Thyme is a member of the mint family and the genus name is Thymus. There are a number of species, but the one that is most commonly grown and used is Thymus vulgaris or common thyme.
These plants are used in cooking, medicinally and as bedding plants. In the right conditions, the plant can grow to a foot and a half tall and the small leaves are dense, bright green and elongated, making it great for borders and flowerbeds. The blossoms can be pink to lavender in color and they are quite pretty. They are also attractant to honey bees and butterflies. Some cultivars have a sprawling habit and are so fragrant that they are often grown between stones in a rock walkway. Each time they are stepped on, they release the fragrance and the plants don’t seem any worse for the wear.
In foods, thyme is used in soups, stews, sauces, most meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, and in salad dressings. It also goes well in egg dishes, such as omelets. I’m fond of using thyme in spaghetti sauce and on baked cod.
Medicinally, thyme is used for fatigue, headache, muscular pain, anxiety, insomnia, to treat internal parasites, to relieve coughing and asthma, for sore throat, to treat mouth ulcers and infections of the gums, to treat kidney problems, for depression, to soothe and smooth skin and to help the appetite, digestion, and function of the liver.
A strong thyme tea is also good when used externally for repelling biting insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas, and since it is soothing to the skin, it can be useful for treating cats and dogs for flea infestations and problems with scratching. Note: Thyme essential oil shouldn’t be used full strength on the body because it can irritate the skin. As a tea, this is rarely a problem.
Thyme grows in most soils, but it does best in soil that is a little alkaline, up to a pH of 8.5. The soil should drain well. It can grow in clay soil but tends to be stunted if the roots aren’t able to spread. If you are working with clay soil, it is a good idea to work finished compost into the dirt to a depth of six or eight inches, prior to planting thyme.
Thyme should be given about an inch of water per week, with an increased amount during the heat of the summer. The soil should be allowed to dry out between watering times, as this is a drought resistant and loving plant. Don’t allow the roots to sit in water as this can kill the plant rapidly.
This herb can be planted from seeds or seedlings. Since it is of the mint family, it can also easily be propagated by clipping off a branch from a growing plant, removing the leaves from the lower half of the branch and placing this in a clear glass of water. The roots usually appear after a week or so. This plant can additionally be propagated from root divisions and this can particularly help thyme plants that are becoming or have become root-bound.
This plant loves sunshine and does best in full sunlight. However, it also grows well in pots under fluorescent lights and grow lights. It will tolerate some shade.
If you are growing thyme inside, use a fan to create a gentle breeze that blows over the young seedlings. This encourages the plant to grow sturdier, with denser leaf cover.
As with many plants, it is much better to water deeply once a week than to water shallowly, every day. Deep watering encourages the roots to grow deeper, which makes the plant more resistant to temperature extremes.
This plant is a perennial and it is actually an evergreen. Here in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, it has been possible to harvest fresh thyme in the middle of winter from an outdoor bed. The plants stop growing when the temperatures drop, but harvested branches have still been green and flavorful, even when we had to dig through snow to get to them.
Thyme grows well in containers that are at least six inches deep and large enough in diameter to allow for root expansion. Like other members of the mint family, the plant can become root-bound easily and this leads to stunted growth.
Thyme is a great herb that is easy to grow and maintain. It has wonderful culinary and medicinal applications. It is a nice, attractive and fragrant ground cover. The biggest question is: Don’t you think it is thyme to grow some?
Note: The top picture was taken in mid-February, 2016. This thyme is growing in a 20-gallon fish aquarium that is filled with dirt. Despite nightly temperatures that have been dropping well below freezing, you can see the new growth, just to the upper right of center.