Botanical Name: Thymus vulgaris

Family: Labiate

Hindi Name: Banajwain

Thyme is indigenous to Southern Europe. It is cultivated in other parts of Europe, North Africa, England, Canada, US and India. In India, it grows wild in the temperate Himalayas, from Kashmir to the Kumaon Hills, and is now cultivated in the Nilgiris.

The name 'thyme' is borrowed from Latin word thymus which goes back to Greek thymon. Thyme is a common garden plant that lives for many years under good culture. The characteristically shaped fruits or pods are always used in a dried state.

Besides the regular eight-pointed shape, one rarely finds a single specimen with a larger number of carpels. The dried leaves are curled, of brownish green colour, and marketed whole or in ground form. The flavour is aromatic, warm and pungent. There are many species of thyme, but the orange has a strong thyme fragrance with a hint of orange peel aroma. Lemon thyme exhibits an unusual flavour, combining thyme aroma with the fragrance of lemons, and is best when fresh.

The composition of thyme is as follows:

  • Moisture: 7.1 %
  • Protein: 6.8 %
  • Fat: 4.6 %
  • Fibre: 24.3 %
  • Carbohydrates: 44 %
  • Minerals: 13.2 %
  • Calcium: 2.1 %
  • Phosphorus: 0.2 %
  • Iron: 0.14 mg/100g
  • Sodium: 0.08 %
  • Potassium: 0.9 %
  • Vit A: 175 IU/100g
  • Vit B1: 51 mg/100g
  • Vit B2: 0.4 mg/100g
  • Vit C: 12 mg/100g
  • Niacin: 4.9 mg/100g

The contents of essential oil vary drastically with climate, time of harvest and storage conditions. Thyme gives rise to the oil of thyme after distillation of the fresh leaves. This oil contains the phenols, thymol and carvacrol, as well as cymene, pinene and borneol.

Lemon thyme is found to contain an essential oil rich in geraniol. Lemon thyme is added to herbal vinegar to enhance the flavour. The lemon fragrance is due to citral. The essential oil resides in the pericarp, not in the seed. Lemon thyme is perfect for fish and fruity vegetables.

Thyme is common in central American cuisines, where jerk, the most famous culinary export item of Jamaica, often contains thyme. It is an important spice of European cuisines, especially in South Africa. In France, fresh branches of thyme are tied up into bundles together with other fresh herbs, and added to soups, sauces and stews being removed before serving. Dried thyme is included in the herbes de Provence of France.

The Jordan condiment zahtar contains thyme as a vital ingredient. Dukka, a typical spice mixture of Egypt, is a slightly salted combination of roasted seeds, coriander, cumin, pepper and thyme, used to flavour meat. In Central Europe, thyme is used for soups, fish, meat, poultry and eggs.

Thyme is often combined with marjoram for sausages. Cheese is sometimes flavoured with thyme. The Creole cuisine of New Orleans is particularly famous for its extensive use of thyme.

Fresh thyme is not only less intensive than dried thyme, and is less smoky. It is used in this form in Mediterranean vegetables and fish. Thyme is antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, tonic and carminative. In whooping cough, it is administered in the form of a syrup. The infusion or tea is beneficial for catarrh, sore throat, colic, flatulence, fevers and colds.

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