--- By: Makeda Okolo
When people move from the Caribbean to the continental U.S., much is left behind. Beyond the sandy shores and soothing tradewinds – what is perhaps missed most is the access to fresh food and herbs just beyond one’s doorstep. In the tropics, Nature's bounty not only creates a majestic landscape but also serves as the underpinning to culinary delicacies as well as homeopathic medicine. Most fascinating is the dynamic use of many trees, fruits and herbs. Passed from generation to generation, most learn at a young age how to grow, pick, and correctly utilize locally grown fruits, veggies and herbs in many ways.
As a child, I remember my mother instructing me down the steps to the back yard to collect a handful of Spanish Thyme leaves while she prepared dinner or a pot of tea. The leaves are a beautiful shade of green and so incredibly fragrant, making it easy to recognize and hard to forget.
Spanish Thyme, also known as Broad Leaf Thyme, is an example of an herb with multiple applications or uses. Originating in Africa, Spanish Thyme is most popularly known as a seasoning herb. Prior to cooking various meat and fish dishes, local chefs crush and dice the herbs broad felt-like leaves and massage it into their preferred protein choices. Also known as Cuban Oregano, it is a wonderful base to stewed beans and soups.
The medicinal uses of Spanish Thyme are notable as well. The plant contains phytochemicals or phytonutrients, which are compounds found in the plant’s genetic makeup. The phytochemicals found in Spanish Thyme specifically, are known to aid in digestion, detoxification and also heal respiratory ailments like coughs and the common cold. Further research reveals that this wonder herb can also help afflictions of the skin, reduce stress and even alleviate pain associated with arthritis.
A perennial, Spanish Thyme is strong and hearty. It can survive both warm and cold temperatures, making it a favorite indoor plant for Caribbean households across the U.S. and U.K. Not only does it grow quickly, but it survives with little watering – making it easy for even those without a green thumb to keep alive from season to season.
Today, Spanish Thyme is a living ode to my Caribbean roots. What began as a tiny slip carefully wrapped in a piece of damp paper towel, and transported from Atlanta to D.C. is now a beautiful addition to my home. A sister friend brought the plant back with her from St. Croix and she in turn shared it with me when I visited for my birthday a few years ago. Not only am I now able to enjoy it as my Mother taught me so many years ago, but I am able to pay it forward as well. Whenever it has grown unruly, I’ve clipped pieces, allowed it to root in water and then shared it with friends and work colleagues. And whether they are from the DC area or as far away as Trinidad, Jamaica or even India – the greatest gift is hearing their stories and connections to the plant and knowing that a beloved piece of my home has become a permanent part of theirs.