Thyme – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

Thyme flowering
Thyme flowering

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a versatile healing and aromatic herb. With its unmistakable taste, it spices numerous Mediterranean dishes. But thyme can do a lot more. In natural medicine, the plant is considered an excellent medicinal herb, that can relieve colds, cough and stomach discomfort.

Profile of Thyme:

Scientific name: Thymus vulgaris

Plant family: mint family

Other names: comon thyme

Sowing time / Planting time: April – June

Flowering period: June – October

Harvest time: May – October

Location: sunny

Soil quality: sandy and rather barren soil

Use as a medicinal herb: bronchitis, cold, cough, stomach and intestinal discomfort, blemishes

Use as spice herb: meat dishes, herb butter, Mediterranean dishes, salads, tomato dishes

Plant characteristics and classification of Thyme

Origin and distribution of thyme

Thyme originates from the Mediterranean countries in the south of Europe. The plant is therefore often found in southern France, Italy and Spain. Here it grows on barren and stony ground under dry-hot climatic conditions. The plant was introduced over time in many parts of the world and cultivated there mostly for medical reasons. Nowadays common thyme can be found wild in many countries.

Plant order of Thymus vulgaris

Thyme is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and thus belongs to one of the most species-rich family of medicinal and aromatic herbs. The plant is related to rosemary, sage or peppermint.

The genus Thymiane (Thymus) is very species rich with more than 210 species. Although common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is probably the most important species, there are different species in many regions of the world, which are also important. These include among others the caraway thyme (Thymus herba barona), which is native to Corsica, Sardinia, and Majorca, the Breckland wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum) which is native to most of Europe and North Africa, as well as the broad-leaved thyme (Thymus pulegiodies) which is native to temperate parts of Europe The latter is also known in natural medicine as a medicinal thyme.

In recent years there have been numerous breeds and some natural hybrids, such as:

  • lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) – a lemon-scented evergreen mat-forming perennial
  • wild thyme, creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) – important nectar source plant for honeybees
  • garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – commonly used as culinary herb
lemon thyme
lemon thyme © Stephan Budke

Look and characteristics of Thyme


Thyme is a perennial herb that is frost hardy. Sub-species such as lavender thyme or lemon thyme are not as robust against snow and frost.

The common thyme reaches a stature height between 10 and 40 cm (5 and 20 in), depending on whether it is a species with creeping or upright growth. The branches are strongly knotted and lignify with increasing age from the base. The brownish roots can reach deep into the ground. As a rule, the well-known aromatic and medicinal herb quickly develops side shoots.


From the four-edged branches grow the short-stalked, silvery-green leaves. The color of the leaves and the leaf thickness, however, can vary depending on the growing conditions. Compared to other Mediterranean herbs, the leaves of thyme are relatively small and usually between 0.5 to 4 cm (0.2 to 1.5 in) long. The shape of the leaves resembles ellipses. The leaves exude a strong, aromatic smell that is typical of this herb. Both the underside of the leaf and the top are hairless and contain numerous small round inclusions (oil glands) that contain the taste-bearing and medically effective essential oils.


During flowering from June to October, thyme develops small pale pink to light purple funnel-like flowers. The inflorescences usually consist of two balls, which are also referred to as sham beaters. The flowers show the typical lip shape (as knowm for the mint family) and consist of five petals and 4 stamens. After the flowering period, fruits are developed in the form of spherical to oval, dark brown nutlets. Each nut contains several round, almost black seeds.

Thyme – cultivation and care

The common thyme makes very few claims to care and soil. The natural environment are stony, gritty and sandy mountainous areas in southern Europe. When cultivating soil should therefore be preferred, which are well permeable to water and rather nutrient-poor. Dense or clay-like soils should be mixed with aggregates such as pumice, lava, quartz sand or zeolite. Soils that can hold water longer and tend to waterlogging are not recommended and can cause root rot.


The optimal location for thyme is full sun, the south-southwest side is best suited in gardens, on balconies, or at the top of a herbal spiral. In addition, it is also suitable for classic rock gardens, e.g. to green dry-stone walls or – because of the cushion-like growth – as aromatic fragrant lawn replacement, which at the same time keeps away unloved grazing pests such as snails. In combination with lavender and sage, it can also do much to combat aphids.


