The change in the colour of the garrigue landscape from the springtime vibrant green to increasing brown parched patches around Dingli Cliffs is indicating the approaching summer with several of the spring flowering-plants drying up and preparing to spend summer as bulbs under the soil or seeds. However, one cannot miss one of the highlights of Malta’s indigenous flora in its bloom – the Mediterranean Wild Thyme (Sagħtar, Thymbra capitata).
Most probably the aromatic fragrance exclusive to the Wild Thyme, which fills the air, would precede spotting the actual plant, whilst walking within rocky garrigue areas. The leaves, which grow in clusters, are dotted with glands that produce fragrant essential oils with the aim to protect the plant from dehydration, predation and infection. The pink/lilac small flowers, just 1cm long, start appearing in May and the plant is in full bloom during the month of June, when little else is in flower.
In folk medicine, all plants that have a strong smell were used, in fact, locally the Wild thyme was used to soothe sore throat, treat bad breath, and even as a remedy for skin conditions of bacterial/ fungal origin such as boils or ringworm. The same medicinal properties linked to the antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic and anthelminthic substances found in the essential oil may be found in the cultivated Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), also a common kitchen herb typical of Mediterranean flavour.
Because of the shapes of its woody stems, in the past the wild thyme was heavily exploited to decorate Maltese Christmas cribs. In certain Maltese regions, the thyme was even collected for use as firewood. These practices were so widespread, that a law was enacted in 1932 to protect the plant. As a result, the species has managed to recuperate, and it is now commonly found in the Maltese Islands. The thyme is valuable for bees and other insects, providing them with a vital source for collecting nectar during the hot summer months from June to mid-July, when the Wild thyme becomes is the only bee-important plant species in bloom. Wild thyme honey, which has been famous in Malta since classical times, is collected after the thyme flowers dry-up. Traditionally, thyme honey used to be collected on 26th July, on the feast of St. Ann.