Thyme is a versatile garden herb.


I think thyme is one of the most underused garden herbs. Of course thyme is a broad term as there are dozens of thyme species and even more cultivars within them. Some are upright. Others are creeping. All have culinary and ornamental potential.

Thyme is a perennial in the mint family. That alone might concern you if you are considering using it in your flowerbeds. However, it’s not nearly as aggressive as most mints.

Part of the reason could be that thymes prefer a slightly alkaline pH and very few garden soils are maintained in that range. Adjacent sites where plants might spread would rarely be alkaline.

There are simply too many types of thyme to profile them all. There are also numerous aromas and tastes to choose from as well. I’m going to concentrate on common garden thyme and creeping thyme. Both require full sun and well-drained soil to thrive as do all types.

Thyme will live in shady places but flowering will be reduced and growth will be spindly. Plants won’t tolerate wet soils, especially in winter. Always make sure they are planted where water never collects.

Common garden thyme has stems that become woody and growth is more or less upright. This type is primarily used for cooking but it’s attractive in the garden. Plants begin flowering in spring and often continue until August.

Once plants become well established they can survive long periods little water. This makes them a great plant to use for xeriscaping. Thyme also tolerates strong winds well.

On the culinary side, thyme is one herb that keeps its flavor and aroma very well when dried. I find no real drop-off in quality from fresh thyme to dried thyme, except maybe in a salad. Thyme can also be harvested in all seasons without harming the plants.

Thyme has also been used medicinally for centuries. It contains thymol, which has antimicrobial properties. Thyme has been used to treat so many maladies I can’t list them all.

One precaution to large doses of thyme is that its use can slow blood clotting. This means people taking blood thinners could experience what amounts to an increased dosage. Always consult medical professionals before embarking on a self-prescribing herbal regimen.

Creeping thyme is more commonly used as an ornamental. It also can be used in cooking or eaten fresh. Growth of creeping thyme is more prostrate and stems are less woody. Creeping thyme makes a great ground cover. It also requires little maintenance.

Creeping thyme can be propagated easily through stem cuttings and division. For best results, cuttings should be taken in early summer from tender growth. Divisions can be made any time but survival is best in spring. Cut back excessive top growth.

Creeping thyme is great for hanging baskets. Its cascading growth habit is also attractive in mixed pots. Creeping thyme also comes in many fragrances, colors and textures. One cultivar has red foliage and another is commonly called wooly thyme. Others are variegated. There’s something for everyone with this versatile herb.

Healthy thyme plant ready to put in the ground

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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