The best time to sow thyme outdoors are the months of April to June. It is important that no more cold and long-lasting frosts are to be expected, since the young plants are quite sensitive to frost. The plant is a light germ and therefore seeds only need to be slightly pressed into the ground. Between the individual plants at least 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in) distance should be kept in order to prevent later nutrient competition and susceptibility to pests. After about 14 to 20 days, the first cotyledons are formed.

If thyme is sown in the house or on the balcony, a preculture from about the end of February is possible. The small sprouts can then be resettled from the beginning of May on the balcony or terrace. If it grows in pots, then pure potting soil or herbal soil should be avoided. It is best to mix such soil with about 30 to 40% sand or fine expanded clay.


The Mediterranean herb has low nutrient requirements. In the field and herbal spirals additional fertilization is usually not required. However, for specimens older than two years, small amounts of fertilizer should be mixed into the soil. Well suited are compost, horse manure or organic herb fertilizers. In potted cultures – especially with larger thyme – about every six to eight weeks small fertilizers should be fed with the irrigation water, as the nutrients are washed out very quickly in the pot.


Also in terms of water supply, thyme withstands a lot. Longer cycles without water, plants in the field usually masters without further ado. On very sunny and hot days, however, it should be watered vigorously. Pot cultures must be poured a little more often, as the water in the pot evaporates quite quickly.


At wintertime the garden thyme does not have to be brought into the house. The fresh shoots sprout out of the lignified areas in the following year. Other types of thyme, e.g. lavender thyme, lemon thyme, are sometimes sensitive to sub-zero temperatures and should be wintered in frost-protected, warmer areas.


After the winter it is recommended to trim the plant vigorously down to the woody parts. This benefits the sprouting of slight twigs. If the lignification has progressed too much, after three to four years, the plant should be replaced with a new one, since the leaves then noticeably lose their aroma. Young plants can simply be used from the old plant. Cut off a vigorous, not lignified shoot of the mother plant and place it in potting soil.


Thmyian branches and leaves are best harvested when the herb is not in the flowering phase. During flowering, leaves lose some of their aroma.

Diseases and pests

Thyme is in itself a very robust garden herb, which is very rarely attacked by diseases or pests under optimal conditions of planting and growing. Quite often it happens that potted crops, which get too little sun or are in an unfavorable substrate are attacked by mites and rust fungi.

Thyme leaves
Thyme leaves

Thyme and its use

Although many may know thyme only as a tea or medicinal herb, it is used in many dishes for seasoning and garnishing, as both the flowers and the leaves are edible.

Thyme in the kitchen

The taste of thyme is unique in the world of herbs and can not be compared with other herbs. It tastes spicy, slightly peppery and at the same time sweet, sometimes even slightly sweet. In addition, there are different varieties of thyme, which have a different concentration of certain essential oils. These chemotypes depend on the location and the prevailing conditions. In hilly regions it contains, for example, higher concentrations of the essential oil thymol than plants that grow in the lowlands. The latter usually contain higher amounts of the essential oil geraniol.

First and foremost, thyme enters the cooking pot when hearty meat dishes are on the menu. The flesh gains flavor through the spice herb and also ensures that high-fat meals are easier to digest.

But also vegetarian dishes are perfect partners. Roasted or baked potatoes, for example, taste great. Potato gratin can also be seasoned with it, as well as thyme potatoes as an alternative to rosemary potatoes. Also interesting are tarte flambée, which instead of bacon and onions are covered with thin apple slices, goat cheese and thyme sprigs. Last but not least, the herb also goes well with lettuce or sheep’s cheese baked in aluminum foil.

In addition, the herb goes well with fish and poultry, lamb and veal. In well-stocked honey shelves you will find more and more thyme honey. The taste of the honey is noticeably aromatic and usually not as sweet as other honeys.

Thyme as a spice can be found in supermarkets and health food stores as fresh, dried and frozen version. Whether dried or fresh, however, does not play a major role in the preparation of food, since the leaves even intensify their aroma when dry.

In addition to herbs such as oregano, rosemary and marjoram, thyme is one of the main ingredients of the famous Provençal herbs. This herbal mixture is used for many sauces, soups, meat dishes and salads.

Thyme as a medicinal plant

The healing power of thyme has been known for many centuries. It is a very important herb and is therefore often associated with cough tea, cough remedy and cold baths. The herb is indeed a versatile helper for many diseases and ailments.

