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Thyme is an aromatic, perennial, many branched ground shrub that will grow to about 12" It has small almost stalkless leaves and in midsummer it will develop very attractive lilac or pink flowers. Once established in a well drained garden it requires very little care, and so is suitable for people who are not the most attentive to the needs of the plants in their care.

Established plants will become woody after a number of years, but this can be avoided by dividing the roots from time to time. The plant is hardy enough to survive light frosts, but will die off if the temperature drops below 10 degrees Farenheit. Thyme is easily propagated either via seeds, cuttings or by root divisions.

Thyme is not only a very easy plant to grow in your garden, it also has many uses. The Romans always knew a good thing when they saw it and it was grown by them for use as a cough remedy, as a digestive aid and for intestinal worms.

For the same reason Charlemagne ordered the plant to be grown in his imperial palaces but also recognised its uses in cooking, chiefly because of its meat preserving qualities. By medieval times it was widely known for its antiseptic qualities and by the 17th century thyme oil, under the name of Oil of Origanum, was freely available from apothecary shops.

In the medieval period it was also associated with courage and knights would embroider it on their clothes as an emblem. Scottish highlanders would make a drink using thyme to instil the courageous virtue in them and wild thyme is the emblem of the Drummond clan.

Its use today, by those who have an interest in nature remedies, lies in four main areas: -

1. Antiseptic. Freshly picked thyme is a fantastic natural antiseptic for those garden cuts and scrapes and as an oil is proven to fight disease-causing fungi and bacteria. Dried thyme is never quite as effective as an oil tincture or infusion. Thyme is a major ingredient in many mouth washes, including Listerine.

2. Digestive Aid. Thymol and carvacol, found within the plant, are shown to relax the muscle tissue of the gastrointestinal tract. These act as an antispasmodic, backing up thyme's traditional use as a digestion aid.

3. Women's Health. Not only do the antispasmodic characteristics aid digestion, they also help relieve menstrual cramps. A word of warning however, thyme should be avoided in large doses whilst pregnant. In this instance it should be taken as a light culinary spice; the stronger oil preparation should be avoided.

4. Cough Remedy. "Thyme is to the trachea (windpipe) and the bronchi what peppermint is to the stomach and intestines" wrote Rudolph Weiss. This is to say that as a soothing remedy for cough disorders, this plant is second to none.

The main warning regarding the use of thyme in its oil preparation form. This is fairly powerful and should be used sparingly; probably only after consulting a doctor or practitioner. The fresh or dried herb, however will cause no problems in its use and is best gathered whilst in flower.

On to the more mystical elements associated with the plant. Folklore suggests: Wear a sprig or throw it onto a fire to attract good health. Place a sprig beneath the pillow to keep away nightmares. Women should wear it in their hair to become irresistible. Thyme will attract fairies. Wear thyme to ward off negativity.

The preparations for thyme are very simple - but do heed the warnings above. Tea is made by infusing 1oz of dried herb in boiling water for ten minutes. The oil is made by filling a jar with dried thyme and topping up with sunflower oil. Then leave in a sunny place for two weeks and strain into a clean jar.

For those interested in natural remedies and herblore, thyme is a good place to start as it is easy to prepare, has a range of uses and is a very low maintenance garden plant.