What does thyme plant look like?

What Does Thyme Look Like? Expanding Your Culinary Skills

If there is one thing that foodies and adventurous cooks love to do, it is to try out new flavors. When it comes to expanding your taste buds, one of the best things you can do is to experiment new herbs and spices. Since thyme is a kitchen game changer, it should be on your list.

Thyme is best used fresh, but because of all the green herbs available in the market, it can be very difficult to identify. Don’t worry, you’re not the one who has had the idea of making ordinary dishes pop with fresh thyme and you are certainly not the first one who has been having a hard time looking for it.

So what does thyme look like? Either you know you’ve got thyme growing somewhere in the garden or you want to look for it in the supermarket, I’m here to help. Here’s what you need to consider when looking for fresh thyme.

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What Does Thyme Look Like? Expanding Your Culinary Skills

What Does Thyme Look Like?

Thyme is a perennial evergreen shrub. Its leaves are typically green, but some varieties have gray-colored leaves. This plant is able to produce nutlet fruits as well as two-lipped flowers which are either purple or pink. A great way to tell it apart from other small plants is that thyme is entirely aromatic.

Thyme is a member of the mint family; this is why it has the appearance of a woody, low growing herb. And just like mint, its leaves are the ones that contain most of the flavor and aroma. The small leaves are the ones used to enhance the taste of meats and a wide array of dishes.

This plant can be easily mistaken for weeds since most of its varieties will spread out of the ground when it grows. Some varieties of thyme also have pointed leaves that grow on long stems that shoot upward; this is why it can easily be mistaken for rosemary or for other similar herbs.

The Most Popular Varieties Of Thyme

There are as much as 400 varieties of thyme. The most common one is the creeping thyme; this variety is regarded as the mother of all thymes. This variety however, is commonly used as a lawn substitute. When it comes to culinary use, the English, German and French thyme varieties are more popular.



English thyme

The English thyme has a reddish stem and leaves that are oval in shape. The leaves of the English thyme also have pointed ends. Its taste as well as its aroma is much similar to the German thyme. But since it does not contain much of essential oil, it has a milder taste and scent.

​French thyme

The French thyme on the other hand has pointier leaves and it also has reddish stems just like the English thyme. The main difference is that it grows slower than the other varieties. The French thyme grows better in pots rather than in gardens, I highly recommended it when cooking French dishes.

German thyme

The German thyme is the most common variety and it is widely used in making bouquet garni. It has small rounded leaves which are green in color. Its stems are also green which typically grows upwards instead of spreading on the ground. Since it contains more essential oil, it is said to have bolder flavors.

How To Differentiate Thyme From Other Plants

Aside from its appearance, you can identify thyme by its flavor and aroma. Although it can be easily mistaken for rosemary because this herb also has small, pointy leaves as well as a distinct flavor and aroma, thyme has a gentler profile. Unlike rosemary, it is not pungent and has a light earthy flavor.

Another way of differentiating thyme from other plants is by picking up the plant and smelling its leaves, stem and flowers. Since thyme is entirely aromatic, it can easily stand out from plants that smell like ordinary grass. Bees also love to go near thyme but mosquitoes and other insects are repelled by it.


Thyme can be very hard to spot when it grows unexpectedly in your garden or if you plan on finding it as you forage outdoors. But you have to keep in mind that fresh thyme is way more flavorful and aromatic than dried thyme. This is why it is never a waste of effort if you try to harvest or buy them fresh.

Thyme is a low growing shrub with stems that will either spread out on the ground or grow upwards. The stem is either reddish or green and its small, green leaves are oval in shape with either rounded or pointed ends. It can also be easily mistaken for rosemary or for ordinary weeds growing in your garden.

This plant can also bring forth small, two-lipped flowers as well as tiny fruits. Aside from its appearance, you can differentiate thyme from other plants through its aroma. The entire thyme plant provides a gentle scent that you can clearly distinguish from other herbs, grasses or shrubs.

Thyme can add a lot of flavor to your dishes. It is the main ingredient in most bouquet garni, in the French herbes de Provence and the expensive Benedictine liqueur. If you really want to expand your palate and cooking skills, I highly suggest that you try finding fresh ones for your enjoyment.

