Thyme stats/requirements at a glance
|Ease of Raising:||5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave|
|Water:||1/5 – Minimal, weekly (especially in a container)|
|Sun:||5/5 – Full sun|
|Training:||1/5 – Minimal (3Ds: Dead, damaged and diseased)|
|Fertilise/Feeding:||1/5 – Minimal (at least during the growing season)|
|Time to Harvest:||1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling) to Soon (from seed)|
|Frost Hardiness:||1/4 – Very Hardy (can’t take black frost)|
|Uses:||Culinary, Medicinal, Pollinator attractor & Predator sheltering|
|Most Problematic Nemesis:||None, some die-back with over-watering|
|Container Plant:||Yes (preferably grown in the garden rather than container)|
Thyme is the quintessential herb for me and when I hear the word herb, thyme comes to mind with its tight clustering of leaves, minute flowers and great aroma. They are lovely to add to savoury dishes such as meat dishes, soups, casseroles, stuffings, stews and is likely best known for their addition to bouquet garni seasonings. They are very useful in the kitchen and vegetable garden as well as ornamental gardens due to their hardy nature and thriving where other plants perish.
As with its other aromatic cousins, Rosemary, Sage and Oregano; Thyme originated in southern Europe and the Mediterranean countries. Its name was derived from several different ancient languages, but the original was Greek ‘thuein’, which means to ‘burn’ or ‘sacrifice’, as it was customary to burn/use thyme during funerals or religious ceremonies by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. During the Middle Ages, knights were bestowed thyme to bring them courage.
Thyme belongs to the Lamiaceae family of aromatic herbs along with rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, mints, marjorams, balm and savory. Common or Garden Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is the most well-known and widely used. Several other wild and scented thymes are available, such as Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus), Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona), Orange-scented (Thymus‘fragrantissimus’) Spanish sauce (Thymus zygis), Broad-leaved (Thymus pulegioides), Winter-flowering (Thymus hyamalis), Cilician (Thymus cilicius), Creeping (Thymus quiquecostatus), Spanish/mastic (Thymus mastichina) and lastly, Conehead Thyme (Thymus capitatus). The easiest to find are common, lemon and creeping thyme.
The citrus scented thymes include lemon, orange and lime thymes. The caraway thyme has a potent caraway aroma produced by the same chemical, carvone. The wild thymes (Thymus serpyllum), creepers and woollies are more suited to ornamental use. Thyme plants contain thymol essential oil highly regarded for its antiseptic properties and it exceptionally useful for treating stomach ulcers and even aging! The oils assist with digestion and breaking down fats.
Growing & Pruning Thyme
Seedlings are the easiest means of raising thyme, but you can try your hand at sowing seeds. Well drained soil and a very sunny spot is essential for growing healthy, vibrant thyme. Over-watering or water-logged plants will die back, therefore no standing water in saucers if you are growing it in pots.
Thymes are very hardy to high temperature (30oC), but does not appreciate it too cold (below -12oC). Thyme will die off when it gets too cold, if you want to harvest from it during such as time, make sure to dig your thyme up and bring it inside for the winter freeze.
You can plant basil with thyme in the same pot, where the basil will suck up any additional water that the thyme might not want. Also thyme can be combined with other water-efficient plants to limit watering.
Thyme is very hardy and can grow in any soil, including those that are very nutrient poor. This characteristic makes thyme excellent for rockeries, planting between stepping stones and other dry places in the garden that require plants. They are tolerant to being stomped on and the delightful scent they give off when trampled does make for a wonderful experience.
Depending on what you like thymes come in upright varieties and creeping (matting) varieties, both will do with some minimal pruning if they become scraggly.
Thyme is evergreen and can be harvested throughout the year, but can be dried if you prefer its milder taste, else pruning cut-offs can be given to friends and family
Thymes are replaced every 3-5 years to ensure strong flavoured leaves for cooking.
Harvesting & Storing
Drying thyme: Simply save the pruned leaves and dry on a paper/cloth towel indoors for a few days in a dry (airy) place. Once dry they can be stored in glass jars.
Thyme scented oil: Similar to rosemary and oregano, thyme can be heated in oil (no boiling, only smoking oil, else the oil is destroyed and become heart-unhealthy. Boiling oil also destroys the aromatic oils form the herb). The oil is allowed to cool a bit (so that you retain heat as the sterilising agent, but not too hot that it will break the glass container you want to store it in). The thyme leaves are removed and the oil is poured into a glass bottle (the leaves will become mouldy if left in the oil). This oil is especially useful for meat and savoury dishes! Or use as is with breads – Yum!
Seed Saving & Propagation
Thyme flowers are always a hit with the pollinators in the garden and their small form makes them very cute. Garden thyme makes lovely lilac flowers, but you get bright pinks, whites and purples as well!
Seed collection: The flower clusters are harvested when dry and separated (rub with fingers to release 4 ‘nutlets’ per flower) before storing in a glass container. Seeds are likely viable for 1 year only. I would also assume that the seeds require stratification (cold winter period of 1-6 months) as with the other herbs to break seed dormancy – a refrigerator works well at 0.5-5oC (33-41oF). Seeds are sown in a sunny position when the soil has reached 20oC (68oF) and germination takes up to 4 weeks.
Many of the aromatic herb family members can be propagated by the division of large plants. Any divisions should immediately be replanted at a different locations – that is to say if you want more than one. You divide the plant by cutting straight down the centre (you can decide on the appropriate tool, such as scissors – a spade works well too!). Creeping thymes will easily split, but I am not too sure about the uprights. Stem cuttings can also be rooted in the appropriate rooting hormone during spring and summer.