What type of herb is Thyme?
Thyme (Thymus) is an aromatic evergreen shrub in the family Lamiaceae. A native of Southern Europe, Thyme is now grown the world over from Africa to Russia. It is a wonderful herb that is very diverse in its appearance but, in general, can be classified either as upright, mat forming or mound forming.
- Mat forming creeping Thymes are ideal for growing in gravel or growing a Thyme walk in very well drained soil.
- Mound forming Thymes look attractive in containers or mixed with mat forming Thymes in a Thyme walk.
- Upright Thymes are taller and more open growing than the mound forms. They look good in borders or containers.
You can filter by habit in Jekkapedia to find the form and species you want. As there are numerous Thymes and often the same Thyme has lots of different common names you should use the Botanical name to avoid confusion.
Mythology & history around Thyme
The ancient herb was used by the Egyptians in oil form for embalming. The Greeks use it in their baths and as an incense in their temples. The Romans used it to purify their rooms. In the middle ages drinking it was part of a ritual to enable one to see fairies.
Owing to its antiseptic properties, judges also used it in Elizabethan times, along with Rosemary, to prevent goal fever.
How do you grow and maintain Thyme?
Thyme is best grown from softwood cuttings in order to maintain the true plant. Only a very few, Thymus vulgaris (Common Thyme) and Thymus 'Fragrantissimus' (Orange Scented Thyme) can be propagated successfully from seed.
To sow Thyme from seed, sow the very fine seed in early spring into prepared trays, do not cover and keep watering to a minimum as the seeds are prone to the ‘damping off’. For the majority of Thymes you can propagate by taking soft wood cuttings from new growth either before flowering or after flowering in early spring or summer.
When the seedlings are large enough, plant out in late spring / early summer into poor, well-drained soil. They will need protection from cold winds and hard, wet winters. The plants can take deep freezes as long as the soil is well drained and they can be found growing wild on mountain highlands.
It is essential to trim all Thymes after flowering; this not only promotes new growth but prevents the Thyme becoming woody and sprawling.
Thyme is an excellent plant for growing in containers and requires no particular attention. Water to keep the compost moist, but do not overwater, and feed with liquid plant food from April to August.
For more advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring and autumn & winter as well as how to grow herbs indoor.
Thyme as a culinary herb
Thyme is an aid to digestion and helps break down fatty foods.
It is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful and can be preserved by freezing, drying or in putting in vinegar or oil.
Thyme is used either as sprigs, where the leaves are still on the stem, or leaves. Leaves may be removed from stems either by scraping with the back of a knife, or by pulling through the fingers or tines of a fork.
It is one of the main ingredients in bouquet garni and is good in stocks, marinades, stews and as a stuffing.