Thyme already played a major role in ancient as well as medieval medicine. Even Hildegard von Bingen recommended the herb in shortness of breath or whooping cough. Also in older herbal books, it was recommended for many ailments. The herb was recommended for pain in the chest, appetite stimulation, indigestion, warts or wound treatment. It was used as honey, pure, as a wrap, boiled in vinegar or in wine.

Thyme is used in natural medicine for numerous ailments and diseases. The herb contains numerous effective ingredients that ultimately make up the healing properties.

Medicinal properties

  • analgesic
  • antibacterial
  • antiviral (partly)
  • antifungal
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antispasmodic
  • appetizing
  • carminative
  • counteract arteriosclerosis
  • diaphoretic
  • disinfectant
  • expectorant
  • expectorant
  • fever-lowering
  • fungicidal
  • hemostatic
  • immunostimulatory
  • reassurin

As a medicinal plant thyme is the purest all-rounder. The medically most important ingredient of the plant is thymol – a component of the essential oil in thyme. Thymol has been shown to have an antibacterial effect that have been found to be useful and supportive of treating colds associated with cough, catarrh, whooping cough and bronchial disorders. However, it contains many other important ingredients that can be used for many other ailments. Its greatest strength, however, lies in its healing effect on the respiratory system.

Thyme can be used for many ailments and diseases. These include

  • asthma
  • bad breath
  • bronchitis
  • blemished skin
  • cough
  • colds
  • diarrhea
  • dry cough
  • eczemas
  • flu infections
  • fungal infections
  • gingivitis
  • gout
  • incision
  • indigestion
  • insomnia
  • joint pain
  • muscle cramps
  • period cramps
  • rheumatism
  • sinusitis
  • sniff
  • stomach discomfort
  • whooping cough
  • wounds

In order to use thyme as a medicinal plant, different forms of application or administration are available. In addition to the dosage form as a tea, the herb is given for the mentioned complaints as fresh plant juice, syrup or drops. Cough tea including thyme are often mixed with other herbs, which also have an antibacterial effect, promote cough and relieve the coughing. In particular, cough mixes with ribwort and liquorice root have proven useful, of which up to three cups are drunk daily.

Preparation of thyme tea

A thyme tea is prepared as follows:

  • dash a teaspoon of thyme herb with 250 ml (8-9 fl oz) of boiling water
  • let the tea steep for five minutes
  • you can sweeten the tea with honey to enhance the effect
  • drink in small sips and lets the steam of the tea affect you

If you have a cold you can use steam baths. In the trade, therefore often ready-to-use cold baths containing thyme can be foubd, which must first be boiled or can be added directly to the bath.

Thyme also has a positive effect on digestion. Not only does it stimulate appetite, it also aids digestion of high-fat, hearty and bloating dishes. For this purpose, it is eaten as a seasoning herb or drunk as a tea; possibly also in combination with other soothing herbs such as peppermint, chamomile and caraway. Incidentally, such mixtures can also be drunk for heartburn, flatulence and diarrhea.

For external skin problems, you can take a bath in thyme infusions, apply compresses or use the essential oil. Thyme helps against badly healing and inflamed wounds and eczema. Even against fresh wounds and cuts you can use it. In addition, it helps against bad skin, pimples and boils. Thyme tea or tincture can also be used for rinsing against inflammation in the mouth.

Side effects and tips: In pregnancy, thyme should be avoided in large quantities. As a rule, medical advice should always be sought if symptoms persist.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Thyme – What is there to pay attention to?

Thyme is one of the best known and commonly used herbs. Therefore, the plant can be purchased in all conceivable forms and variants in the trade. Fresh plants are available in garden centers, DIY stores and even in supermarkets. When buying fresh plants, care should be taken to ensure that the stems have a certain stability and that the leaves have a good aromatic fragrance. Thyme, which is already slightly woody at the base and rather has smaller and dark green leaves, is more likely to be recommended in the kitchen.

Dried thyme can also be bought just as often. Both noname suppliers and brand suppliers sell the herb in sachets or cans. Basically, dried thyme is highly aromatic. However, care should be taken that the herbs are stored in flavor-sealed packaging.

When buying seeds, there is to pay attention to the botanical description, Thymus vulgaris. Some manufacturers of seeds also sell other types of thyme. Often, the common thyme is mistaken for the broad-leaved thyme (Thymus pulegioides).

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.