Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thyme: A Herb of Lughnasa

The following is an entry from my MS., The Witches' Garden Grimoire: A Handbook of Pagan Lore and Herbal Magick:

Thyme [Thymus vulgaris]

Folk Names: common thyme, Cretan thyme, mother thyme, mother-of-thyme, running thyme, shepherd’s thyme
Polarity: Masculine
Element: Fire
Planetary Signatures: Mars
Zodiac: Aries
Sabbat: Lughnasa

Characteristics, Cultivation and Harvesting:  A bushy shrub with a woody stalk when mature.  The small leaves, no more than one-eighth in long and one-sixteenth inch broad, have a warm, balsamic fragrance.  Thyme is an evergreen perennial herb that grows wild throughout the Mediterranean.  They are covered with whorls of pale purple flowers between May and August.  Sew seeds outdoors when threat of frost has passed; keep moist.  It grows to an average of fifteen-inches/ 38.1 centimeters high.  When this herb is somewhat mature cuttings may be propagated into fresh, nourishing soil.  Snip a few sprigs as needed for the culinary kitchen and strip the leaves from the stalk; roughly mince the herb and add it to food in the final few minutes of cooking in order to avoid evaporating the flavorful essential oils.  Thyme tastes delicious with potatoes, cheese, egg, and tomatoes dishes.  When ready to harvest your herbs cut it low on the stalk and lay it on a drying wrack in a single layer or tie it in bundles to be hung from the ceiling or a quilt wrack.  Seal in an air-tight jar for future use when the stalks and leaves have become crisp, but not brittle.  Thyme may need to be re-grown from seed as an annual in areas with a particularly bitter and long-lasting winter.

Wort Cunning: With lavender, it is one of the principle herbal-antiseptics with vast anti-microbial indications.  It is the active ingredient (thymol) in commercial mouth rinses to fight gingivitis, such as Listerine.  Red thyme essential oil contains a greater amount of thymol than the white variety of thyme essential oil.

Herb-Lore: The common name (thymus) is thought to derive from one of three Greek root-words: thumus, signifying the “soul”, “spirit”, or even “courage”; thymon, meaning “to fumigate”; and possibly thumon, denoting “the mind”.  It was once believed that the thymus gland was the seat of the human soul; indeed, both thym- and –thymis are each a known prefix and suffix, respectively, for terms signifying a psychic disorder.  Perhaps support for this preternatural belief can be found in the popular peasant and antique Greek practice of adorning the dead with this herb and planting it alongside the graveside.  The souls of the dead were also believed to rest within the flowers or thyme or in the springs, and it was a popular custom to wear or to drink a tisane of this herb when communing with the departed.  Shakespeare, perhaps, drew upon this tradition when he situated Queen Mab’s home as a field of thyme.  Drinking a cup of thyme tisane was also reputed to allow one to see the Faeries, while another recipe from the seventeenth-century featuring thyme was reputed with apposite effects.  The Egyptians were known to make use of the essential oil during the embalming process.  British custom holds that bouquets of thyme were to be brought into a home shortly after the death of a resident.
            During the medieval period thyme was established as an emblem of chivalry, and it was typical for European noblewomen to hand to her Knight a scarf embroidered with a bee hovering over a sprig of thyme as a love-token when they were leaving for the Crusades.  This seems to have been borrowed from a Roman practice in which Roman generals would embroider thyme sprigs onto their togas to signify their courageous spirit.  The legionnaires would bathe in thyme-infused water for valor before battle.  And, a decoction or infusion of the herb was imbibed as a courage-inducing potion by the Scottish Highlanders.
            The Greeks employed it as a general fumitory incense for their Temples, and the Romans as an incense to purify their rooms, perhaps from disease.  As a healing herb, thyme was the first plant recited in the medieval Holy herb Charm by those with “herb cunning”.
            A Germanic custom held that a coal from the Yule fire should be mixed with thyme that was gathered at Midsummer in order to bless and consecrate an apple orchard to make it more vigorous or healthful.  And, Marylanders would transplant their thyme bush to a new property when moving to instill luck and prosperity while they lived in their new home.

Virtues: Thyme is one of the most multi-faceted herbs, albeit seldom used outside of the Kitchen that each Witch should add to his or her personal apothecary.  It is a herb of Lughnasa, Men’s Mysteries, and the Warrior Path.  Add it to potions and ritual incenses for spells of healing, to encourage the Witches’ Sight, and for protection, love, prosperity, as well as to funerary incenses.  It may also be added to offertory incense dedicated to the Greek and Roman war-gods, Ares and Mars, as well as to consecrate the Coven Sword and the Athamé.

Herb-Craft: Fill a canning jar with dried or fresh thyme and cover with warmed honey the consistency of water; seal and leave the jar in a sunny window to infuse for a minimum of six weeks.  Flip the jar over once a day for the duration of the infusion. Heat the honey and strain out the herb through a wire-mesh strainer over a clean, sterile jar; cap and label.  Thyme-Honey is widely regarded as a local delicacy from the slopes of the Hymettos hills in modern Greece.

Sources: Baker, Margaret (2008).  Discovering the Folklore of Plants.  Shire Classics: pp. 149-50; Bown, Deni (2001).  Herbal: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living.  Pavilion Books: pp. 278-79; Bremness, Lesley (1994).  The Complete Book of Herbs.  Viking Studio Books: pp. 142-43; Cleene, Marcel De and Marie Claire Lejeune (2002).  Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe, vol. 1.  Man & Culture: pp. 697; Grieve, M. (1931).  “Thyme, Garden”  A Modern Herbal, vol. 2.  Dover: pp. 808-13; Lloyd, Geoffrey Earnest Richard (1999).  Science, Folklore, and Ideology: Studies in the Life Sciences of Ancient Greece.  Hackett Publishing: pp. 147; McVicar, Jekka (1995).  Herbs for the Home.  Viking Penguin: pp. 200-03; McVicar, Jekka (2008).  The Complete Herb Book.  Firefly Books: pp. 245-49; Manniche, Lise (1999).  An Ancient Egyptian Herbal.  University of Texas Press: pp. 150; Pickering, David (1999).  “Thyme.”  The Cassell Dictionary of Folklore.  Cassell: pp. 291; Swerdlow, Joel L. (2000).  Nature’s Medicine: Plants That Heal.  National Geographic: pp. 385; Tucker, Arthur O. and Thomas Debaggio (2009).  The Encyclopedia of Herbs.  Timber Press: pp. 478-92.

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