. If you haven’t visited the gardens, please do. They are an incredible resource for those in love with gardening and for those who are just beginning their gardening journey. You can easily spend the day there or, like me, take a workshop or one of the many courses they have to offer. So much to do!

The wild crafting workshop was to be five hours long, but could have easily been so much longer. Our instructor was very knowledgable and had so much to share. One of the little gems I came away with, was making electuaries. Simply, electuaries are herbs or plants mixed with honey. To make an electuary, you need to use “real” honey as I call it. No, seriously, you need unpasteurized honey as it contains nutrients and the “good” bacteria that fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections. For years, raw honey has been used on wounds and to fight illness and has shown great healing properties. When I feel a sore throat coming on, I take my raw honey by teaspoon and have found my sore throat does not last as long. Pasteurizing heats up the honey and kills the good and bad bacteria. Sometimes, if not rarely, raw honey can grow the botulism bacteria (nasty stuff that will make you very ill). This is why it isn’t recommended to feed babies raw honey. For most adults, this is not an issue. The benefits for me of raw, unpasteurized honey outweigh the risk of coming into contact with the botulism bacteria. I have consumed raw honey for many years and keep the practice of storing my honey in the fridge. Although I have read many articles suggesting refrigeration is not necessary.

If you can get organic, unpasteurized honey, good. However, I am still on the fence about organic honey. Really, how do they track where the bees go to get nectar? What are those bees really up to? I do know organic bee keepers, do not use pesticides around or within their hives. This is good! So organic may be more about good housekeeping practices with hives. Enough about the honey- just use unpasteurized honey if you can.

So how do electuaries help us and why the heck would I want to make one? Well, the recipe we were given helps to build a strong immune system. With the benefits derived from the plants working with the antibacterial and antiviral properties of honey, the electuary is meant to help fight illness in the early stages. I have always preached about the benefits of using herbs as medicinal agents, however, the little skeptic that resides inside of me cries out for PROOF! So I need to see it to believe it. But, hey, why not try it? What can it hurt?

With the electuary recipe I was given, you add minced garlic, ginger, fresh thyme leaves (believe me you need a lot of thyme leaves), and you can also add rose hips which are high in vitamin C. I did not have rose hips and I understand the seeds are somewhat hard to digest, so I opted out of adding them to my electuary. I could give you exact amounts, but truthfully I just added according to my taste. I did use organic garlic and ginger and the thyme came from my garden (I DO NOT use pesticides on my plants- not necessary). I also think if you are making a product to promote a healthy immune system, you really need to use organic products as much as possible. Why give the body another chemical to process that it does not recognize and which could possibly harm the cells in your body?  Seems rather contrary to what the electuary is intended to do.

Making the electuary is really quite simple. Mince the garlic and ginger and then strip the leaves off the thyme- Ta-Daa!  This preparation is what seemed to take the longest. Heat the honey just so it becomes liquid on a very low heat. You don’t want to kill those good bacteria smiling back at you in the cooking pot. Add the garlic, ginger and thyme to the honey, stir and then pour into clean jam jars. You can even sterilize the jam jars by boiling in water and removing them using tongs (kitchen utensil). Not only do you not want to burn yourself when removing the hot jars from the boiling water, touching the jars will undo your efforts to prevent contamination of the jars. I didn’t bother with it and feel confident all is well with my electuary. See my photo below for the materials I used.

The directions for using the electuary is to let it sit for a month prior to using and then take one teaspoon daily just before cold and flu season starts up. So I have started this regime and will report in the spring on my impressions of how the electuary worked. As I said I need proof it works and hopefully I will maintain good health throughout the year. Hope you are able to try it!

Simple ingredients: garlic, ginger, and thyme
Simple ingredients: garlic, ginger, and thyme
The final product.
The final product.

Note: You can strain the garlic, ginger or thyme out of the honey, but I prefer to leave it in.

Infused Herb Oils

I have always loved growing herbs for use in the kitchen, medicinal teas, and for the pure joy of working with them in the garden. Nothing compares to the aroma of freshly cut herbs. Other than those reasons, my cats really appreciate them, too.

To harvest, I usually cut and hang bundles to dry. In the middle of winter it’s such a treat to grind the dry herbs and as they release their oils, they fill my kitchen with tantalizing odours. I feel like summer has just walked through my kitchen! But what else can you do with herbs? There are many uses of herbs, but this year I decided to try, once again, herb oils. Yep, once again. I have given oils a try before, but without much luck. This year, I stumbled upon a method that finally gave me what I was looking for. I was able to make a lovely peppermint oil that met my expectations.

Just to note, infused oils use much less plant material than essential oils and can be applied to the skin if desired. Essential oils can cause a nasty rash if applied directly to the skin.
Method for Making Infused Oils
Cut fresh herbs and allow to dry if wet. Wet herbs will produce mouldy oils. Pull leaves off plant and bruise slightly in mortar and pestle. Put into a clean jar and fill to the top with oil. I used grape seed oil, but you can use any oil that does not have a strong scent, such as canola or safflower. Olive oil works well for Rosemary or thyme oil, but can become rancid quickly. Screw the lid on tightly. Let sit for about 2 weeks. To make a stronger oil, I repeated the process daily for a week. You will need to strain the herbs from the oil using cheese cloth or fine mesh strainer. I personally like cheesecloth as it catches even the smallest pieces of plant materials. Below is a photo of my peppermint oil and materials I used.
Materials
fresh, clean, dry herbs
Glass jar with lid (preferably not metal)
Motar and pestle
Cheesecloth

Uses of infused oil
Infused oil can be used for adding to salves, lip ointment, and in hair products. How you use them depends on the healing properties of the plants you use. For example, if you are bothered by insect bites in summer, you may want to make a plantain oil to add to a salve. The peppermint oil I made is invigorating and can be used to stimulate. I used my peppermint oil in my diffuser. As the oil heated up, it released an invigorating peppermint smell into the entire room.
In the kitchen herb oils made from rosemary, thyme, oregano, or sage can be added to marinades, sauces, stir fries, or salad dressings. I like to add a sprig of the plant to the finished oil to “dress” it up a bit and it can help with identification of the oil. Herb oils make welcome gifts, as well.

All the good stuff you'll need!
All the good stuff you’ll need!