On Thyme and Stopping

This post originated as a short essay on my experience with Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) that was prepared for an herbalism course that I’m taking. I’ve decided (with some trepidation) to share these posts periodically, though out of the order in which they were written, to offer a window into my personal relationship with a variety of plants. Please take them for what they are (i.e. we all have our own unique experience with and connection to the world), and accept them in the spirit of love with which they are shared. 🙂

Acknowledging my rattling voice and a burning chest, I poured hot water over the thyme in my cup, covered it, and left it to steep as I took heavy steps towards the comfort of my couch. Sinking down into the deep gray cushions, I allowed my head to slowly fall back and eyes drift shut as I waited.

Part of me knew it was too late for the herb to work its magic, but I was still hopeful that it would at least take the edge off of knowing that I was about to plunge into illness, and maybe, if I was lucky, make a dent in whatever had infiltrated my body.

After a 20-minute respite, barely hearing the little boy exploits being enacted around me, I made my way back to the kitchen and uncovered my infusion. As it rested there on the smooth butcher-block countertop, I leaned my face forward with dark pieces of my newly grown out mop framing my view, and inhaled deeply.

Heated thyme offers up one of those scent memories of childhood meals. A kitchen smell. It was my first “favorite herb” and holds a special place in my life: grounding, solid, and warm. A “comfort herb.” So, too, the fresh herb lends memories of some of my first meals – the meals that taught me that preparing food offered a unique meditation. Holding a sprig of thyme and sliding my fingers down the dry roughness, savoring the essence that emerged as the tiny leaves dropped into my bowl. Lifting a bunch in front of my face and breathing in before tossing the lot into a pot of soup, and later weeding out the softened stems.

The tea was still hot as it burned through the roughness in my throat, leaving moments of relief in its wake. I felt the warmth in my chest; a dry heat juxtaposed with its water medium.

Sleep was dreamless and deep, in the way that only comes when the body is fighting mercilessly against microscopic invaders.

By the next day, the roots of illness had sunk in and a fever started. Cups and cups full of thyme and ginger infusions, elderberry tincture, and oil of oregano occupied my day. My body was in such pain – stabbing everywhere, but concentrated in my back. I could barely walk. The tea was my familiar in this unfamiliar state. I’ll admit that I, in my pride, was a little shocked and strangely offended that I couldn’t beat it back at all. I was bulldozed. Of course, I should have acknowledged that eventually the stress, insomnia, too much wine, and overdone workouts to cope with it all would catch up with me, but with sophomoric pretention, I assumed I’d merely continue on, gradually more run down, with the usual ebbs and flows of vitality. Over the next five weeks, battling more illnesses than I’ve had in the last decade combined, thyme was my steady comfort. Hot infusions, again and again.

A winter habit was formed. Forced to stop by my very own body. Pause inspired reflection, rituals reborn. Spicy heat of thyme nurturing from within. The rhythm of knitting nurturing from without. Simplicity. Grounding. Building.

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