We have an herb garden and periodically through the summer and fall I will pick herbs and dry them, by hanging them on the wall that leads to our basement. It’s cool there and mostly dark. Once the herbs are dry, I put the dry leaves in bottles to preserve them for cooking and to give away to friends. This morning, the English thyme I had picked a few weeks ago was dry and ready for bottling.
Bottling dried thyme takes extra care. One needs a great deal of patience. Removing the dried thyme leaves does not go quickly. One could let the leaves stay on their stems but the stems do not break down in cooking, the larger ones quite woody, leaving sharp sticks in one’s food, an unsavory texture. One could remove the leaves from the stem at the moment one needs them in cooking, but usually the cooking process does not allow for that kind of slowing down. It becomes almost a distraction at that stage. It’s much better to strip the micro leaves from their stems when bottling the dried herb.
Running one’s fingers from top to bottom, from newest leaf to oldest, from tip to base works best. Thyme leaves are small and the stems are thin. Even though one works above the bottle, much of the aromatic spice still falls on the table and needs constant gathering.
Taking time with thyme also provides a meditative space, a chance to slow down, a time not just to think, but rather to empty the mind and just be. And I am reminded of this stillness throughout the day when one of my hands passes in front of my face carrying with it the perfume of thyme. This dried herb, like all of our herbs, is a pungent and visceral memory of summer and our garden, that we literally ingest through the coldest, greyest months of Chicago’s winter. Sometimes, taking time with thyme is the best recipe.