I've always been blessed with good health but in the last twenty years or so I've had to seriously watch my potassium level. It jumps high and it drops low, seemingly without reason. You'd think a small thing like potassium wouldn't matter much, but it is a heart beat and blood pressure regulator, so it does play a pretty big role in our lives.
"Eat a banana," everybody says. Sure, I can eat bananas until I turn into one, but even a banana or two a day doesn't raise low potassium very quickly. There have been recent times when I had to resort to the burning agony of getting potassium intravenously. That is purely not fun.
The list of high potassium foods includes broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, citrus and cantaloupe. I happily munched my way through as many tomatoes, bananas, oranges and cantaloupe as I could find all summer long. Same with broccoli. Potatoes and limas will just have to wait for cooler weather. But even with the list, I didn't eat those same foods every day.
It occurred to me that there must be a better way to increase my potassium. I needed to find something that I could eat daily without getting weary of the effort and sick of the same food over and over again. I looked around my kitchen and sitting right there in front of me were the herbs and spices I use all the time. I knew their flavors, but did they have nutritional value? So bottom line, you get to read the results of all my research, because I found a whole lot of magic while simply searching for potassium.
Here's what I found about thyme, one of my favorites and a good souce of potassium. It's one I'll use every day to add flavor to one thing or another.
Thymus vulgaris (common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme, or garden thyme) is the variety most often used in our kitchens. It also has medicinal uses. There are many other flavors and varieties of thyme, but I'll limit this article to the one I'm most familiar with.
It has an interesting history, as do all of our most common herbs and spices, and like the others it goes back a very long way.
* Thyme is a powerful preservative and ancient Egyptians used it when embalming their dead pharoahs.
* Ancient Greeks burned thyme in their sacred rituals because of its strong scent.
* Thyme was also a symbol of bravery and courage in Medieval times. The ladies of the those days embroidered sprigs of thyme onto a scarf and offered it to their knights, sending them off to war and adventure.
* Also during the Middle Ages people were given thyme as a treatment for leprosy, the plague, body lice, coughs and for digestive problems.
Some of the medicinal attributes still hold true today, even through years of scientific study.
* Thyme has strong antibacterial properties.
* The essential oil of common thyme contains thymol. Thymol, an antiseptic, is the main active ingredient in various commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine. Before modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages.
* Thymol has also been shown to be effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails and it is recommended by some to use Listerine to rid finger and toenails of a moldy fungus.
* Thymol can also be found as the active ingredient in some hand sanitizers.
* Studies show that a tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis.
* One study by Leeds Metropolitan University (Britain) found that thyme may be beneficial in treating acne.
* Good for treating all chest and breathing problems.
* Thyme is a good antioxidant.
* Some herbalists use it to calm nerves and to treat depression.
* It can help relieve swelling of joints and other rheumatic conditions.
* Even today, a major component that is found in thyme is used to make Vicks Vaporub.
More than you ever wanted to know? Oh, but wait. How about nutritional thyme in our kitchens? Here's the scoop:
* It's best to use thyme sparingly since its flavor is quite strong. On the other hand, one teaspoon of fresh thyme does contain a small amount of the daily requirements of Vitamins A and C.
* Thyme is also a good source of iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and manganese.
* Thyme is low in sodium and in cholesterol. It is also loaded with vitamins E and K, and is a very good source of dietary fiber and calcium.
Now here's the good part, recipe ideas:
* Add this nutritious seasoning to bean dishes, pasta sauce or casseroles.
* Sprinkle thyme into scrambled eggs or omelettes.
* Add to fish if baking, grilling or poaching.
* Add it to soups and stocks and to marinades for your meats.
* Add it to soft cheeses and sprinkle it onto salads, particularly those with cheese or tomatoes.
* Add to bread crumb mixtures for batter.
* Add to stuffing.
* Add to ground beef when you use it to make burgers.
* Add it to dough for bread.
So now you are convinced and you want to grow your own, right? Sure you do. It's simple, really, thyme is so easy to grow.
*Thyme reaches a height of about 12 inches and is best suited either to a rock garden or the front of a border. Sometimes it is grown between paving stones; it is highly aromatic and when you step on it, the aroma is pure heaven.
* It likes a well-drained light soil. Being a native of the Mediterranean it needs a place in full sun.
* Thyme can be propagated in a variety of ways - seed and root division are best. It doesn't take kindly to cuttings. The best way if you have no existing plants is to grow from seed but it takes about a year to become established. The fastest way is to grow from root division if you are fortunate to find a friend with a healthy plant.
* Experts say roots should be divided in spring using three or four year old plants. Dig up the plant, clear away as much soil as possible from the roots and gently tear the the plant into three or four pieces. The pieces (each should have a portion of root and foliage) can then simply be planted in the ground and left to grow. They should be ready for moderate harvesting in early July.
* Seeds can be sowed in very early spring in normal potting compost. Because the seeds are so fine, only cover them very lightly with compost. Place them in a warm place, at least 60F, and the seedlings will begin to show in a week or so. When the plants are about 4 inches tall and the danger of frost has passed, they can be hardened off and then moved outside to their final home.
* Thyme is a pretty happy plant and you don't need to pay it a lot of attention. Water only in very dry conditions and feed sparingly. A good mulch with organic matter in fall will help protect the plants from severe frost and will also provide most of their feeding needs.
I could talk forever about thyme and the other spices we use daily, but I think you get the picture. Sometimes the very thing we most need is right there in our kitchen cabinets. Spices come from plants and plants provide life's most basic need: nutrition.
Enjoy your meals, and don't be afraid to sprinkle a few spices here and there. They are magic!
The first image is courtesy of Bubbles and the others are from bonitin. You can click them to learn more about thyme in our ATP database.