Do you have thyme growing in your garden? Tell us more about how it looks like in the comment section.

Types Of Thyme Plants: Varieties Of Thyme For The Garden

Any time is a good time to grow thyme. It’s true. There are over 300 thyme varieties in the mint family of Lamiaceae, of which thyme is a member. All have been prized for centuries for their fragrance, flavor and ornamental habitat. With this dizzying array of thyme varieties, there is a possible specimen for nearly every climate and landscape. Keep reading about the types of thyme plants you can grow.

How to Care for Different Types of Thyme

Most thyme varieties are hardy in USDA zones 5-9 but tend to dislike hot, humid summers or overly wet conditions. Also, most varieties of thyme prefer full sun and well drained soil. With a little research and even with adverse conditions, however, there are sure to be various types of thyme plants that are suitable for growth in those areas.

Avoid fertilizing thyme varieties as they tend to become leggy and weak. Types of thyme plants cultivated for culinary use should be replaced every three years or so to prevent woody stems and promote the desirable tender leaf production. Most varieties of thyme are susceptible to overwatering, and many varieties of thyme tolerate or even thrive amid moderate to severe pruning.

All varieties of thyme are easy to propagate via cuttings, division and seed and with their low growing habit (less than 15 inches tall), this semi-evergreen is appropriate for ground cover or for growing in

an herb garden, window box or pots. Many thyme varieties have a lovely spreading habit and will also look wonderful peeking between pavers or stones in a patio or walkway or in a rocky wall while being tolerant of foot traffic. Others have a more upright growth pattern and do well as stand-alone specimens in the garden or in pots, either alone or mixed with other plants or herbs.

Uses for Different Types of Thyme

Highly aromatic with tiny leaves and tubular-shaped flowers forming in dense groups, all different types of thyme are attractive to bees and the honey made from bees who dine on thyme blooms rivals that of the finest lavender honey.

Of course, thyme varieties are sought for cooking and used classically in “boquet garni” in stews, soups, meat, fish, compound butter, eggs, dressings, and vegetable dishes. Thyme pairs exquisitely with lemon, garlic, and basil and can be used either fresh or dried in any of the above or put sprigs in oil or vinegar to infuse the flavor. The essential oil of many varieties of thyme plants are used in colognes, soaps, lotions and even candles. Dried thyme is lovely in sachets.

Thyme leaves may be harvested either before or after blooming and is one of the few herbs where using dried or fresh seems to matter little in the flavoring of foods. However, it is slow to release its oils, so add it earlier in the cooking process.

Types of Thyme Plants

While there are a plethora of thyme varieties, here is a list of some of the most common:

  • Common thyme (T. vulgaris) – prostrate form, yellow and variegated foliage available, used in cooking.
  • Lemon thyme (T. x. citriodorus) – upright form, golden and variegated silver foliage available, strong lemon scent.
  • Woolly thyme (T. pseudolanuginosus) – prostrate form, pubescent stems and leaves appear gray in color, good for rock gardens.
  • Creeping thyme (T. praecox) – sometimes called mother-of-thyme, is mat-forming, grows only two to three inches tall, mauve, white, and crimson flowering cultivars available.
  • Wild thyme (T. serpyllum) – prostrate and upright forms, cultivars provide flower colors ranging from red to purple, foliage can be green, gold, or variegated.
  • Elfin thyme (T. serpyllum ‘Elfin’) – creeping variety no more than 1-2 inches high with fragrant leaves and tiny purple or pink flowers, good for rock gardens and in between pavers or bricks.

And the list goes on: Red Compact, Lime thyme, Lemon Frost thyme, Pennsylvania Dutch Tea thyme (yes, good for tea), Orange Balsam thyme, Caraway thyme (redolent of caraway), Pink Chintz or Reiter Creeping thyme.

Go to your local nursery and inquire what thyme varieties are recommended in your area, then play around with their texture and growth habit to create interesting niches in your home garden.

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Don’t sweat the small stuff, such as pruning herbs.

Pruning probably inflames more anxiety than any other garden task. I’m sure novice gardeners wonder, “Am I killing the plant? Is this the wrong season to prune? Am I pruning too much?”

