Where the Wild Thyme Grows: Fairies

| April/May 1993

They range in height from a mere half-inch to 6 feet or more, and in color, from gray to green to pearly white. Their temperament may be sweet or sly or surly; some are said to have the intelligence of an insect, others, the wisdom of the ages. They have caused delight or consternation in almost every ­culture from earliest recorded time. But a recurring common trait of these slippery folk is their special relationship with plants.

Entire books have been written about fairies: about the origins of the ­concept, the folktales that describe their habits and deeds, their clans and tribes and individual names, their relation to reality. We’ll home in here on a few fairy facts of special interest to herb lovers. Keep them in mind as the summer solstice approaches—who knows what’s to be seen “on a bank where the wild thyme grows"?

Fairy Herbs

Fairies have been thought to cause ­annoying maladies such as stitches, itches, sneezes, and cramps. St.-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) is the chief protective herb against such ills. Other herbs in the powerful pantheon of seven fairy herbs are vervain (Verbena officinalis), speedwell (Veronica officinalis), eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), mallow (Malva sylvestris), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and self-heal (Prunella vulgaris).

These are said to be best gathered at noon on a bright day, near the time of a full moon.

A Modern Legend

We have it on good authority that if you leave tiny cakes or cookies in a bed of thyme on Midsummer Night, the fairies will come in the night and devour them.

Fairy or Faerie?

The etymology of the term “fairy” is long, complex, and ambiguous. Most sources agree, however, that faerie originally referred to the place where fairies dwelt (“fay” + “aerie”), rather than to the creatures themselves.

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