The genus thyme includes various medicinal and aromatic plants from the family of labiates (Lamiaceae), which mainly originate from the Mediterranean region, but are also found in part in North and West Africa and Asia. All parts of perennial shrubs or semi-shrubs smell strongly spicy because they contain essential oils, tannins and bitter substances. Already the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks knew about the effect of the plants. Thus Greek warriors often took a strengthening thyme bath before a battle. The word “thymos” also comes from Greek and means strength and courage. Benedictine monks brought the True Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) over the Alps into the monastery gardens of the Middle Ages. From there the way of the half shrubs with the small white, pink or purple flowers to our gardens and kitchens was not far anymore. With its spicy scent it attracts bees and spreads Mediterranean flair in the garden. If a few leaves are rubbed between the fingers, their typical aromas are released.
Thyme is suitable for seasoning and refining meat, fish and sauces and is mainly used in Mediterranean cuisine. The medicinal herb is used dried and as a tea or solution for coughs, bronchitis or diseases of the upper respiratory tract, because it has a spasmolytic and expectorant effect. As a gargle it inhibits and deodorizes inflammations in the mouth and throat. In addition to the real thyme, there are over two hundred thyme species worldwide, which differ in growth form and height, leaf and flower colour as well as in their aromas.
Appearance and growth
The true thyme (Thymus vulgaris) grows to a height of 10 to 40 centimeters and has strongly branched shoots which become woody inside. Its narrow leaves are short-haired on the underside and slightly curled at the edge. From May to autumn, small pink to purple lip blossoms arranged in sham whorls open. Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) is a hybrid that smells and tastes strongly of lemon. There are both useful and decorative forms. The ornamental shape has yellow-green spotted leaves. Some of the fruity varieties of this species have golden yellow or white edged leaves. Lemon thyme grows lower than real thyme, but can also form shoots up to 35 centimeters long. The wild growing quendula or field thyme (Thymus pulegioides) is completely hardy in winter. It grows like a cushion and reaches a height of about ten centimeters. Its fine, smooth and grey-green leaves are less aromatic. The light to dark purple flowers appear from May to September in spherical racemes at the branch ends. The cascade thyme (Thymus longicaulis ssp. odoratus), also known as long stem thyme, grows quickly and forms dense carpets. It flowers violet to pink from April to May. In the bed it needs a planting distance of about 30 centimeters. It is particularly suitable as a spice plant.
Lemon thyme (left) grows upright to 35 centimeters high. It has a fresh lemon aroma. Sand thyme (right) grows preferentially on sandy soils. Of the wild species there are also white flowering varieties
Scarlet red flowers, low growth height and spicy fragrance – these are the characteristics of sand thyme (Thymus serpyllum). Due to its creeping growth, it is well suited for rock gardens. Sand thyme is used in addition to real thyme and medicinal thyme (Thymus pulegioides) for gastrointestinal problems and colds. upholstered thyme (Thymus praecox) is used especially for planting walls and rock gardens and is often combined with bulbous plants as a carpet of flowers. Caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona) is a rich flowering species with dark pink flowers. The taste of this type is reminiscent of caraway and is therefore often used for seasoning quark and refining potato dishes.
Location and soil
All thyme plants grow preferably in warm, full sunny locations on nutrient-poor, moderately dry to dry soils, which should be very permeable and ideally calcareous. They can also be cultivated well in pots.
Planting and care
Thyme can be bought in spring as a young plant in a pot and then planted. Apart from the occasional application of compost, the undemanding herbs do not require fertilization. Covering with fleece in winter prevents leaf shedding, but is not absolutely necessary as most species are sufficiently frost hardy.
Thyme can also survive longer periods of drought without any problems. In very hot, dry summers, however, you should water it occasionally.
In the case of semi-shrubs such as thyme, the evergreen branches are shortened by a third in spring. Thus the plants sprout vigorously, remain compact and do not age. After flowering, you also cut the tips of the shoots.
Fresh shoots and leaves for the kitchen can be harvested continuously. To dry, it is best to cut the branches at noon and just before flowering.
Thyme is well suited for cultivation in herb spirals together with other aromatic herbs such as lavender, rosemary, savory or other thyme species. Since it needs a relatively dry soil, it should be placed as high up as possible in the herb spiral. Contrary to popular belief, thyme is not compatible with marjoram, but gets along well with all other Mediterranean herbs. Its pronounced aroma is even said to drive away ants, aphids and other unwanted roommates.
Thyme is also being used more and more frequently as an ornamental plant in the large selection of species and varieties. Sand thyme in particular is often used for the greening of pavement joints. In rock gardens, Mediterranean gardens and heather gardens, almost all species cut a good figure.
Many thyme species sow themselves, but can also be grown from seeds without any problems. In addition one sows the seeds from April thinly in pots with as sandy as possible breeding soil. They are only lightly covered with soil and germinate after about ten days. In May you can isolate the seedlings at a distance of 20 x 20 centimeters. Thyme can also be sown directly outdoors with a row spacing of 20 centimeters. Thyme can also be propagated vegetatively via head cuttings as well as by division. To propagate the cuttings, cut off about ten centimeters of woody side shoots in early summer and remove the shoot tips. Place the cuttings in a sandy-humose substrate and cover the pots with a transparent foil or plastic hood. Slowly accustom the young plants to the sun before planting them in their final location. Every three years you can also divide the herbaceous species by digging out the plants, dividing the root ball with a spade and replanting.
Diseases and pests
Thyme is very robust and is rarely affected by diseases. If mildew appears, a horsetail broth can help. Pests are also rare, as the essential oils usually keep them at a distance. Only cicadas and aphids occur occasionally. The latter can be removed with a strong water jet.
In an interview with our store editor Dieke van Dieken, plant doctor René Wadas reveals his tips against aphids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch
Thyme in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.