All About Thyme

Learn how to grow, harvest and use thyme—a perfect addition to your garden and medicine cabinet.

  • Add fresh thyme to soups, dressings or herbal medicine.
    Photo by iStock
  • Thyme is easy to grow indoors or outside.
    Photo by iStock
  • Thyme is approved by the German government to treat coughs and respiratory infections.
    Photo by ThinkStock

Thyme is one of nature’s most versatile herbs. Not only is thyme a must-have in the kitchen, it has a wide range of therapeutic uses thanks to the potent antiseptic compound thymol, found in the plant’s leaves. Thyme is an effective and well-known remedy for coughs and sore throats, and research is also piling up about thyme’s antimicrobial, anticancer and other health benefits.

Recipes for Thyme

Honey Thyme Cough Syrup
Savory Mushroom & Vegetable Stew Recipe

A Brief History of Thyme

Thyme has been in use for thousands of years. It was a favorite herb among Roman emperors who believed that, added to bathwater, thyme could protect against poisons. Greeks and Romans burned thyme bunches to purify their homes and temples and to build courage in those who inhaled its smoke. Thyme was used in embalming bodies in ancient Egypt as it was believed to aid the dead’s passage into the next life. In Victorian England, patches of wild thyme were considered irrefutable evidence that fairies had danced the night away at the exact location where the herb was found.

Growing Thyme

The three main species of thyme include mother of thyme (Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus), which creeps along the ground or stone pathways; golden lemon thyme (T. ×citriodorus), which has a strong lemon fragrance; and common thyme (T. vulgaris), which is the primary type used for culinary and medicinal purposes. All species of thyme are perennial plants with tiny leaves and flowers that range from magenta to white. Thyme thrives in full sun with dry, gritty soil. You can plant seeds or start with seedlings in spring and fall. Adding lime to your soil helps give thyme the ideal conditions for growing. Add an organic slow-release fertilizer when planting thyme and again each spring for best results.

Thyme plants can also be grown indoors in a sunny window. It’s easy to grow, but each plant is generally small, so you will likely want to grow a couple. Although thyme is a perennial, in northern regions it is best to cover thyme plants with leaves or evergreen boughs in autumn to help them survive the winter.

Harvesting and Using Thyme

Use thyme sprigs whole throughout summer or cut the sprig and pull off the leaves by sliding your thumb and forefinger down the sprig from tip to cut end. Once the plants start to flower, cut off the top half of the sprigs and hang bundles upside down in a dry spot indoors (don’t remove more than half of the plant). When the leaves are completely dry, pull them off stems and store them in a sealed jar for future use.

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