People who happily take a carving knife to a roast turkey each Thanksgiving fall faint in front of a gangly shrub for no good reason. Recognize that all plants evolved while being grazed on by animals. Each plant expects to be “pruned” by aesthetically indifferent herbivores, such as cows, horses or hippos. After a few million years of grazing, plants are ready for untrained gardeners. The likelihood of death by pruning is very low, so take a deep breath, relax and pick up your pruning tools because we’re going to cut some herbs back very hard.

Frank’s Pruning Rule:

Herbs will help you get over pruning anxiety. Unlike most evergreens, herbs provide immediate, positive reinforcement: They smell good, and you can do something delightful with the clippings right away. (You sure can’t toss holly leaves into soup with any success.)

Herb trimmings have another use. I store clippings of lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oregano in a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid. The resins that give fragrance and flavor to these somewhat-woody herbs also make them flammable when dry. A small handful makes for great kindling.

These herbs are actually called subshrubs; their stems are woody at the base, but herbaceous at the tips. Don’t clip them all the way back to the bare, woody base of the branches; leave at least four or five nodes of foliage if you want them to leaf out. If you want them to look bushy and full, shear them back by half with hedge clippers or hand pruners. Otherwise, they’ll get leggy and open.

Pruning in the spring and early summer suits these six plants best. Like many culinary herbs, they evolved in the mild winters of the Mediterranean. They simply don’t know how to go dormant in cool weather. Hard winter pruning that works well for most perennials only stimulates culinary herbs to make new growth on warmish winter days — new growth that will be killed by the next cold front. But cutting a few snips for the kitchen in winter won’t hurt.

Other perennial herbs, such as salad burnet, fennel and chives, benefit more from division than from pruning. Biennial herbs, such as parsley, and annual herbs, such as cilantro and dill, also don’t need pruning and can be allowed to go to seed to sow the next generation.

Basil, an annual herb, on the other hand, gets two kinds of “bowl haircuts” in my garden. Flowering suppresses leaf production, so we shear off basil flowers with hedge clippers all summer. When we’re ready to make some pesto, we graze off the top 90 percent of the leaves with a few bites from the hand pruners. The remaining leaves are enough to regrow a plump plant in about a month. So if the aromatherapy doesn’t reduce your pruning anxiety, I bet thoughts of a tasty dinner will.

Sometimes great ideas come from the least likely of places. The other morning, I was procrastinating about getting out of bed and flipping through my SnapChats when something on Erin Ireland’s feed caught my eye. Instead of picking each thyme leaf individually off the stem—something that always drives me bonkers—Ireland fed the stem through the smallest hole of a pasta measurer (that old-school plastic tool with varying sized circles for portioning out raw spaghetti), which easily pulled the leaves right off.

Most recipes suggest doing this with your hands by holding the sprig of thyme at its tip, and sliding your fingers down to strip off the leaves. In my experience, this pulls the leaves off in bunches or, even worse, pulls the stem along with the leaves, which means you then have to pull each individual leaf apart. #herbfail

Ireland’s tool happened to have a tiny little hole, which made it ideal for this trick. I watched as she pulled the thyme stem through the hole, the leaves popping off, almost like magic. “It was so cool!” I explained to the Epi team later that day. But no one on staff seemed to know what a pasta measurer was, because, frankly, they’re a single-use tool you really don’t need. (Even worse, there is actually a tool made and sold for this specific purpose: the ZipStrip Herb Zipper.)

Luckily, there’s a much more useful kitchen tool that you can turn to solve your woody herb problems: a fine-mesh strainer. Simply push the end of the thyme stem through a hole and carefully but forcefully pull the stem through. The leaves will be collected in the strainer, ready to use whole or be chopped. No more annoying herb picking. #yourewelcome.

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Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Katherine Sacks

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How To Chop Any Herb, According To Rachael

On our “Foodie 411 show,” Rach — along with Chefs Curtis Stone and Geoffrey Zakarian — is tackling all your foodie FAQs.

One viewer named Fiona wrote in via email asking for advice on chopping different kinds of herbs.

RELATED: 12 Flavorful Ways to Cook with Farm-Fresh Herbs

Q: “I sometimes avoid using fresh herbs because I don’t know how to prep them. There are so many different kinds of herbs… is there a method to chopping each of them?”

