The International Herb Association has declared thyme to be the 1997 Herb of the Year. It's about time! Not only a versatile culinary herb for salads, dressings, stuffings, mustards, vinegars and jellies, it is also becoming a popular landscaping ornamental. Creeping thyme fills in the cracks between flagstones and walkways. Mother of Thyme is such a vigorous ground cover that it can be used as an aromatic alternative to grass. The ancient Greeks used thyme to restore vigor and acuity to the mind, to fumigate against illness and disease and to cure general malaise in the home. Its flowers are full of perfume and nectar for the bees. And, of course, everyone knows that the garden fairies build their houses under the woven mats of thyme.
Thyme grows well in full sun and in all soil conditions, as long as there is good drainage. It survives our cold winters and can be harvested at any time, though the oil is strongest when the flowers are 'ust beginning to open. After the blooms are finished, I cut off the spent flowers to encourage new growth. Seeds are easily propagated (they are extremely tiny) and mature plants can be divided readily into many new ones. Experiment with such new varieties as lemon, caraway, golden or silver. After a long day in the garden, a bath that includes a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a cup of lemon thyme tea can change "weary" to "wonderful." In the interim, here's a recipe for a tasty bread and directions for an old-fashioned herbal tussie mussie.
Combine 1 cup (250 ml) sifted all-purpose white flour, 2½ cups (625 ml) whole wheat flour (hard), 2 tbsp (25 ml) dry yeast (new fast-rising), 1 tsp (5 ml) salt. In a saucepan, heat until warm 1 cup (250 ml) each milk and water, ½ cup (125 ml) honey, 3 tbsp (50 ml) butter and 1 tsp (5 ml) each finely ground sage, dried lemon thyme and dried marjoram. Add to flour mixture and blend until moistened. Add 1 egg and beat. Gradually stir in three cups (750 ml) white flour to make a firm dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise in a warm place about one hour. Punch dough down and form 2 loaves. Place in greased pans. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled. Bake at 375F (190C) for 25 to 30 minutes.
These little herbal nosegays of sweetly scented herbs and flowers date back to 18th-century England, and were used to ward off evil spirits, the plague and various other ills. In Victorian times, they romantically conveyed sentimental messages. Gather herbs and a rosebud. Wind herbs around rose in layers. The first layer could be mint, the next lavender and then perhaps a few sprigs of babys breath. Finish with rosemary and thyme. Alternate woolly lamb's ear and scented geranium leaves to finish off the tussle mussie edge. Add ribbon or lace for decoration.
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