This article is about leaves and oils of the thyme plant. For the genus of thyme plants, see Thymus (plant). For the active ingredient in thyme oil, see Thymol. For other uses, see Thyme (disambiguation).
Thyme () is an aromatic perennial evergreen herb with culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses. The most common variety is Thymus vulgaris. Thyme is of the genus Thymus of the mint family (Lamiaceae), and a relative of the oregano genus Origanum.
Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage. The spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to "give an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs". In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares. In this period, women also often gave knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves, as it was believed to bring courage to the bearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals, as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life.
The name of the genus of fish Thymallus, first given to the grayling (T. thymallus described in the 1758 edition of Systema Naturae by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus) originates from the faint smell of the herb thyme, which emanates from the flesh.
Thyme is best cultivated in a hot, sunny location with well-drained soil. It is generally planted in the spring, and thereafter grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or dividing rooted sections of the plant. It tolerates drought well. The plants can take deep freezes and are found growing wild on mountain highlands.
In some Levantine countries, and Assyria, the condiment za'atar (Arabic for thyme) contains thyme as a vital ingredient. It is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence.
Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. While summer-seasonal, fresh greenhouse thyme is often available year-round. The fresh form is more flavourful, but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. However, the fresh form can last many months if carefully frozen.
Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters ("leaves") spaced 1⁄2 to 1 inch (13 to 25 mm) apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. Dried thyme is widely used in Armenia in tisanes (called urc).
Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g., in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually, when a recipe specifies "bunch" or "sprig", it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons, it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme.
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.
Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs.
Oil of thyme, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains 20–54% thymol. Thyme essential oil also contains a range of additional compounds, such as p-cymene, myrcene, borneol, and linalool. Thymol, an antiseptic, is an active ingredient in various commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages. It has also been shown to be effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails.[non-primary source needed] Thymol can also be found as the active ingredient in some all-natural, alcohol-free hand sanitizers.
A tisane made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis.
Important species and cultivars
For a longer list of species, see Thymus (plant).
- Thymus citriodorus – various lemon thymes, orange thymes, lime thyme
- Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme) is used both as a culinary herb and a ground cover, and has a very strong caraway scent due to the chemical carvone.
- Thymus praecox (mother of thyme, wild thyme), is cultivated as an ornamental.
- Thymus pseudolanuginosus (woolly thyme) is not a culinary herb, but is grown as a ground cover.
- Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme, creeping thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees. All thyme species are nectar sources, but wild thyme covers large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe (both Greece and Malta are especially famous for wild thyme honey) and North Africa, as well as in similar landscapes in the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains of the northeastern US. The lowest growing of the widely used thyme is good for walkways.It is also an important caterpillar food plant for large and common blue butterflies.
- Thymus vulgaris (common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme, or garden thyme) is a commonly used culinary herb. It also has medicinal uses. Common thyme is a Mediterranean perennial which is best suited to well-drained soils and full sun.
- ^"A Brief History of Thyme - Hungry History". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2016-06-09.
- ^ abGrieve, Mrs. Maud. "Thyme. A Modern Herbal". botanical.com (Hypertext version of the 1931 ed.). Retrieved February 9, 2008.
- ^Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan.
- ^"Thyme (thymus)". englishplants.co.uk. The English Cottage Garden Nursery.
- ^Ingram, A.; Ibbotson, A.; Gallagher, M. "The Ecology and Management of the European Grayling Thymallus thymallus (Linnaeus)"(PDF). East Stoke, Wareham, U.K.: Institute of Freshwater Ecology. p. 3. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
- ^"Herb File. Global Garden". global-garden.com.au.
- ^ abThymus Vulgaris. PDR for Herbal Medicine. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company. p. 1184.
- ^"Chemical Composition of Thyme Essential Oil". scienceofacne.com.
- ^Pierce, Andrea. 1999. American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: Stonesong Press. P. 338–340.
- ^Ramsewak, Russel S.; Nair, Muraleedharan G.; Stommel, Manfred; Selanders, Louise (April 2003). "In vitro antagonistic activity of monoterpenes and their mixtures against 'toe nail fungus' pathogens". Phytotherapy Research. 17 (4): 376–379. doi:10.1002/ptr.1164. PMID 12722144.
- ^"French Thyme, Thymus vulgaris". Sand Mountain Herbs. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
- ^"English thyme". Sara's Superb Herbs.
- S. S. Tawfik, M. I. Abbady, Ahmed M. Zahran and A. M. K. Abouelalla. Therapeutic Efficacy Attained with Thyme Essential Oil Supplementation Throughout γ-irradiated Rats. Egypt. J. Rad. Sci. Applic., 19(1): 1-22 (2006).
- Flora of China: Thymus
- Flora Europaea: Thymus
- Rohde, E. S. (1920). A Garden of Herbs.
- Easter, M. (2009). International Thymus Register and Checklist.
See also:Receptor/signaling modulators • Ion channel modulators
Whether you’re creating flower beds, planting a backyard bounty of vegetables, or putting in a useful kitchen herb garden, one of the best all-around choices is the herb thyme.
Most of us know thyme as the dried kitchen herb that family chefs crumble into soups, stews and salad dressings. Yet there are many other varieties grown especially for landscaping purposes. Thymes are members of a vast family of beautiful and useful herbs, a family with more than 350 varieties. It readily cross-pollinates in the wild, but there are about 50 dependable named varieties available to gardeners. Among them, you’re sure to find — quite literally — a thyme for every purpose.
Thymus vulgaris is the Latin name for common thyme. The tiny-leafed, shrubby herb has been used for at least 2,000 years, probably much longer, to flavor foods and for medicinal purposes. Thyme tea was recommended for coughs and colds. Its pungent oil, thymol, is a powerful antiseptic that was used in battlefield hospitals as a disinfectant.