A: “First of all, if you don’t like chopping, you can get flavor in your food by just making a bundle of herbs — and if you’re braising something or making a sauce or a soup — just throw the herbs in the pan and it will do its job,” Rach says. “It will still have a lot of great flavor.”

She suggests investing in kitchen twine so you can easily bundle herbs rather than chopping them. For those times when you do need to chop your herbs, though, Rach is demonstrating how to do so.

RELATED: How to Cut an Onion — the *Rachael Ray* Way


Rachael believes in keeping basil at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator. “I treat it like flowers,” she says. “I cut the bottoms, I change the water every couple of days and if I put it in a large food storage sack on top — it makes a little greenhouse for it.”

If you want to create pretty ribbons of basil, stack the leaves on top of one another, roll them into a log and make a chiffonade — AKA confetti — by keeping the tip of the knife on the board and running the knife across.

Pro Tip: This technique works for the leaves of pretty much any herb, Rach says.


When it comes to tougher stemmed herbs like rosemary and thyme, Rach explains, you don’t want to eat the stem.

“Hold it at the top and gently pull the leaves backwards,” she says.

Once you’ve separated the leaves from the stems, pile the leaves together and run your knife through the pile once vertically. Keep piling the leaves back together and go back and forth with your knife until you’ve milled the herb down.

Pro Tip: “There are some lemon thymes and soft thyme that are very tender and you can chop up the stems,” Rach continues. “But the stuff you get in the grocery store is largely going to have a woody stem.”

RELATED: Rachael’s Tip: Fresh vs. Dried Herbs


Cilantro has tender, flavorful stems, so Rach stems the very end and chops up the rest of the stem and leaves together.

Pro Tip: “I don’t discard it at all, I don’t take the time picking it because it’s tasty and most of it’s tender,” Rachael says. “I would just take off the very end of it — the rest of this is totally edible.”


With parsley, Rach rips off the top — the leaves — and saves the stems for stock in soup.

Hold the bundle by the top of the stems with one hand, and at the top of the leaves with the other. Then, simply separate the leaves from the stems in one swift motion.

Pro Tip: The top is the part you’d chop for the recipe that calls for parsley leaves. Put the stems into an herb bundle and save to put into soup or stock pot, Rach suggests.

Watch Rach demonstrate how to chop basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro and parsley in the video above.

Thyme is both a cute little perennial and a fabulous herb.

Top Thyme facts

Name – Thymus
Family – Lamiaceae
Type – condiment
Height – 8 to 16 inches (20 to 40 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – light, well-drained

Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – spring

Harvest – January to December

Pruning and caring for it help ensure that your thyme grows well.

  • Health: health benefits and therapeutic properties of thyme.
  • Read also: articles and recipes involving thyme.

Sowing and planting thyme

It is possible to sow thyme from seeds, and to plant it from young plants purchased in nursery pots. Since it is resilient to drought and resists heat, it is very easy to grow.

Sowing thyme correctly

To prepare seedlings, you must sow in a nursery in spring.

  • Sow thyme with special seedling soil mix.
  • Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil mix.
  • Sprinkle water over lightly to keep the substrate a bit moist.
  • Sprouting usually happens 2 to 3 weeks after sowing.
  • You can transplant the seedlings in the ground 5 to 6 weeks after sprouting.

How to plant thyme

Once the young plants are well developed, or if you’ve purchased young plants directly in nursery pots, transplant them ideally in spring, preferably in light and well-draining soil.

  • Thyme needs sun to develop well.
  • It can tolerate any type of soil, even rocky and poor soil.
  • Regular watering is recommended during the first year after planting, but not too much and only if it doesn’t rain.

Multiplying thyme

Thyme can be propagated through crown division at the beginning of spring. This technique helps boost thyme production, and it also serves to regenerate old bunches.

Pruning and caring for thyme

Thyme is a plant that is easy to grow and care for.

You can cut stems off your thyme whenever you need some all year round.

It is best to cut stems from recent growth to stimulate appearance of new shoots.
It is best to select the younger stems and collect them in the morning before dawn, which is when flavors are most concentrated.

