Thyme: A Versatile Herb For Cooking Or Landscaping

English Thyme | Taryn Elliott/Pexels

Although I have not yet met all the hundred or so types of thyme, I have to say I have yet to meet a thyme I did not like. Thymes are one of the most fragrant and pleasing herbs any gardener can grow. It is hard to pass a growth of thyme and not run your hand over the soft small leaves that smell so inviting.

Thymes grow in one of three ways. There are creeping thymes that hug the ground closely, sending out creeping shoots that root and form more silvery, green or gold leaves. Other thymes form low mounds of wiry branches with larger leaves that can be green or variegated. The lower branches tend to root wherever they touch the soil, increasing the size of the mound. The third type grows into a small upright shrub, with a miniature woody trunk and side branches. This one rarely roots itself, unless a branch is held to the ground with a bent wire or a stone.

Thyme has been used for centuries as a potent antiseptic. In ancient Egypt it was one of the ingredients in embalming ointments. Throughout the Middle Ages, many of the nobility used aromatic herbal bouquets of thyme to fend off both bad odors and germs. The powerful oil is so strong it can kill certain bacteria in a minute. If you have thyme in your healing garden, make a tea by steeping it in boiling water for 5 minutes to help sore throats and colds.

As a culinary herb, thyme is one of the most popular. It is an almost universal herb, and pairs well with fish, poultry, meats, vegetables, egg dishes, stuffing, sauces and soups. The small leaves have a pungent scent and taste, similar to oregano but milder. Thyme dries easily, the flavor becoming even more pronounced as the aromatic oils are concentrated. Lemon thyme, with its mild citrus scent and taste is one of the most popular culinary thymes.

Creeping thymes are rarely used in cooking, but are valuable landscape plants. The mats of creeping thyme hug the ground closely, expanding in all directions with rooting runners. Plants will trail right over rocks, and are an attractive sight draping casually over stone walls or steps. In summer, many of these trailing and creeping thymes are covered with small lilac blooms that literally hum with honeybees. Use these low thymes also between paving stones in a path, where they will release their scent as they are trod upon.

These drought tolerant Mediterranean herbs require well drained soil. They will grow in most soils, as long as drainage is good. All grow best and are most fragrant in full sun. The creeping and mounding thymes should be planted only where any weeds and weed roots have been removed, since competition will prevent them from thriving. Air-borne seeds will catch in the thatch of thymes and root, so the mats will need to be gone over and weeded periodically.

I can hardly imagine a garden without some thyme plants. These small scented and hardy plants are loved by bees, attractive with their covering of lavender flowers, and a fragrant addition outdoors and indoors in the kitchen.

Look for more landscaping and gardening tips, e-books, links and great articles from gardening expert, Nicki Goff, on her blog, Through Nana’s Garden Gate. Want to learn all about growing herbs? Subscribe to her free e-mail course on herb gardening.

Source: Nicki Goff

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