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Spanish thyme, or Plectranthus amboinicus, is a small tender perennial shrub that is used as a seasoning and also has medicinal applications. Although this plant's country of origin is widely disputed, it appears that it may actually have come from India or Africa. Is known by many different names, including Cuban oregano, Spanish oregano, and Indian borage, and is often confused with other types of thyme. This fragrant herb is easily grown for culinary purposes as well as its ornamental appeal.
This thyme shrub is cultivated for its small, fuzzy rounded gray-green and white leaves that grow opposite each other and resemble those of the coleus plant. It produces small, insignificant purple flowers in mid summer that should be promptly removed to encourage new leaf growth. This plant usually reaches no more than 20 inches (50 cm) in height, but the top should be kept pruned back to promote fullness.
When planting Spanish thyme, care should be taken to provide it with as much sunlight as possible. This causes the plant to produce the maximum amount of essential oil, thereby making it more fragrant and flavorful. Spanish thyme thrives in hot weather and will tolerate poor, dry soil. It will not survive in wet or shady areas and is susceptible to cold. Even the slightest frost will kill this plant, so it may be best to grow it in a pot and bring it indoors during cold weather.
In general, all thymes are easy to start from seed but the tiny seedlings are fragile, slow growing, and tend to get spindly. New plants can also be started from cuttings or root divisions, and these tend to be tougher and sturdier than those started from seed. Young plants can be set outdoors when the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed.
Spanish thyme leaves have a slightly peppery taste and can be used either fresh or dried, although fresh is preferable. This thyme variant is often used in combination with other herbs in rubs for fish, seafood, meat, or poultry. The flavor mixes well with beans, rice, stuffing, and salad dressing and can be used as a substitute for sage.
This herb has a camphor-like smell and contains forskolin which has been researched for its ability to improve chronic lung disease, glaucoma, and congestive heart failure. Spanish thyme tea is also said to have a laxative effect and may reduce inflammation and improve digestive problems. Crushed fresh leaves are applied directly on the skin to treat insect bites, stings, and burns.