History of Thyme
Thyme is a whimsical herb with a fantastical history. Associated with protection, especially from poison, courage, bravery, and healing, thyme was used by Roman emperors and Medieval soldiers. Thyme is also associated with the Victorian era tales of fairies, making it a gentle, and magickal herb. With it’s bright smell and taste, thyme is much like basil and rosemary, in that it is a ubiquitous herb in the culinary realm as well. Let’s explore this herb’s important place in history and its magickal uses for practitioners.
Thyme’s official name is Thymus vulgaris, which simply means common thyme. The word thyme is thought to refer to the Old French “thym” from the 13th century, coming from Greek “thymon”, which has its roots in a Pre-Indo-European word for ‘smoke’ (according to Etymology.com this last part is doubted by some linguists ). If this is correct, it hints at the plant being used to fumigate or in herb bundles that were burned for their fragrant properties.
There are several kinds of thyme, over 300 to be exact, with the most popular being wild thyme and citrus thyme varieties, the latter of which I’ve grown before will tell you smells heavenly.
Thyme in History
Thyme has been used by humans for thousands of years. The first reference we have is in a 3000 year old Sumerian script, where thyme is recorded as being used as an antiseptic.
In ancient Egypt, thyme was used in the embalming process. This is because of thyme’s chemical make-up (see the medicinal section) and because it smells lovely. Thyme was also included in Egyptian remedies for relieving pain.
The Greeks & Romans
In ancient Greece, thyme was used to baths and burnt in temples (hence the word thymon above). The Greeks associated thyme with courage and therefore burning the thyme was thought to spread courage to those who smelled it. In some legends, thyme was thought to come from the tears of Helen of Troy, giving it a magickal and revered status.
In ancient Rome thyme was associated with protection. They thought that eating thyme would protect one from poison and even went as far as to believe that taking bath infused with thyme could stop the effects of poison. Emperors and political figures were fond of thyme for these reasons. Thyme also has associations with bravery, strength, and courage in Roman times. Soldiers were given sprigs of thyme as emblems of respect and to promote courage as they left for war. On the battlefield, thyme was used in poultices and on bandages. At home people burned bundles of thyme to cleanse and purify their houses and sacred spaces. Much like the Greeks, this was thought to promote courage. The Romans also used thyme culinarily, using it in cheese and liquor as an aromatic.
The Middle Ages
As we’ve talk about with European history, the Romans spread their customs throughout the continent as they colonized. By the Middle Ages, many Roman and Greek practices had been taken on in Europe. Thyme was given to knights as they left for battle to give them courage. Some wore it as a badge of honor. It is rumored that some ladies embroidered scarves with a bee over a sprig of thyme and gave this to their sweetheart. It was also put atop coffins to help souls travel to the next life, probably a remnant of its uses in ancient Egypt.
Thyme was also associated with protection. It was thought to ward off nightmares when placed under a pillow. During the Plague, thyme was used to fumigate sick houses and to ward off disease. Used in poultices, thyme was applied to plague blisters as well.
Oh, the Victorians. As PlantSnap.com puts it “The Victorian period was one of enchantment for the upper classes of Britain. We know it as a period renowned for its innovation, while also instigating incredible violence against colonized landscapes and indigenous peoples across the globe. In a period where the industrial revolution reshaped our society and railroad tracks lead to the demise of buffalo herds in the American west, thyme came to reflect the fanciful and detached aesthetics of high society”. Those fanciful and detached ideals included the idea that fairies resided in creeping thyme outside in the forests and fields, and people, mostly little girls, would camp nearby in an effort to see the fairies.
In a more practical vein, Victorian nurses also used thyme as an antiseptic like those before them.
Medicinal Properties of Thyme
Sometimes we find that the way herbs have been used in the past really didn’t match up to the treatments they were used in, thyme is one that stands up to modern scrutiny. Thyme contains a high amount of thymol, which is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, which means that those ancient cultures and Victorian nurses were actually doing good with their thyme infused bandages.
Thymol, especially the essential oil, is also used to treat psoriasis and eczema, to treat sore throats and other respiratory infections, and in mouthwash and hand sanitizer.
Thymes culinary uses are endless. It is an easy herb to grow and is available all over the world. Related to mint, and close in flavoring to marjoram and oregano, thyme is used in sauces and dry rubs quite often. You know the song that goes, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”? Well, those lyrics are because thyme is usually paired with these seasonings in soups, roasts, and breads in Europe. It is commonly found in the herbs de Provence blends and in the Arabic condiment za’atar. It is also the ingredient in Seombaengihyang-cha, Korean Thyme Tea.
In Magickal Workings
The magickal properties of thyme are closely associated with its history. What’s cool about thyme is that it has a really sweet and gentle energy, with really powerful undertones. Here are some magickal properties and types of magick you can do with thyme.
- Saying goodbye/wishing well
- Fairy magick
- Energize and uplift
- Get rid of bad energy
Thyme spells are going to be fun and easy, for the most part. As always, you can use thyme in sachets or in an incense, but thyme, especially in the summer, is so easy to grow, this is one that you can work with straight of the live plant. You can perform a ritual where you say goodbye to old memories/friends/habits and wish them well. You can use thyme, or the essential oil, to cleanse your space and lift up the energies. You can smell thyme in order to give yourself courage before any challenge you face. You can use thyme to call in the fairies, or even try sleeping near your garden outside if you’d really like to connect with that particular spirit. As a Green or Kitchen witch, you can also use thyme for these properties in your food. The possibilities with thyme are really endless.
Although there are tons of recipes out there, I’m choosing the overwhelmingly popular option that first came up when I searched thyme recipes on Google. Very magickal, I know. But here’s the thing, this Lemon Thyme chicken combination came up as the top like 15 options, so there must be something to it. I think the flavor in this dish bring out the whimsical nature of thyme; the brightness and energy that thyme brings to the table are very apparently here. So without further ado, here is the Lemon Thyme Chicken recipe for this week.