Two of the herbs that I have had in my garden for a long time are Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). I regularly use both of these herbs, in both fresh and dried form, in cooking, as I'm sure you do too. I have been wondering how to use them medicinally as well. I chose to write about them together because they grow in my garden in a similar way and I currently use them in cooking in a similar way. They are both of the family Lamiaceae, so there is a family connection as well.
my herb garden before it got overgrown
How to grow Rosemary and Thyme
Both of these herbs prefer a sunny position, however in the subtropics, no matter how much you think you like the sun, sometimes the hottest days are really too much. For this reason I keep both rosemary and thyme in small pots, dug into the ground. Digging the pots in keeps the soil cool and moist, keeping them in pots gives me the option to move them around if they need more or less sun. I do find it stunts the plants a little, but I still have more than enough of each to use. I find that both herbs die back in winter, particularly after we get a frost, and then regrow in summer when we get enough rain. Regular cutting helps to keep the growth under control and gives me plenty of leaves to dry for use in winter.
a thyme flower up close
Using Rosemary and Thyme
For cooking I use the leaves in both fresh and dry form. I find freshly cut sprigs of these herbs are find to throw into a casserole or soup as long as I remember to pull them out later. I prefer the dried leaves to crumble over potato or meat dishes as its far easy to crumble the dried leaves than to chop the fresh leaves. I air dry the leaves in a basket, they usually dry very quickly due to low water content. When the leaves are dry I store them in old spice jars. I try to get them topped up before winter so I have plenty while the plants are dormant.
my overgrown thyme plant
I have been using rosemary and thyme in cooking for a long time, but I hadn't investigated the medicinal properties until now. Rosemary has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it is used on the skin to ease aching muscles. It is also often used to help with memory and concentration, for stimulating circulation and for hair growth. Many natural shampoo recipes contain rosemary essential oil or tea. (More information here) Rosemary is also known to stimulate digestion, so its lucky it also tastes nice!
Thyme contains a chemical called thymol, which is known to have strong antimicrobial properties. Thyme can be used as part of a wound dressing, and in teas and tinctures to treat coughs and colds. Thyme essential oil can be used to make mild antiseptics to be used around the house. Thyme is also used for digestion and to expel intestinal worms!
Both herbs have warnings for pregnancy - a small amount in cooking is ok, but excessive use of the essential oils should be avoided. Thyme essential oil is not suitable for young children either (although the herb should be ok), please do your research before using it.
Apart from using the essential oils, the easiest way to benefit from rosemary and thyme is to include them in herbal teas (infusions). If you've been following this series, you will notice that nearly every herb can be used as a tea or infusion, but you may not drink teas frequently enough to get a chance to use all the herbs that could be beneficial. I get around this by including a lot of herbs in my daily cup of tea. I just dry a bowl of cut herbs, crush up the leaves and store them in a jar. I scoop about a teaspoon of dried herbs into an infuser, and put this into a cup of boiling water. I usually leave the infuser in the cup while I drink the tea and may top up with more hot water a few times during the day. This way I get the benefit of several different herbs in my tea mix.
One other method that I would like to try is to infuse the herbs into honey. Now that we have plenty of fresh raw honey, if I put some rosemary and thyme in a jar and fill with honey, by next winter it will be infused with all the antimicrobial goodness and may be a good remedy for coughs and colds.
Do you use rosemary and thyme? Do you grow them as well?