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Thymus vulgaris

Previously known as:

  • origanum thymus
  • thymus collinus
Phonetic Spelling
THY-mus vul-GAIR-iss
Description

Common Thyme is a dwarf, woody, evergreen. It is grown primarily as an aromatic culinary herb. It forms a mound about 6-12 inches in height and 6-16 inches wide. The herb is a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint Family. Other common names include Garden Thyme, German Thyme, and Thyme. There are many cultivars in this species.

Common Thyme originated in southern Europe and northern Africa. It prefers the dry, rocky soils of the Mediterranean. Thyme has been used for centuries as a culinary herb or herbal medicine.

The origin of the word, "thyme," is from the Greek word, thumos, which means "courage." During Medieval times, thyme was thought to have been an emblem of bravery. The word thyme may also be derived from the Greek word, thymos, meaning "perfume." It is very fragrant and aromatic. The species name, vulgaris, is Latin and means "common" or "widespread." 

This plant is low-growing and performs best in dry, sandy, or rocky soils. It prefers full sun and requires good drainage. The plant is frost and drought-tolerant.

Common Thyme is a low-maintenance plant, but it should be trimmed whenever it gets leggy. It should be cut back in early spring and summer to reduce its woody growth. Transplanting is best done in the early spring.

It is best to harvest thyme just before it flowers when the essential oil content in the leaves are at their peak. It is recommended to cut five to six inches off the top growth and leave the woody stems. For the plant to thrive, always leave five inches of growth. Fresh or dried thyme adds flavor to soups, stews, sauces, and meats.

The common method of propagation is by stem cuttings. Due to uneven germination, it is difficult to propagate thyme from seeds.

The flowers are small, tubular, white to pinkish-lavender blooms. They appear in late spring to early summer. The whorled evergreen leaves are tiny grayish-green in color and very fragrant. The fruit is a schizocarp that contains one or more seeds.

Common Thyme makes a great addition to a pollinator garden. The flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. The plant is deer resistant. It is best planted in herb or vegetable gardens. It may also be used in rock gardens, borders, and containers.

Quick ID Hints:

  • Linear leaves are ¼”-½” long, have fine hairs and are very fragrant

  • Small purple/white pedicellate flowers that occur along a raceme

  • Bushy subshrub with a woody base, growing up to 1 foot tall

Pests, Insects, and Other Plant Problems: Overwatering can lead to botrytis and root rot, especially in soils with low drainage such as clay. 

 

VIDEO Created by Elisabeth Meyer for "Edibles, Bulbs, and Houseplants" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.   

