Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Thumb Guide: How to Grow Thyme

Thyme is a popular cooking herb that’s also got medicinal properties and a pleasant smell. This low, bushy plant produces small gray-green leaves that are high in anti-oxidant capacity, antibacterial properties, and nutrients such as manganese, iron, Vitamin K and calcium. It’s also a low-maintenance plant—it needs little attention once it gets going. Want to grow thyme at home? Here’s how to get started:
Planting Thyme: Thyme is not a plant for the impatient—seeds are slow to germinate, and seedlings grow slowly at first. To get started, sow seeds about 1/4-inch deep, twelve inches apart, in garden or a decent-sized container. If you live in an area with harsh winters, you probably want to grow thyme in a container that you can bring inside once the weather gets cold.
While waiting for seeds to sprout, keep soil damp but not soggy—misting lightly with spray bottle of water works well.
Earth, Wind and Water: Thyme grows best in loose, well-drained soil and dry air (it’s native to the Mediterranean area). Be careful not to over-water—damp or humid conditions can lead to mold and root rot. You really only need to water it when the soil gets very dry.
Let There Be Light: Thyme needs lots of sun—at least 5-8 hours of direct sun daily or about 12 hours under a fluorescent light. If you’re growing indoors with natural light, place it in the sunniest window you’ve got.
Additional Tips: 
• To harvest thyme, cut 5-6 inch stems and let them air dry. When leaves are dry and brittle, remove them from stem and store in airtight container.
• According to the Backyard Gardening blog, the best spot for growing thyme has light or even slightly sandy soil, and thyme might be a good option for patches of poor soil where little else will grow.
Fun Facts: 
• In the spring, thyme plants grow tiny flowers in shades of white, pink and purple.
• Thyme is part of the French combination of herbs (along with parsley and bay leaves) called bouquet garni, which are used to season stock, stews and soups.
• In a 2004 study published in Food Microbiology, researchers found thyme’s essential oil was able to decontaminate lettuce contaminated wth Shigella, an infectious organism that triggers diarrhea and intestinal damage.
• In ancient Greece, thyme was used widely for its smell, being burned as incense in sacred temples. It was also associated with bravery, an association that lasted through medieval times. Women gave knights scarves with thyme in them for courage.
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