The word thymus comes from a Greek word meaning courage. The Greeks burned thyme as a purifying incense. In days long past, ladies embroidered sprigs of thyme (for courage) with little bees (for industriousness) on the garments their brave knights wore into battle.
Thyme has grown wild on the hillsides surrounding the Mediterranean Sea for millenniums. It also thrives in poor, rocky soil in other parts of the world, including Northern Africa and the Scottish highlands. It’s always found on sunny slopes, in well-drained soils, which tells us what thyme needs in our gardens. Here in San Diego, thyme seeds may be difficult to germinate, so I recommend buying pots of thyme for your garden.
Think of thyme as a three-purpose herb family, with culinary, creeping and decorative varieties.
The culinary thymes are upright growers, to 6-12 inches in height and up to 24 inches in width. The handsome shrubs fit in well not only in herb gardens but also between vegetable plants and flowers. They’re familiar to cooks and are dried for their rich herbal flavor.
Culinary thymes include common thyme (also called English or mother of thyme) and lemon thyme, which makes a refreshing, delicate, hint-of-lemon tea. Lemon thyme is also a handy stand-in for lemon zest. You can crush the leaves to add a bright note to fish dishes, or finely chop leaves into baked goods and other sweets when you don’t happen to have lemon zest on hand.
Creeping thymes include varieties that fill in those little spots of bare soil here and there in the garden. My favorites are the variety called ‘Pink Chintz,’ which covers itself in hundreds of tiny pink blossoms; elfin thyme, resembling a miniature dichondra lawn; and woolly thyme, with very petite, bluish-green leaves covered in a fuzzy, silvery down.
These can be nestled between steppingstones, along brick pathways, slipped into cracks in the sidewalk, or tucked into soil-filled nooks and crannies in brick or stone walls.
The creeping thymes are slow-but-sure spreaders. They can withstand light foot traffic. You’ll want to pull any weeds that try to crowd them out when first planted, but soon they’ll establish themselves, cover the bare earth, and soften the harsh lines of bricks and stones with undulating Lilliputian carpets of green.
The decorative thymes aren’t used in cooking, but their pretty leaves, tiny blossoms and aromatic scents make them worthy of a place in your garden. There are orange-, lime- and caraway-scented thymes, among other fragrant varieties.
Varieties with little or no fragrance are well worth growing, too. They offer silver- or golden-edged leaves and various shades of green.
All the thymes blossom with numerous little whorls of miniature flowers ranging in color from white through pale pink, mauve and light purple. They’re a charming ground cover on banks, hillsides or any place with lots of sun and good soil drainage.
If you’re dealing with a heavy clay soil, before planting, dig about a foot of soil out. Mix it well with a 50-50 blend of compost or peat, and builders’ sand, perlite or small pebbles. Then backfill the holes. Let the earth settle, water lightly, and transplant the thymes into the prepared garden soil.
Full sun for at least six hours a day, well-drained soil, and occasional watering are the only care that thyme varieties require. The herb is an excellent landscaping choice in our semi-arid climate, especially now, during the drought.
In fact, too much water is the only enemy of thyme (and most other herbs). Water only when the soil is noticeably dry. If you garden in a harsher, hotter area, thyme appreciates part shade during the heat of the day.
Grown in pots, thyme will require a little more attention to watering; just keep the top inch or so of soil from drying out completely, and resist the temptation to over-water. In containers, thyme benefits from a twice-a-year helping of diluted liquid plant food.
Thyme planted in your garden will thrive with nothing more than a springtime scattering of compost gently scratched into the soil. Thyme’s roots are shallow and should be disturbed as minimally as possible.
Those shallow roots are what make creeping and decorative thymes so well-suited to cracks, crannies and crevices. Just take a pot of nursery-grown thyme and, using a clean, very sharp knife, slice straight down, taking off 1-to-2-inch sections, each having some leaves and roots. Then tuck the small segments anywhere there’s a bit of soil and a lot of sunshine. Water sparingly until they’re settled in. If you’re planting the bits of thyme into a vertical surface like a garden wall, gently firm the roots in with a pencil eraser or chopstick, and water lightly with the mist from a spray bottle.
As for pruning, culinary thymes obviously beg to be snipped for cooking. In the garden, you can cut thymes back by up to one-third, pruning to just above leaf nodes, without harming the plants. This encourages them to grow new branches and leaves, keeping upright thyme bushes looking full and lush, and keeping creeper and decorative varieties within bounds.
Whenever I see thyme romping down a hillside, standing knee-high in a garden, or skipping lightly between steppingstones, I remember a Scottish folk song I learned years ago, when teaching myself to play the guitar. Its lyrics sum up the carefree pleasures of this beloved herb:
“The summertime is comin’,
And the leaves are sweetly bloomin’,
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the purple heather,
Won’t you go, lassie, go,
And we’ll all go together,
To where the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the purple heather,
Won’t you go, lassie, go?”
Where to buy
Certain popular thyme varieties, like common thyme and lemon thyme, are available at local garden centers. Summers Past Farm in Flinn Springs is a good local source. You can order others from online nurseries that specialize in herbs.
Here are some herb growers that offer a wider choice of thyme varieties — culinary, creeping and decorative. These online sites are also worth looking at for their lovely photographs and detailed information about the huge variety of thymes and suggestions for uses in the landscape. Some sell seeds, others plants. Check out their websites.
Mountain Valley Growers: near Squaw Valley;
Thyme Garden Herb Co.: in Alsea, Ore.;
High Country Gardens:
Garden Harvest Supply: