THYME (Thymus vulgaris): Origin: native to southern Europe and Mediterranean regions. The word thyme stems from the Greek, thymon, meaning to offer incense or sacrifice. This herb is symbolic of courage and activity and was used widely by the ancients to treat hookworm. In Greek times thyme was a symbol of graceful elegance and emblematic of human activity: “To smell of Thyme was an expression of praise.” The Romans associated Thyme with the goddess Venus. The Romans also thought thyme was useful when treating epileptics who were advised to sniff the leaves and to sleep on sprigs of thyme. Since the Roman era thyme has been used to induce abortion.

The Culpeper herbal provides the following accounts: thyme is a noble strengthener of the lungs; it purges the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath; thyme also kills worms in the belly. As an herb of Venus thyme provokes the terms [to arouse a feeling; in this sense to manage pregnancy] and when administered gives safe and speedy delivery to women in travail [painful effort; i.e. labor] and brings away the after birth. Thyme is harmless – you need not fear use of it. an ointment of thyme removes hot swellings and warts, helps sciatica and dullness of sight, and takes away pains and hardness of the spleen. It is excellent for those troubled by gout; thyme eases pains in the loins and hips; comforts the stomach and expels wind [intestinal gas].

During the era of chivalry in England and France, women would embroider scarves with the symbols of a “bee hovering about a sprig of thyme” – and give it to her knight. During Medieval times thyme mixed with honey, was considered a potent remedy to combat lung disease. Medieval English farmers would place wreaths of thyme and marjoram in their dairies near the milk cows, to prevent milk being spoiled or “turned” by thunder. In England, thyme had an unusual link with religion; the souls of murdered dead were thought to live in the flowers of thyme and it is planted on graves especially in Wales. Since the Medieval Era thyme has been prescribed to prevent nightmares and to tone the nervous system. In France during the years of the Republic, leaves of thyme served a political symbol. A soup of beer and thyme is considered an antidote to shyness. Thyme eaten on the eve of St. Agnes (January 20th), reportedly, eases the pain of a lovesick girl (or boy). On the eve of St. Luke’s Day (October 18th) a second forecasting tradition using thyme took place in traditional English households. It started with a preparation

Take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, and a little wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to powder, then sift it through a fine piece of lawn; simmer with a small quantity of virgin honey in white vinegar, over a slow fire; with this anoint your stomach, breasts, and lips, lying down, and repeat these words thrice –

                        St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,        

                        In dreams let me my true love see!

It is said by Christian believers that thyme was one of several plants used to fill the manger upon which the infant Jesus was laid, hence its religious significance throughout the Mediterranean. In the English tradition it is considered unlucky to bring sprigs of wild thyme into the house, as the action will bring death of severe illness to a member of the family; when boiled in water with vinegar, considered a cure for whooping cough; magical aspects include the belief in rural England that an infusion of thyme rubbed into one’s hair will stave off the greying process and maintain the original color. The perfume of thyme was thought by the ancient Greeks to restore a person’s energy. In the language of flowers thyme is equated with activity. Because of its attractive aroma thyme has been used for centuries to assist with the embalming of corpses. Thyme also is the focus of a famous (perhaps infamous) botanical pun: She thought she had collected oregano, but she really had thyme on her hands.

(Summarized from: Culpeper, 1653, p. 183; Thiselton-Dyer, 1889, p. 249; Hayes, 1961, pp. 110-111; Colin, 1962, p. 88; Northcote, 1971, pp. 42-44, 182; Powell, 1977, p. 126; Priestley and Priestley, 1979, p. 134; Vickery, 1995, p. 371; Grivetti, 2004, p. 100)!

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