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University of Illinois Extension
Herb Gardening

Thyme

thyme

Thymus vulgaris

Perennial

Description

Thyme is a low growing (6-12 inches tall) to almost prostrate, wiry stemmed perennial.  Stems are stiff and woody and leaves are small, oval and gray-green in color.  Flowers can be white to lilac and are in small clusters.  Thyme is highly aromatic with a hint of clove and mint fragerance.  There are numerous culinary and ornamental varieties of thyme.

Culture

Thyme prefers a full sun location in soil that is well amended with organic matter and well drained.  Poorly drained soil especially over the winter will shorten its useful life.  While thyme can be grown from seed, it is much easier to grow it from divisions or cuttings.  As thyme gets older, it can become woody and should be renewed every few years by cutting it back severely in the spring. This will encourage the production of young, tender stems.   Thyme also makes an attractive border or edging plant in the perennial garden.

Harvesting

Stems of thyme can be cut through the season but is best cut just before the plant starts to flower.  Hang the cut stems in small bunches in a dark, warm, well-ventilated area to dry.  Once dry, the leaves can be stripped from the stems and stored in sealed containers.

Use

Thyme can be used either fresh or dry. It is widely used in soups, stews, casseroles, stuffing and poultry dishes.  Its flavor and fragrance is not adversely affected by long, slow cooking.

Indoor Culture

Plants can be potted in the fall and grown all winter in a bright, sunny location.  Use a well prepared soil mix in a pot with ample drainage.  Water as needed but keep the soil on the dry side.

Popular Varieties

  • French and English Thyme – Most popular of the culinary types.
  • Citrus Thymes – A diverse group of thyme that consists of plants with lemon, lime and orange fragrances.
  • Wooly Thyme – Low carpet of grey, wooly leaves and pale pink flowers.  Extremely attractive as an ornamental in a rock garden setting.

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