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Thyme Honey

Wild Thyme (T. Capitatus)

Thyme honey is produced from many species of Thyme (Thymus spp.). But of the 350 different species or so, the notable honey producing species are Wild Thyme (T. Capitatus), Garden Thyme (T. Vularis), and Mother-of-Thyme (T. Serpyllum).

Thyme is a member of the nectar-producing mint family, Lamiaceae, the source of other flavorful honeys such as mint, sage, oregano, and lavender. Wild thyme is found wild in dry, rocky Mediterranean regions, but is also cultivated for the essential oil (Spain, France, Switzerland).

Known historically as Hymettus Honey from Attica near Mt. Hymettus Greece and Hyblaean Honey from the Iblei (Hyblaean) Mountains of Sicily, it is still produced in both countries today. Sardinia & Corsica produce a unique version of honey from caraway thyme. Found in many countries around the Mediterranean (Southern Europe, Malta, Croatia, N. Africa), thyme has spread to similar climes around the world, including the northeastern United States Berkshire and Catskill mountains (T. Serpyllum) and New Zealand.

Garden Thyme (T. Vulgaris)

Mother-of-Thyme (T. Serpyllum)

Renowned for its aroma and flavor, it is produced between the second half of June and the first half of July. The color of Thyme honey is light amber to amber when liquid, beige to brown when it is crystallized. It is a very strong, intensely aromatic honey with resinous, herbal, savory flavors; fresh and reminiscent of tropical fruits, dates and white pepper. The taste is persistent, lingering in the mouth. Crystallizes spontaneously in a short time into medium or fine grains.

Its intense and complex aroma has been described as; floral, spicy, dried flowers, magnolia flowers, cedar, herbs, flowers, rubbed, clove, burnt plastic, pencil drawing, mulled wine, and Marsala. The flavor has been described as: salty, thymol, pharmacy, plastic, pencil, dates and pepper.

Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder, wrote in his Naturalis Historia published circa AD 77-79. “…The honei which commeth of Thyme, is held to bee the best and most profitable: in color like gold, in taste right pleasant…”.

Greek Thyme Honey (Mount Hymettus Honey):

Ancient Coin From Crete - Honey Bee and Persephone 300 BC

References to honey in Greece are over two thousand years old. Honey is referenced in many classical texts in medical, social and religious contexts and it continues to be incorporated in modern life. The Grecian father of medicine, Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC), wrote, “Honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers, soften hard ulcers of lips, heal carbuncles and running sores.” And the Greek philosopher, Aristotle believed that “white honey… is good as a salve for soar eyes and wounds.”

Although thyme honey is found throughout Greece, the classically famous source of thyme honey is from the slopes of Mount Hymettus (in Attica near Athens). Traded widely, the name Hymettus became synonymous with honey. Around Hymettus, the main sources are wild thyme (T. Capitatus) and thyme-leaved savory (Satureia thymbra).

The name “Hymettus” may have originated as a corruption of the Greek word for Thyme (“Thimari” θυμάρι). Mount Hymettus is also known locally as “Trelos” or “Crazy” (τρελός); some believe attributed to the wild and crazy behavior of the bees when eating Thyme pollen and nectar, others think it describes the unstable weather that hovered over the mountain, and others believe it is a corruption of the 15th century French, “Tres Long” (Too long). The true origin has been lost in the annals of “Thyme”, yet Hymettus honey is loved now as it has been for thousands of years and is still enjoyed by the people of Athens and throughout Greece.

Because thyme grows wild it is usually organic in nature although there are no certification standards in place. The percentage of Thyme nectar by pollen count averages around 40% and ranges from the high teens to 90%. It is commonly mixed with other Lamiaceae species such as Sage, Oregano, Rosemary and Savory.

A popular way to eat Thyme honey in Greece is drizzled over fresh Greek yogurt (known as “Yiaourti me Meli”: γιαούρτι με μέλι), perhaps with a few nuts. If you can’t find Greek yogurt, try making your own (also called Yogurt Cheese) with this recipe Greek Style Yogurt.

Sicilian Mount Iblei Thyme honey (Hyblaean Honey):

Hyblaean honey from the Iblei Mountains has an ancient reputation. Usually composed of a mixture of different nectars, its characteristic flavor relies on wild thyme (T. capitatus). In Sicily, the honey is called “satru”, which is collected between July and August. Sorino (Syracuse) Sicily hosts a honey festival (Sagre del Miele), on the first Sunday in October. It is an important event for a core product of the Sortinese economy. A long tradition of beekeeping has produced honeys such as thyme, eucalyptus, carob and orange blossom honey.

Sardinian & Corsican Thyme honey:

An unusual version of Thyme honey originates in Sardinia and Corsica, Italy, made from T. capitus and T. herba-barona (caraway thyme) endemic to Sardinia. When liquid, Herba-barona honey is dense and its color varies between light amber and amber. When crystallized, it is darker in color, with medium sized, aggregated and rough crystals. While sharing many of the aromatic and flavor characteristics of other Thyme honeys, it has a unique taste and flavor. Having a medium intensity, the aroma is floral and spicy with hints of thymol, dried flowers, Magnolia, aromatic herbs, clover, burnt plastic, drawing pencil, Marsala and cooked wine. The taste is sweet and slightly acidic, with a persistant spicy component.

Also try the local Thyme liquor, Timo montano, described as aromatic, fragrant, sweet and strong.

New Zealand Thyme honey:

Although relatively new to the production of Thyme honey, a very fine version is produced here from Garden or Common Thyme (T. vulgaris). It was brought to New Zealand by gold miners during the gold rush in the late 1800′s. It escaped from a herb garden and soon entrenched itself in the countryside of Central Otago where it became a forage plant of choice for the bees and the source of delicious Thyme honey. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the Alexandra Thyme Festival to celebrate the beauty of the Central Otago landscape in November when the wild thyme blooms… and of course the fine Thyme honey. The festival evolved into a week celebrating the arts and sustainability with the theme of Cherishing Our Environment.

Thyme is a poplar cooking herb with well known antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-fungus properties. The oil of Thyme was used by ancient Egyptians to prepare mummies and it is still used in commercial mouth washes (Listerine) and cough medicines. It is also used as a pest repellent and mild insecticide.

Health Benefits of Thyme Honey: The active ingredients of Thyme are the biocides, Thymol and Carvacro extracted from the oil of Thyme. It has excellent anti-bacterial and antifungal properties, and it is still used, in Greece, as a poultice for wounds, to prevent infection. Also used to cover burns and scalds and for treatment of sore throats due to colds or flu.

Honey Origins: Greece, Italy, Turkey, New Zealand, France, Spain

Translations: Greek: Θυμαρίσιο μέλι, Italian: Miele di timo, French: Miel de thym, Spanish: Miel de tomillo, German: Thymianhonig, Portuguese: Mel de tomilho, Turkish: Kekik balı, Hebrew: קורנית ודבש, Russian: Тимьяновый мед; Morocco/Arabic: الزعتر العسل

Image Credits:
T. Capitatus: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Author: Denis Barthel
T. Serpyllum: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. H. Zell
T. Vulgaris: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by fturmog

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References & Further Reading

Hymettus (Greek)
Hymettus – Photo Journal
Thymus Capitatus (Crete)
Marta Giogia, More around Bees, Journal Timpul, 32/2001(PDF)

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