Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

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Thyme has delighted people for thousands of years. We give advice on growing the sun worshiper in your own garden.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Thyme prefers a sunny and rather dry, stony soil

The real thyme ( Thymus vulgaris ) has 213 other relatives, which are also members of the genus of the thyme ( Thymus ). They belong to the Lamiaceae family , which also includes the celebrities sage and lavender from our garden at home. Thymus is from the Greek “thymos”, which means strength and courage to derive. So it also seems plausible that legionnaires already enjoyed a thyme bath in ancient times before their battles. Whether the herb was really able to acquire additional forces that helped victory in hard-fought battles is certainly debatable. Nevertheless, the real thyme certainly has the title of Medicinal Plant of the Year 2006! Its ingredients help it to be helpful for us humans with some ailments. Thus, the herb, which originally comes from the Mediterranean region of Western Europe, should find its rightful way into our gardens not only because of its seasoning properties. In order for it to thrive there, however, there are a few things to consider when growing thyme.

Cultivation of real thyme


If the delicate thyme is to be planted in a bed, the location must be chosen with great care – as far as the subsoil is concerned, it is very picky and unwilling to compromise. The Mediterranean mint attach great importance to dry and well-drained soil, which can also be very stony and calcareous. However, calcareous soils quickly show a high pH value, which can lead to symptoms of iron deficiency in thyme. These can be recognized by the yellowing of the younger leaves, with the leaf veins remaining noticeably green.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

In Mediterranean areas you can find thyme in every free spot [Photo: Jocely Kinghorn – CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Thyminan also grows between stones without any problems [Photo: carmona – CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Thyme prefers a sunny and dry soil [Photo: Antonio – CC BY-SA 2.0]

It will not grow much or not at all on heavy, loamy soil that is in danger of becoming wet. Its southern roots are also reflected in its need for warmth: the thyme likes a place in full sun, so even the greatest heat in summer does not bother it. A sheltered place near a house wall, for example, is ideal for the cold season.


Real thyme can be propagated by sowing or cuttings. When propagating cuttings, young shoots are removed in spring and grown in a special organic sowing soil. It is important to create an atmosphere with high humidity. The drier the air, the more water the cutting would have to absorb. At the beginning it cannot do that due to the lack of roots. The high humidity should only be maintained until sufficient first roots have formed. This is because it favors the formation of fungal pathogens on the cutting.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

after about 15 days you can see the first seedlings [Photo: Mark – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Young shoots are initially grown in the substrate [Photo: missellyrh – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Let yourself be enchanted by the spectacle of nature! [Photo: Armin S Kowalski – CC BY-SA 2.0]

If the thyme is to be propagated by sowing, it is advisable to do this in a sheltered place in the house. The seeds of the thyme are very fine and can easily be carried away by the wind in all directions. In addition, thyme is one of the light germs, so the seeds should never be covered with a protective substrate layer. Also, so that the seedlings can be planted out as young plants with a growth advantage from mid-May, sowing indoors in a bright place from March is a good idea. At a temperature of 15 ° C, thyme seeds germinate within approximately 15 days.
You can find more on this topic here: Thyme: growing, harvesting and storing.

Water and fertilize

Real thyme is definitely a plant for watering rotten people. Even drought over a longer period of time is not life-threatening for him, but growth will stop in the meantime. The fertilization should be very restrained. In general, little applies, and even less applies to nitrogen. If the fertilization is too extensive, thyme will shoot through quickly. Above all, it should be ensured that from August onwards there is no more fertilization. Otherwise, the young tissue will not have enough time to mature and develop frost resistance. An organic soil activator, which promotes healthy soil life and the uptake of nutrients without releasing too much nitrogen, is well suited.

Since the heat-tolerant herb is not completely frost-hardy anyway, the evergreen subshrub should be covered in winter. A culture in a pot is of course also possible. Due to the preference for well drained soils, however, a substrate with a high proportion of sand (around 30%) should be selected for thyme.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

You can grow thyme in pots without any problems [Photo: weisserstier – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Cultivation is also successful in the flower bed [Photo: david.dames – CC BY-ND 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Thyme also looks extremely attractive on a large area [Photo: Kjeannette – CC BY 2.0]


Since thyme is a subshrub, it is advisable to cut the 10 to 40 cm small plant back to the woody part before budding in early spring. If the plant is too old and lignified, this is usually at the expense of the aroma intensity. Then a new plant should be purchased – perhaps even by propagating cuttings from the old one. But be careful: Thyme is self-intolerant, which is why a thyme should not be planted again in the same place when growing in the bed. A rest period of four to five years is recommended before a labial flower is planted again at this point.
You can find out more about caring for thyme in this article.

