Breckland thyme is a classic Baltic Sea plant, whose distribution is confined to the environment of the Baltic Sea basin. The species favours warm and sunny slopes, dry pastures and and also man made environments such as roadsides. That ability is why its grows on the ridge and even on extremely barren ridge plateaus. It spreads along the ground and over time it forms a large mat where the stems of old plants become woody.
As with many other Finnish plants, it arrived in Finland right after the ice age, when the land was very open and its place of growth was almost limitless due to a lack of forest cover. At present though, plant penetration into new growth sites is slow because it relies on ants to help it spread. Its ability to disperse was formerly more efficient because trees were scarce and the winters less snowy, so the winds transported its fronds from one ridge to another.
Breckland thyme has a rose-purple flower with a fresh aromatic scent. In ancient times, it was believed that the fragrance of the plant was a defence against evil spirists, but more it does have recognised medicinal benefits.
Breckland thyme’s use in medicine began very early, for example, it was an essential plant for Charlemagne’s army, which used it to fight infectious disease. Until the last century, it was used to make cough medicine. Nowadays, thymol that is used in mouthwashes and toothpastes is extracted from it due to its strong antiseptic effect. And in vegetarian restaurants its flowering stems are used in salads and salad sauces.
It can be said to be a “key species” of the ridge as many other species are entirely dependent it. From the perspective of biodiversity it is of untmost importance because many rare or endangered species are reliant on it – the best known of which is the blue baton butterfly. On the ridge it is especially found on nature trails in the western part of the Porsaanharju area. It is mostly seen by the roadside and its future is now entirely dependent on humans. Sadly, the species is disappearing from the ridge forest and current new growth forest sites grow so fast that breckland thyme cannot colonise such areas.
Photo: Jyrki Oja