Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thyme for tiny flowers

Much better, Lord: 38mm of rain overnight, the first decent fall in ages. While my poppies have temporarily shut up shop and are sensibly refusing to open to the inevitable, soggy pummelling they'd get in the next downpour, my thyme is welcoming the rains with wide-open blooms. This little herb is thriving in the spring rain and has gone into full flower this wet weekend.

Pink and tiny, thyme flowers cover the plant at the moment. If the flowers have any scent, you can't notice it, as the leaves dominate your nostrils with their savoury aroma.

I plucked one flower off the bush and measured it. 5mm from wingtip to wingtip, and 6mm from head to tail. In the old money, that's about 3/16th of an inch either way. Tiny.

Here's the motherlode plant this morning, in the rain. This is such a healthy thing, and the reason for this is that I never feed it and never water it, but I do pick the leaves often for cooking, and occasionally give it a haircut whenever it looks a bit shaggy anywhere, just to keep the growth dense. Though it's planted on the path edge, in the garden bed, most of the plant actually grows atop the paving. Planting it there has proved to be a very successful accident indeed. Give thyme a 'rock' to cover, as it probably does on those rocky Mediterranean hillsides where it thrives in the wild, and half your thyme-growing problems are over.

A while ago I blogged about striking cuttings of thyme, and these are the two little pots of thyme that I grew from cuttings earlier this year, also in bloom at the moment.

To finish off this little homage to thyme, I thought it might be useful to share one little tip about harvesting this herb for use in the kitchen, something I do every week of the year...

Pictured above are two stems of thyme. The top one is some new growth, with its distinctively light green stems. The lower one is some old growth, with darker stems and relatively more leaves. When I picking thyme I always go for the darker, older growth.

Here's why. The easiest way to get thyme leaves off the plant is to 'zip' them off by running the stems between your pinched fingers. I find that the dark old stems are nice and strong and never break while I'm pinching off the leaves. The light green new stems are much more delicate and almost always break, even under the gentle pressure of pinching fingers. Harvesting leaves from them can be a frustrating chore, and you end up resorting to just picking off the leaves, one by one. Boring!

Right now it's hard to find a good supply of dark stems, as the plants are just covered in new growth, as well as blooms. But after the flower show ends, and for most of the year, there's a mixture of dark, older stems and lighter, new growth available for picking. That's when I choose the older stems. I can't find any difference in flavour between older and younger leaves. They're both wonderful, easily one of my favourite herbs for use in all sorts of dishes.


Urban Green said...

I quite like thyme, but have never got around to growing it. We're not gifted with great weather here, so we have to be content with mint (seasonal) and basil at the most.
Very nice post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie~~ Your Motherlode is looking very lush. I enjoy the newer thyme cultivars but the old culinary variety is wonderful in its own right. I'm glad to hear blessed rain has come your way.

Bec Hem said...

i was out in the herb patch yesterday admiring my thyme in flower too - such joy!