There is a hearty herb you can find in many St. Martin gardens. It has big, fuzzy leaves with serrated edges. During the wet season, it thrives. During the dry season it is surprisingly resilient. You can even find it growing on some stone walls and other inhospitable places.
On St. Martin, the most common local name seems to be Stingy Thyme. It’s not a name that shows up much in Google searches. In fact, it only comes up on a couple of pages, both from Anguilla. On St. Kitts and Nevis, the same plant is known as Sticky Thyme or Jumbie Sticky Thyme. In other parts of the Caribbean, it is called Stinging Thyme. These names seem connected. Did the name travel with the plant itself, gradually shifting as it moved from island to island?
There are plenty of other names for this plant. Some call it Spanish Thyme, Big Thyme or Broad Leaf Thyme. In the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, it is Oregano Poleo. In French, Gros Thym. In Trinidad it is Podina, and in Guyana, Fat Leaf Thyme.
There are as many uses for this plant as there are names for it. Many on St. Martin use it as a seasoning, particularly for meat and fish. It is also used to tenderize meat, to thicken soups and in pakoras. It is cited as fantastic when combined with hot pepper.
The leaves of this plant are also used as a tea. St. Martiners use it for the flu, coughs, asthma and nausea. It is also said to reduce swelling and high blood pressure. Many uses related to pregnancy were suggested: to help with morning sickness, to help overdue mothers go into labor and after childbirth to stimulate milk production. It is also used on the skin for insect bites.
This plant is native to Africa. Many plants that were brought by enslaved people directly from Africa. This one was introduced to Europe first and then brought to the Caribbean, perhaps one reason why Spanish Thyme is a common name for it. Within the Caribbean, the plant has its own cultural significance, with a variety of names and uses.
Local names and uses for plants vary from island to island, even if the plant itself is originally from far away. Over time, they become part of the local culture that makes each island unique. On a multicultural island like St. Martin, we also get to see how information spreads across cultures. Stingy Thyme tells a story, as do all the plants we use.
Do you have another name or use for Stingy Thyme? Tell it to us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to firstname.lastname@example.org.