Tag Archives: Thyme

Plants the Fairies Like and Dislike

lovely magical fairy woman

Our resident fairy expert, my niece Cailin, tells me I have a very fairy friendly garden, which is good to know. But for those of you who want to up your appeal in the fairy world, here are some plants you might want to include in your garden, and some to ward off malevolent fae. Plus more ABOUT fairies.

“Fairies are invisible and inaudible like angels.  But their magic sparkles in nature.”  ~Lynn Holland

“The fairies break their dances

And leave the printed lawn.”

~A.E. Housman

Colorful foxglovesFoxglove. Fairies are reputed to love the blossoms, and the plant is essential for fairy gardens. According to legend, fairies sleep in the bell-shaped flowers, and wear them as gloves. In addition to foxglove, thyme is thought to be a favorite of fairies and drifts of thyme are left for them in the garden. If you plant a fairy garden, be certain to include, thyme, foxglovesaffron, rosemary, and roses.

“The fairy poet takes a sheet

Of moonbeam, silver white;

His ink is dew from daisies sweet,

His pen a point of light.”

~Joyce Kilmer

Bluebell forest in IrelandScottish or English bluebells are also highly favored by fairies. Lore has it that they ring the bluebells to call a meeting and anyone who hears the bells ring will die or fall under the enchantment of fairies. And whatever you do, don’t step inside a bluebell ring or you’ll meet the same fate. Another lovely bit of lore says a young woman who can turn a single bluebell inside out without damaging the blossom will win the one she loves.

I trust they also like the Virginia bluebells my dear grandmother gave me that have spread beautifully and bloom in among the late daffodils.

“Spread your wings and let the fairy in you fly!” ~Author Unknown

“Nothing can be truer than fairy wisdom.  It is as true as sunbeams.” ~Douglas Jerrold

anemone--wind flowersWood Anemone: These are beautiful plants. I have some anemones, also called wind flowers, that bloom in my spring garden.

From The Scots Herbal by Tess Darwin

“A widespread plant of woods, also found on upland grassland and moorland where it may be a relic indicating previous woodland cover. It provided  a safe refuge for fairies to take their beauty sleep or shelter from rain, as the flower closes at night and at the onset of wet weather.”

Blooms in spring. Note: Poisonous. Contains a bitter oil that causes severe skin irritations and gastric disturbances if ingested. Musky scent. Alternative name ‘Smell fox.’

462211333Now here’s an interesting flower and twist on fairies.

The Butterwort Family: From The Scots Herbal by Tess Darwin

“This was a magical plant in the Scottish islands. People who carried it were protected from witches; cows that had eaten it were immune to elf-arrows. It was woven with other flowers into a magic hoop to place under the milk pail and protect the milk from fairies. There is a story of a woman keeping watch over a newborn baby to prevent fairies stealing it and leaving a changeling—a sickly, fey fairy child—in its place. Two fairies came to the cradle and could not take the child because its mother had eaten butter made from milk of a cow that had eaten butterwort.”

”From this informative site on Butterwort (A carnivorous plant): http://www.plantlife.org.uk/scotland/wild_plants/plant_species_scotland/?ent=1220

“The striking triangular leaves, with their rolled edges, appear in a star pattern at the base of this pretty flower.”

The flowers are deep violet-blue with a pointy funnel shape. Butterwort is widely distributed in Scotland, Wales, and the north of England. It likes a damp habitat such as bogs, fens, wet heaths and the crevices between rocks.

Scottish bluebell fairyButterworts main use medicinally is for coughs, particularly whooping cough. The leaves are used to curdle milk in order to make butter.

Mountain Ash, also known as the Rowan Tree in the UK and Dogberry Tree in parts of Canada, is a familiar sight in the mountains surrounding the Shenandoah Valley.

Rowan trees planted near stone circles in Scotland were thought to be favored by fairies who held their celebrations within the protective tree enclosed circle. Fairies are extremely cautious. But the fae can also get up to mischief, so the rowan would protect you from that as well. One of those multi-use herbs/trees. It’s gorgeous in autumn when covered with bright red berries, and particularly attractive to birds.

Winter beautyRowan or Mountain Ash also wards off werewolves, possibly vampires and witches, too, should these be a problem for you.

“This is a work of fiction. All the characters in it, human and otherwise, are imaginary, excepting only certain of the fairy folk, whom it might be unwise to offend by casting doubts on their existence. Or lack thereof.” ~Neil Gaiman


About Thyme

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with elgantine.” ~ Shakespeare

Thyme: We love thyme and grow many different varieties…the creeping sorts with their various scents, lemon, nutmeg,  caraway…the woolly kind that feels fuzzy beneath your fingers, the silver-edged and standard varieties that grow in the shape of small shrubs, all ideal for the front of the perennial flower border.  However they don’t always survive our winters her in the Shenandoah Valley so we are frequently adding new plants.  It’s safe to say we’re mad about thyme.

