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Thyme was one of the herbs brought to the American colonies at an early date, and Thomas Jefferson records it as one of the "objects for the garden" in 1794.1 When Jefferson was serving as U.S. President, his mâitre d'hôtel, Étienne Lemaire bought basil and thyme at the Washington market.2 In February 1820, George Divers of Farmington sent thyme to his Albemarle County neighbor at Jefferson's request.3 Martha Jefferson Randolph has thyme listed as one of the ingredients for her okra soup and vegetable porridge.4 Also, Mary Randolph includes thyme in her recipe for beef soup in The Virginia House-Wife (1824).5
Thyme has been grown in gardens since at least the time of the Assyrians, who recommended its use for the short-winded, or for those who suffered from nightmares or the falling sickness. It also was known for treating tooth-aches.6 David Stuart and James Sutherland speculate that the Romans brought it to Britain.7 The earliest British citation dates back to the 1500s, but it was probably grown long before this date.8
Although it is considered a perennial, thyme is a dwarf shrub that can creep and root along the stems, eventually covering large areas. It is most often used as a culinary herb. This is a hardy evergreen, low-growing, late-spring flowering herb with tiny flowers in shades of pink to rose color and dark green, highly fragrant foliage.
- Adams, Denise Wiles. Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc., 2004.
- Coats, Alice M. Flowers and their Histories. London: Black, 1968.
- Look for more of Jefferson's references in his garden book. Manuscript and transcription available online at Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- McMahon, Bernard. The American Gardener's Calendar, 1806. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997. See pp. 198, 374, 402, 454, and 512.
- Seeds available for purchase at Monticello Museum Shop.
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
- 1. Betts, Garden Book, 208. Manuscript and transcription at the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- 2. Peter Hatch, "Herbs," Monticello Research Report, 4.
- 3. Betts, Garden Book, 208.
- 4. "Cookbook of Martha Jefferson Randolph", Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.
- 5. Randolph, The Virginia House-Wife (Baltimore: Plaskitt, Fite, 1838), 14.
- 6. Hatch, "Herbs," 4.
- 7. David Stuart and James Sutherland, Plants from the Past: Old Flowers for New Gardens (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 223.
- 8. Joan Parry Dutton, Plants of Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1979), 157.