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Pollinator and Culinary Garden Herb & Flower Cottage Garden Vegetable Garden- Reynolda Gardens
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Argenteus'
    Green and creamy white leaves
  • 'Broadleaf English'
    Broad, small leaves with white flowers sweeter fragrance
  • 'Dot's Well'
    Small, narrow leaves
  • 'Gray Hill'
    Pale lavender flowers, narrow gray leaves
  • 'Narrow Leaf French'
    White flowers, fine gray leaves
  • 'Orange Balsam'
    Narrow orange scented leaves, lavender flowers
  • 'Passion Pink'
    Dark green leaves, pink flowers
  • 'Provencial'
    Tiny, narrow gray-green leaves, white flowers, strong citrus aroma
  • 'Silver Posie'
    Larger leaf and white margins
  • 'Silver Queen'
    Silver colored leaves and lemon fragrance
  • 'Tabor'
    Dark green leaves, pink flowers, pungent
'Argenteus', 'Broadleaf English', 'Dot's Well', 'Gray Hill', 'Narrow Leaf French', 'Orange Balsam', 'Passion Pink', 'Provencial', 'Silver Posie', 'Silver Queen', 'Tabor'
Tags:
#dried#small shrub#walkway planting#non-toxic for horses#herbaceous perennial#cpp#ebh-vh#perennial#flowering houseplant#small flowers#edible shrub#summer flowers#sandy soil#edible landscaping#fine texture#edible fruits#container plants#low maintenance#fragrant flowers#showy#cutting garden#perennial flowers#shade intolerance#shrub borders#herb#winter interest#fragrant#purple flowers#pollinators#herbaceous#dried herb#dry soils tolerant#rock gardens#dried arrangements#children's garden#well-drained soil#flowering#broadleaf evergreen#cut leaves#full sun tolerant#non-toxic for dogs#wilson mg plant sale 2021#fragrant leaves#ebh#pollinator plant#playground#houseplant#subshrub#flowering shrub#nectar plant#bee friendly#pollinator garden#rocky soils tolerant#walkways#edible plant#small group plantings#flowers#white flowers#butterfly friendly#sandy soils tolerant#spreading#winter garden#spring interest#salt tolerant#drought tolerant#edible leaves#wildlife plant#showy flowers#attractive leaves#non-toxic for cats#moist soil#edible garden#herb garden#summer interest#naturalized area#edible flowers#shrub#pollen plant#borders#perennials#aromatic#groundcover#spring flowers
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Argenteus'
    Green and creamy white leaves
  • 'Broadleaf English'
    Broad, small leaves with white flowers sweeter fragrance
  • 'Dot's Well'
    Small, narrow leaves
  • 'Gray Hill'
    Pale lavender flowers, narrow gray leaves
  • 'Narrow Leaf French'
    White flowers, fine gray leaves
  • 'Orange Balsam'
    Narrow orange scented leaves, lavender flowers
  • 'Passion Pink'
    Dark green leaves, pink flowers
  • 'Provencial'
    Tiny, narrow gray-green leaves, white flowers, strong citrus aroma
  • 'Silver Posie'
    Larger leaf and white margins
  • 'Silver Queen'
    Silver colored leaves and lemon fragrance
  • 'Tabor'
    Dark green leaves, pink flowers, pungent
'Argenteus', 'Broadleaf English', 'Dot's Well', 'Gray Hill', 'Narrow Leaf French', 'Orange Balsam', 'Passion Pink', 'Provencial', 'Silver Posie', 'Silver Queen', 'Tabor'
Tags:
#dried#small shrub#walkway planting#non-toxic for horses#herbaceous perennial#cpp#ebh-vh#perennial#flowering houseplant#small flowers#edible shrub#summer flowers#sandy soil#edible landscaping#fine texture#edible fruits#container plants#low maintenance#fragrant flowers#showy#cutting garden#perennial flowers#shade intolerance#shrub borders#herb#winter interest#fragrant#purple flowers#pollinators#herbaceous#dried herb#dry soils tolerant#rock gardens#dried arrangements#children's garden#well-drained soil#flowering#broadleaf evergreen#cut leaves#full sun tolerant#non-toxic for dogs#wilson mg plant sale 2021#fragrant leaves#ebh#pollinator plant#playground#houseplant#subshrub#flowering shrub#nectar plant#bee friendly#pollinator garden#rocky soils tolerant#walkways#edible plant#small group plantings#flowers#white flowers#butterfly friendly#sandy soils tolerant#spreading#winter garden#spring interest#salt tolerant#drought tolerant#edible leaves#wildlife plant#showy flowers#attractive leaves#non-toxic for cats#moist soil#edible garden#herb garden#summer interest#naturalized area#edible flowers#shrub#pollen plant#borders#perennials#aromatic#groundcover#spring flowers
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Thymus
    Species:
    vulgaris
    Family:
    Lamiaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Thymus vulgaris has been cultivated since ancient times for religious, medicinal, and culinary purposes. The leaves have been used as an antiseptic as well as in a liquid form to treat bronchitis.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Layering
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southwestern Europe and Southeastern Italy
    Distribution:
    Native: Baleares, France, Italy, Spain; Introduced: Algeria, Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Leeward Islands, New Zealand South, Puerto Rico, and Switzerland
    Wildlife Value:
    Nectar from the flowers attracts bees and butterflies.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Fragrance
    Edibility:
    The leaves are used fresh or dried to flavor soups, stews, sauces, meats, or fish. It is a native Mediterranean herb that was cultivated as a culinary herb.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 4 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Edible
    Ground Cover
    Herb
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Perennial
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Fine
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Schizocarp
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a schizocarp and has four locules or small separate cavities. When the fruit dries, it will split into four sections. Each section contains one or more seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    Tepals
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are spikes of small, whorled, white, or pinkish-lavender flowers. They are found on the tips of the stems from May to July. The bloom is 4-5 mm long, tubular-shaped, two-lipped, and has four protruding stamens. The flowers are rich in nectar and attractive to bees and butterflies.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Fragrant
    Good Cut
    Good Dried
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Linear
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are tiny and dark grayish-green in color. They are linear to ovate in shape and have pointed tips. They set at tight right angles to each other, and are 1/4-1/2 inches in length. The margins are entire and revolute (leaf margins roll under.) The leaves are very aromatic, particularly at flowering. They may be used fresh or dried as a culinary herb.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Cross Section:
    Square
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are semi-woody, upright, or angled outwards. Hairs are distributed on the stems. The plant grows in tufts and is densely matted together.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Houseplants
    Naturalized Area
    Recreational Play Area
    Walkways
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Cutting Garden
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Pollution