From A Modern Herbal:

The Garden Thyme is an ‘improved’ cultivated form of the Wild Thyme of the mountains of Spain and other European countries bordering on the Mediterranean, flourishing also in Asia Minor, Algeria and Tunis, and is a near relation to our own Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum), which has broader leaves (the margins not reflexed as in the Garden Thyme) and a weaker odour.

It is cultivated now in most countries with temperate climates, though we do not know at what period it was first introduced into northern countries. It was certainly commonly cultivated in England before the middle of the sixteenth century, and is figured and described by Gerard.

Description: T. vulgaris is a perennial with a woody, fibrous root. The plant has an agreeable aromatic smell and a warm pungent taste. The fragrance of its leaves is due to an essential oil, which gives it its flavouring value for culinary purposes, and is also the source of its medicinal properties. It is in flower from May to August.

There are three varieties usually grown for use, the broad-leaved, narrow-leaved and variegated: the narrow-leaved, with small, greyish-green leaves, is more aromatic than the broad-leaved, and is also known as Winter or German Thyme. The fragrant Lemon Thyme, likewise grown in gardens, has a lemon flavour, and rather broader leaves than the ordinary Garden Thyme, is not recurved at the margins, and ranks as a variety of T. serpyllum, the Wild Thyme. It is of a more trailing habit and of still smaller growth than the common Garden Thyme, and keeps its foliage better in the winter, though is generally considered to be not as hardy as the common Thyme. Another variety, the Silver Thyme, is the hardiest of all and has perhaps the best flavour. There is a variety, also, called the Orange Thyme, which Dr. Kitchener, in The Cook’s Oracle, describes as a delicious herb that deserves to be better known. This and other varieties of Thyme, including the Caraway Thyme, which was used to rub the baron of beef, before it was roasted, and so came to be called ‘Herbe Baronne,’ are all worth cultivating.

The name Thyme, in its Greek form, was first given to the plant by the Greeks as a derivative of a word which meant ‘to fumigate,’ either because they used it as incense, for its balsamic odour, or because it was taken as a type of all sweet-smelling herbs. Others derive the name from the Greek word thumus, signifying courage, the plant being held in ancient and mediaeval days to be a great source of invigoration, its cordial qualities inspiring courage. The antiseptic properties of Thyme were fully recognized in classic times, there being a reference in Virgil’s Georgics to its use as a fumigator, and Pliny tells us that, when burnt, it puts to flight all venomous creatures.

Lady Northcote (in The Herb Garden) says that among the Greeks, Thyme denoted graceful elegance; ‘to smell of Thyme’ was an expression of praise, applied to those whose style was admirable. It was an emblem of activity, bravery and energy, and in the days of chivalry it was the custom for ladies to embroider a bee hovering over a sprig of Thyme on the scarves they presented to their knights. In the south of France, Wild Thyme is a symbol of extreme Republicanism, tufts of it being sent with the summons to a Republican meeting.

This little plant, so familiar also in its wild form, has never been known in England by any familiar name, though occasionally ‘Thyme’ is qualified in some way, such as ‘Running Thyme,’ or ‘Mother-of-Thyme.’ ‘Mother Thyme’ was probably derived from the use of the plant in uterine disorders, in the same way that ‘Motherwort’ (Leonurus Cardiaca) has received its popular name for use in domestic medicine.

The affection of bees for Thyme is well known and the fine flavour of the honey of Mount Hymettus near Athens was said to be due to the Wild Thyme with which it was covered (probably T. vulgaris), the honey from this spot being of such especial flavour and sweetness that in the minds and writings of the Ancients, sweetness and Thyme were indissolubly united. ‘Thyme, for the time it lasteth, yieldeth most and best honie and therefor in old time was accounted chief,’ says an old English writer. Large clumps of either Garden or Wild Thyme may with advantage be grown in the garden about 10 feet away from the hives.

Though apparently not in general use as a culinary herb among the ancients, it was employed by the Romans to give an aromatic flavour to cheese (and also to liqueurs)

According to Culpepper, Thyme is: ‘a noble strengthener of the lungs, as notable a one as grows, nor is there a better remedy growing for hooping cough. It purgeth the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath. It is so harmless you need not fear the use of it. An ointment made of it takes away hot swellings and warts, helps the sciatica and dullness of sight and takes away any pains and hardness of the spleen: it is excellent for those that are troubled with the gout and the herb taken anyway inwardly is of great comfort to the stomach.’

Gerard says it will ‘cure sciatica and pains in the head,’ and is healing in leprosy and the falling sickness.

Oil of Thyme is employed as a rubefacient and counter-irritant in rheumatism, etc. Thyme enters into the formula for Herb Tobacco, and employed in this form is good for digestion, headache and drowsiness. In Perfumery, Essence of Thyme is used for cosmetics and rice powder. It is also used for embalming corpses. The dried flowers have been often used in the same way as lavender, to preserve linen from insects.