  • Remove dead branches at the beginning of spring.

Help your slow-growing thyme by weeding around it to stifle out competition.

To maintain its dense, compact shape, wait for the end of the blooming season to prune it delicately.

However, if you are growing thyme in order to harvest it, it is best to prune it before flowering.

Diseases and parasites that attack thyme

Very resistant to virtually all diseases, thyme’s main enemy is a type of fungus that makes it rot.

  • Thyme starts to whither and dies off, starting with the roots.

Thyme is generally an excellent companion plant in the vegetable patch, where it tends to fend off fungus and insects.

Species and varieties of thyme

There are over 350 species of thyme! Thymus x citriodorus is much appreciated for its lemon-like smell.

Certain varieties are favored for their gold, mottled or silver colored leaves.

Keeping thyme

Harvesting thyme

Thyme can be harvested all year long, but its flavors are most concentrated when it is blooming.

Its flowers are always a welcome decoration in summer dishes and salads.

  • Avoid cutting the stem at its base.
  • It is best to harvest thyme from soft wood that is still green.

Keeping thyme

There are two ways to keep it, either leaves are dried, or they are frozen in a freezer.

In the first case, place collected stems in a dry and ventilated place until they are completely dry. After that, they can be ground and kept in a jar for several months.

Freezing has the advantage of preserving their flavor, and thyme can keep this way for several months.

Learn more about thyme

Native to the Mediterranean area, thyme is very fragrant and is particularly well suited to seasoning grilled meat and fish.

It is often used in infusions for its digestion-supporting properties, and also in cooking to flavor sauces and soups.

It is a rather hardy plant that resists temperatures below freezing and diseases very well.

Thyme, with scientific name Thymus officinalis, has certain beneficial medicinal properties, for example it eases digestion and relaxes the body.

Smart tip about thyme

No need to water, thyme will be perfectly happy with poor and dry soil. It naturally grows in desolate arid places.

  • Read also: articles and recipes involving thyme.
  • Discover wild thyme, a variety that blooms abundantly.

Quick Guide to Growing Thyme

  • Plant thyme in spring once chances of frost have passed.
  • Space thyme plants 12 to 24 inches apart in a very sunny area with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH close to 7.0.
  • Before planting in-ground, improve your existing soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • For best results, feed regularly with a water-soluble plant food.
  • Keep soil moist and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
  • Once thyme is established, harvest as needed but avoid pruning more than one-third of the plant at a time.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Thyme does best in full sun. Start from young plants set out in spring after the last frost. Be sure to choose strong young thyme plants from Bonnie Plants®, the company that has been helping home gardeners succeed for over 100 years. Plant in soil with excellent drainage and a pH of about 7.0. Mulching with limestone gravel or builder’s sand improves drainage and helps prevents root rot. Or, improve soil texture and nutrition by adding a few inches of Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil in with the top layer of existing soil. When growing thyme in containers, fill pots with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix. Both are enriched with aged compost and provide an excellent environment for strong root growth.

For best growth, you’ll also want to fertilize regularly with a premium organic plant food like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition, which feeds both plants and the beneficial microbes in the soil. (Check label directions.)

You can also grow thyme indoors, either in a pot (if you have a sunny window away from drafts) or in a hydroponic system like the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System. Instead of growing in soil, plants grow directly in water that circulates around the roots, delivering moisture, nutrition, and air. You don’t have to worry about your thyme plants getting enough sunlight, either, thanks to the unit’s grow light.

Outdoors, German thyme is perennial in zones 5 to 9, lemon thyme in zones 7 to 9. Easy to grow, thyme needs little care except for a regular light pruning after the first year. Do this after the last spring frost, so that the plants do not get woody and brittle. Pinching the tips of the stems keeps plants bushy, but stop clipping about a month before the first frost of fall to make sure that new growth is not too tender going into the cool weather. Cut thyme back by one third in spring, always cutting above points where you can see new growth, never below into the leafless woody stem. Lemon thyme is more upright and more vigorous than the other thymes. In the North and cold climates, cover with pine boughs after the soil freezes to help protect from winter damage. In zone 10, thyme is usually an annual, often succumbing to heat and humidity in mid-summer.

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