Thyme: varieties and types

The real thyme ( Thymus vulgaris ) is a species in the genus of the thyme ( Thymus ). In total, these belong to 214 species. All of these small subshrubs prefer dry and well drained soils. In addition to the real thyme, there are other types that are also known as medicinal plants:

  • Heady thyme ( Thymus capitata ): Reaches a height of up to 50 cm. The leaves and flowers in clusters at the end of the shoots are striking.
  • Sand thyme ( Thymus serpyllum ): ground covering growth and not exceeding 10 cm in height. Popular as an ornamental plant in rock gardens.
  • Lemon thyme ( Thymus x citiriodorus ): Has a more pronounced winter hardiness. Due to green-yellow leaf combinations with high ornamental value. Characteristic lemon scent.
  • Corsican thyme ( Thymus herba-barona ): Impresses with its leaves that taste like caraway seeds.

The diversity is also enriched by exotic crossbreeds. For example, ginger thyme, which has a characteristic ginger taste, is available. The rose-scented thyme, on the other hand, gives off a gentle rose scent.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Because of its leaf color, lemon thyme also has a high ornamental value in the garden [Photo: Forest and Kim Starr – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

The blossom of the lemon thyme is a little paler, but just as pretty [Photo: weisserstier – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Thyme forms a truly breathtaking sea of flowers [Photo: Udo Schmidt – CC BY-SA 2.0]

The most popular type – the real thyme ( Thymus vulgaris ) – is also represented on the market with different varieties. These usually differ in the content of the individual components of the thyme oil in the plant or have special growth properties.
We have put together a detailed overview of varieties for you here: Thyme: varieties and types.

  • Varico 3: This variety adorns itself with a high content of disinfecting thymol in the thyme oil it contains.
  • Compactus: variety that is particularly suitable for growing in pots thanks to its even more compact growth.
  • German winter: large-leaved and intense in aroma.
  • Argentus: Also called silver thyme; stands out for its green and white patterned leaves.

Harvest and store thyme

Young shoots can be continuously harvested from the thyme. Primarily you should harvest until flowering (June to October) begins. The flowering costs the herb strength and basically ends in a loss of aroma. The concentration of aromatic oils is highest when harvested in the morning. As the plant’s water requirement increases and the daytime temperature rises, the ingredients increasingly dilute and volatilize.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

The filigree flowers compete with some flowers [Photo: jacinta lluch valero – CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

You get most of the aroma with a harvest in the morning [Photo: cookbookman17 – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

The thyme can be kept for a long time by drying [Photo: Richard North – CC BY 2.0]

The shelf life of thyme can be extended in different ways. The best known method is drying. For this purpose, shoots 10 to 15 cm long are cut off, bundled and hung upside down. A dry but also dark room should be selected for drying. It makes sense to protect the thyme bouquets from light during the drying process, as this allows a higher content of essential oils to be maintained. It is also possible to pluck the small thyme leaves and freeze them after washing them. Another method of preservation is to soak the shoots in oil or vinegar. It does not matter whether the shoots are already dried or fresh.

Thyme: ingredients and uses

The real thyme contains a variety of different ingredients. Depending on the variety and the influence of external factors, their composition can vary. The most famous component of the essential thyme oil is probably thymol. Thymol is also found in many mouthwashes as a disinfectant substance. In addition to the avoidable antibacterial and antiviral effects, thyme oil is primarily known for its pronounced ability to dissolve mucus. Taken as a tea or inhaled, it has been shown to be effective in treating airway infections, whooping cough, or even bronchitis. However, if the oil is used in too high a concentration, it can lead to unpleasant and undesirable irritation of the mucous membranes.

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Support your body with the next cold with a thyme cough syrup [Photo: sunny mama – CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

Thyme can be perfectly combined with other herbs [Photo: THOR – CC BY 2.0]

Thyme: the Mediterranean medicinal and culinary herb

The standard culinary herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley and sage [Photo: Kate Ter Haar – CC BY 2.0]

In addition to its pronounced healing properties, the real thyme with its Mediterranean flavor is popular. The aroma of thyme goes well with all meat dishes and seafood. The taste of Mediterranean vegetables and potato dishes can also be rounded off with the medicinal herbs and herbs. It also stimulates the digestion after a large meal – a real win.

You can find more on this topic in our article: Thyme: Use as a medicinal and aromatic herb.

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