In this country, Thyme is principally in request for culinary requirements, for its use in flavouring stuffings, sauces, pickles, stews, soups, jugged hare, etc. The Spaniards infuse it in the pickle with which they preserve their olives.

All the different species of Thyme and Marjoram yield fragrant oils extensively used by manufacturing perfumers for scenting soaps. When dried and ground, they enter into the composition of sachet powders.

THYMOL, a most valuable crystalline phenol, is the basis of the fragrant volatile Essence of Sweet Thyme.  Thymol is a powerful antiseptic for both internal and external use; it is also employed as a deodorant and local anesthetic. It is extensively used to medicate gauze and wool for surgical dressings. It resembles carbolic acid in its action, but is less irritant to wounds, while its germicidal action is greater. It is therefore preferable as a dressing and during recent years has been one of the most extensively used antiseptics. (*By recent wars, I think she means WW1 and WW11).~

The History and Romance Behind ‘Scarborough Fair’~

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.” ~Scarborough Fair / Canticle by Simon & Garfunkel, based on an old English ballad, possibly based on an even older Scottish one. (Image source and link given below)

*I always wondered about this song and after much research have discovered that the meaning of the song and refrain has been much debated.  One theory from this herb lore site:

The herbs parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, recurring in the second line of each stanza, make up for a key motive in the song. Although meaningless to most people today, these herbs spoke to the imagination of medieval people as much as red roses do to us today. Without any connotation necessary, they symbolize virtues the singer wishes his true love and himself to have, in order to make it possible for her to come back again.”

A theory from this site: Nantucket Today: “The four herbs highlighted in the song symbolize a complex love riddle compiled by a spurned lover. The “one who lives there” was supposed to figure it out. In the days of Scarborough Faire, herbs were prized primarily for medicinal value as well as their ability to ward off foul odors and dye cloth. Many herbs were assigned multiple meanings related to the various ills or problems they were supposed to cure. The love riddle in this case was designed to woo the lady back through the hidden meanings of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”

I have no personal theory but found all of this interesting.  According to good old Wikipedia: The ballad tells the tale of a young man, who tells the listener to ask his former lover to perform for him a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. Often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished.

As the versions of the ballad known under the title “Scarborough Fair” are usually limited to the exchange of these impossible tasks, many suggestions concerning the plot have been proposed, including the hypothesis that it is a song about the Plague. In fact, “Scarborough Fair” appears to derive from an older (and now obscure) Scottish ballad, The Elfin Knight (Child Ballad #2) which has been traced at least as far back as 1670 and may well be earlier. In this ballad, an elf threatens to abduct a young woman to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task (“For thou must shape a sark to me / Without any cut or heme, quoth he”); she responds with a list of tasks that he must first perform (“I have an aiker of good ley-land / Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand”).

As the song spread, it was adapted, modified, and rewritten to the point that dozens of versions existed by the end of the 18th century, although only a few are typically sung nowadays. The references to “Scarborough Fair” and the refrain “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” date to nineteenth century versions, and the refrain may have been borrowed from the ballad Riddles Wisely Expounded, (Child Ballad #1), which has a similar plot.

Meaning of the Refrain:

Much thought has gone into attempts to explain the refrainparsley, sage, rosemary and thyme“, although, as this is found only in relatively recent versions, there may not be much to explain. The oldest versions of “The Elfin Knight” (circa 1650) contain the refrain “my plaid away, my plaid away, the wind shall not blow my plaid away” (or variations thereof), which may reflect the original emphasis on the lady’s chastity. Slightly younger versions often contain one of a group of related refrains:

  • Sober and grave grows merry in time
  • Every rose grows merry with time
  • There’s never a rose grows fairer with time

These are usually paired with “Once she was a true love of mine” or some variant. “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” may simply be an alternate rhyming refrain to the original. Folksong scholar Märta Ramsten states that folksong refrains containing enumerations of herbs — spices and medical herbs — occur in many languages.  Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme may also refer to the pagan belief, that when together, can be a love charm.

From: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1175

Scarborough is a small town on the coast of England. “Scarborough Fair” was a popular gathering in Medieval times, attracting traders and entertainers from all over the country. The fair lasted 45 days and started every August 15th. In the 1600s, mineral waters were found in Scarborough and it became a resort town. Today, Scarborough is a quiet town with a rich history.

In Medieval England, this became a popular folk song as Bards would sing it when they traveled from town to town. The author of the song is unknown, and many different versions exist. The traditional version has many more lyrics.

The lyrics are about a man trying to attain his true love. In Medieval times, the herbs mentioned in the song represented virtues that were important to the lyrics. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.~

***The wonderful image above of Scarborough Fair is from a charming children’s site that features the song and others at: Diddlily Dee Dot’s Dreamland~