“And we’ll all go together, to pull wild mountain thyme, all around the purple heather. Will you go, lassie, go?”
The other day I was visiting my grandparents at lake Bohinj and picked some wild thyme, so today let’s talk about this super fragrant and often overlooked herb. Its Latin name is Thymus serpyllum, but it’s also known as wild or creeping thyme, Breckland thyme, elfin thyme or wild mountain thyme – you’ve all probably heard the song Will ye go lassie, go at least once. Here in Slovenia we call it materina dušica, which roughly translates to mother’s soul, and it is considered to be one of the gentlest healing herbs that can be found in every lung health tea mixture.
The main difference between wild thyme and regular thyme (Thymus vulgaris) that we normally use for cooking is in the shape of the leaves and the essential oil content, which also makes them smell very different, from herbal to almost lemony. Regular thyme has smaller, pointier leaves and long wooden stalks, while the wild one has almost no stalk and grows as a dwarf shrub, forming soft mat-like clusters with pretty mauve flowers. Both are hardy evergreen plants that need only a thin layer of soil and thrive almost anywhere. As the name suggests, wild thyme can be found growing high up in the mountains and is also one of the many bee and butterfly friendly plants.
Wild thyme is commonly used in folk medicine for tisanes and tea, which are supposed to help with bad cough and lung infections, as well as indigestion and bad breath, so you’ll often find it in herbal toothpaste and mouthwash formulations. It is also used in pharmaceutical products for the same purposes and the active ingredient in its essential oil, thymol, is used as a stabiliser. Thymol has antiseptic properties, so thyme oil was historically used on bandages to prevent wound infections.
In fact, wild thyme has a long history of use and was first popularised in Europe by the Romans. Besides folk medicine and culinarics, it was often used as incense for purification and courage and put under pillows to ward the nightmares away. Bizarrely, there’s also a fish genus named Thymallus, because they supposedly smell like thyme.
In addition to all that, wild thyme is also perfectly edible (both leaves and flowers), same as regular thyme, and you can forage it while it’s in bloom between June and September. You can also easily grow it in your garden as a perennial like most people do with regular thyme. So, to get you started, here’s a recipe for a cup of simple spread, which makes for a great and healthy snack on a piece of whole wheat bread:
Wild thyme spread recipe
- 1-2 tablespoon chopped fresh wild thyme
- 1 cup Greek yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Mix it all together and enjoy! Do you have wild thyme where you live?