Basil Thyme

Calamintha nepeta / Satureja acinos

Herbs gallery - Basil Thyme

Common names

  • Basil Thyme
  • Calamint
  • Mountain Mint

The culinary herb basil thyme grows to about one to two and a half feet tall; it has creeping rhizomes and is a hairy perennial herb. The basil thyme has blunt oval toothed leaves which are aromatic; the shape of these leaves is similar to the shape of thyme leaves to some extent. Basil thyme gives off flowers from July through October, the flowers come in varied colors, ranging from pure white to a pinkish lilac - each flower is approximately half an inch in length. Flowers are present on the plant in loose clusters on the very tips of the stems and branches of the herb.

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The herb was not neglected by the ancient herbalist and medical practitioners and it finds use in many traditional medications. The basil thyme has even found a place in many legends, this underlines the degree of familiarity ancient people had with the herb - it shows just how widely this herb was used. In one of these ancient legends, there is a poem commonly attributed to Orpheus that says the basil thyme was one a tall fruit tree, till a day came when it offended Mother Earth, who cursed it and shrunk it down to its present size as a form of divine punishment. The Greek doctor Galen wrote a much more practical account of the uses of this herb. Galen, writing sometime in the second century A.D., states that when fresh basil thyme leaves are applied to bruises, it results in the disappearance of the black and blue marks normally seen with bruises on the skin. John Gerard, who wrote the medical treatise Herball in 1597, notes that an extract of basil thyme can stimulate the flow of urine in the body. Gerard further states that basil thyme aids in curing jaundice and can be used as a remedy for snakebite. In the 20th century, many herbalists recommend using a decoction or extract of the basil thyme to bring on increased perspiration as a means to break a fever, the same decoction can be used as an herbal expectorant. None of these claims have been scientifically verified by present day pharmacological scientists.

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Calamint, the common name for the basil thyme comes from plant's ancient Greek name kalaminthe, the meaning of this word is "beautiful mint" in ancient Greek.

In Finland, basil-thyme is generally a perennial plant with short life span. However, occasionally, this culinary herb also grows in the form of an annual plant. Further down, in southern Europe, basil-thyme grows in its favoured habitat. In these regions the plant has the apparent extraordinary ability to complete its entire life cycle during one summer; thereby it adapts itself to become a perennial plant in the briefer and relatively cool growing season in the northern regions. Most often this species is found growing on the banks and in meadows, while its original habitats included crumpled slopes and lightly filled mountainous outcrops.

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The green parts of basil-thyme possess a potent and pleasing aroma that resembles the herb called Satureja hortensis or the summer savory. People in ancient Rome called this herb only as satureja and much later the Swedish botanist and physician Carl von Linné gave the plant its full genre name. Perhaps, the origin of this plant's name has a reference to the sexually immoral male spirits in the Greek mythology and called satyrs. There is a myth saying that basil-thyme once flourished in the mountains and meadows inhabited by the satyrs and had a powerful influence on their libido or sexual drive of these licentious male spirits.

Whether the myth has any merit or not, the fact remains that the summer savory was once exploited to augment libido. However, presently this herb is more popular for its pepper-like essence. In Finland, thyme-basil is a rare plant that grows to a small height and is never used for culinary purpose. However, it is easy for an experienced botanist to identify this small charming plant only by means of its fragrance. It definitely has a wonderful aroma that cannot miss a good nose.

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Parts used

Leaves.

Uses

In the herbal medication of the Greco-Romans, basil thyme based herbal medicines found a very prominent role, this prominence of the herb continued to the early modern herbal tradition and the herb enjoys a great reputation among herbalist to this day. Many herbalists still recommend remedies made from the basil thyme to break a fever as the herb actively promotes sweating in the body of the patient. Contemporary herbalists also specify basil thyme as an herbal expectorant, however, remedies made from this herb are not widely used in contemporary folk medicine and have lost some of the reputation it enjoyed in traditional herbal lore.

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Habitat and cultivation

The basil thyme is native to Europe, however, the plant is now naturalized on the American continent and wild blooms of the herb can be found in many regions in North America. Basil thyme can be found from Maryland and Kentucky in the east and north extending to Georgia and Arkansas in the south and southeast.

The ideal soil to grow basil thyme is well drained or dry to moist soils; this herb grows well in neutral to alkaline soils and prefers sites that are warm with good exposure to the sunlight. Basil thyme plants are very hardy and can easily withstand temperatures of about -15°C in temperate regions. The common species of basil thyme is very closely related to the C. sylvatica species of herb, the relation is so close that many botanists consider the herb to be no more than a sub-species of C. sylvatica. The basil thyme is also very good plant for apiarist.

The basil thyme is normally propagated using the seeds. Seeds are normally sown during the spring inside a greenhouse and lightly covered with soil. The seeds normally germinate in about two weeks if the ambient temperature is at about 21°C. Once the seedling emerge, each individual seedling is pricked out as soon as they are tough enough to handle by hand and separated into individual positions in the soil, seedlings are watched for signs of sufficient growth, they are then planted out into the permanent sites in the summer months, or in the spring of the next year. The plants are divided in the spring. The process of division is quite easy; the larger clumps can be planted directly into the permanent sites. Ideally, the smaller clumps must be placed in pots and grown in a cold frame till they are well rooted in the soil before they are taken out for planting during the summer. Cutting of the basal region are usually taken in May or June. These cuttings must be rooted in sandy compost to give the cutting maximum chance of survival. The shoots of the basil thyme must be harvested when they are about 10 - 15cm in length, each shoot must be taken out with plenty of the underground stem. These can be placed in individual pots and kept under a light shade using a cold frame or in a greenhouse till they have a chance of rooting well in the soil. Once they have put out roots, they can be planted out in the summer months.

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Comments

From Nathan - Jun-02-2015
When my kids were small and got fevers, I always made them herbal tea from basil thyme leaves to reduce their fevers. Basil thyme always brought their sweating down and reduced high body temperatures, bringing some relief.
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