Get down and dirty in the garden
Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources and business administration. She has written about home and garden topics for various online venues, helps you get your green on at HC Greenery and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.
Thyme is a small herb with big impact. It only gets about 12 inches tall, with some varieties only a few inches high, and works well as a border plant for herb, vegetable and flower gardens. Thyme is an easy-to-grow herb that is attractive in the garden and useful in the home. You’ll be happy if you take time to grow thyme in your garden this year.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), or garden thyme, is a domesticated variety of wild thyme, a member of the mint family. It’s a Mediterranean plant that grows in the mountains and rocky foothills. Thyme is a perennial herb with stiff twiggy branches and a woody root system. Its name has roots in ancient Greece, meaning “to fumigate” because it has strong insect repellent properties. It was burnt as incense and was used to rid homes and temples of pests. The ancient Greeks associated thyme with bravery and energy. Thyme is very attractive to bees and improves the quality of honey when planted near hive.
Thyme plants are low-growing, bushy plants with a mound shape. They have many small, fragrant, grayish green oval leaves on stiff stems and clusters of light purple flowers. The plants don’t grow higher than 12 inches, and complement rock gardens and garden walkways. Their light-colored foliage and flowers complement white flowers in the flower or herb garden.
Thyme is easy to grow from seeds or from divisions of older plants. As a Mediterranean plant, it grows best in light, well-drained soil in full sun. It does not do well in wet areas. It is a companion plant for lavender, and prefers the same growing conditions.
Seeds planted in shallow soil about 10 inches apart in the garden in the spring soon sprout into sturdy seedlings. Older plants can be separated in early spring, and planted 12 inches apart to establish new plants. Plants that have become very woody and twiggy should be separated to refresh them by digging them up and pulling the roots apart. If allowed to flower and seed without cutting, thyme plants will broadcast their seeds for self-sowing.
Flowers appear mid-summer and soon attract bees and butterflies. In late summer and fall, cut foliage for culinary and medicinal preparations. Winter care includes mounding earth and mulch over the plants to protect them from freeze damage.
There are more than one hundred varieties of thyme, including creeping thyme, lemon thyme and orange thyme.
How to Use Thyme
Thyme is easy to use in the home and garden. Use it as a border plant, plant it in rock gardens or butterfly gardens, or use it to enhance honey by growing it near beehives. Use cuttings of the plant fresh or dried for cooking and herbal medicinal preparations.
An easy home and garden insect repellent is made by steeping fresh crushed thyme leaves in boiling water. Put the liquid in a spray bottle and spray around the railings of a deck, around doors and windows, or around a tent when camping.
Thyme is used as a cough and sore throat remedy by mixing crushed, fresh thyme steeped in boiling water, strained to remove the plant material, with honey.
Dried thyme flowers made into sachets protect linens and clothing from insects.
Fresh or dried thyme is used as a culinary herb for soups, sauces, herb vinegars, savory dishes and meat rubs, as well as a tea.
Whether you grow this herb in your garden or on your windowsill, you'll be pleased with the quality of fresh thyme you grow yourself.