Just like there are many varieties of basil, you can find over 300 types of thyme. However, this herb is a lot smaller, only growing up to 15 inches in height or less. Thyme is part of the mint family of Lamiaceae.
All types of thyme are edible, but some are better suited. The three most common types of thyme for culinary use are caraway, lemon and French. Common thyme is also used for cooking. Thyme pairs well with garlic, lemon and basil. It is traditionally used in a “bouquet garni” which is French for garnished bouquet that mixes herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay leave and others such as rosemary, basil, chervil, tarragon and peppercorns. This is used to prepare stocks, soups, meat fish, dressings, casseroles and more.
Most types of thyme are ornamental, cultivated for centuries because of their fragrance and beauty. Thymes aroma attracts bees who produce a very priced honey, comparable to the best lavender honey.
Essential oil from thyme can be used medicinally or to make soaps, lotions, mouthwash, colognes, candles, cleaning products and more. Dried thyme makes great sachets.
So do not worry about where you live in the world, with so many types of thyme you will surely find those that grow in your climate zone or landscape. Visit your local nursery if you are not sure which types of thyme grow well in your area. They will guide you about their growth habits to figure out which would be most suitable. Do not worry, it is pretty easy to grow thyme.
Types of Thyme
Thymus vulgaris (common thyme) as it name suggest is the most popular of all types of thyme. This dwarf variety can easily be grown in a container since it only grows 3 inches (8 centimeters) tall. Leaves are quite aromatic and are used in many dishes either dried or fresh. Flowers are pink or white and are rich in nectar, which is why they attract bees and butterflies. Common thyme is very easy to grow and is virtually disease and pest free. Just make sure you plant it in a place where it can get a lot of sun and has soil with drainage. Get common thyme seeds here.
Of all of the types of thyme, this is the favorite of many people. It is very similar to English thyme, but has a lemon scent and taste. It can be used in any recipe that needs lemon juice, zest or flavoring. Lemon thyme is great for marinating fish or chicken. It grows up to one foot tall and is more heat tolerant than other varieties. Leaves are glossy green and it has a silver minty foliage. It grows upright in a pot, while it will spread if planted on the ground and left unchecked. This variety of thyme needs full sun. Get lemon thyme seeds here.
This perennial thyme is slow growing with pretty pale pink flowers that bloom in the summer. Originally from the Mediterranean, this thyme grows well in places that are not too hot or too cold and it needs full sun. Leaves are gray-green and it can spread if planted in soil, so it is used as a border or ground cover. You can also plant it in a pot inside. This culinary thyme can be used dried or fresh in soups, beans, meat dishes, sauces and more. Since it is very fragrant, it can be added to soaps or potpourri. Get English thyme seeds here.
Juniper thyme is also known as moonlight thyme because of the silvery rigid needles it produces. This is one of the prettiest types of thyme because of its pink-purple flowers that bloom profoundly, attracting bees and butterflies. Cut flowers after they bloom to keep the plant tidy. You can plant it in a container since it grows only about 6 inches (15 centimeters) tall or use it as a ground cover in a rock garden or garden border. This variety of thyme does not have problems with pests, needs full sun and well-drained soils.
Pennsylvania Dutch Tea
Those who love tea should plant Pennsylvania Dutch tea thyme. You can brew tea from fresh or dry leaves and it mixes well with other herbs. For culinary use, it can substitute any recipe that asks for English thyme. This fragrant thyme has dark green, oval leaves and pink flowers. Grows well in a container or in the garden. Make sure it receives a lot of sunlight.
Italian Oregano Thyme
Some types of thyme have more than one flavor, like this culinary herb that has a zesty flavor. It can grow up to 12 inches (30 centimeters), but you should only let it reach that size until it blooms pretty pink flowers for about a month. After this you should prune it down to 6-8 inches (15-20 centimeters) to encourage fresh growth. This way you can continue to eat the leaves. Like other varieties, Italian oregano thyme needs full sun and it a bit more heat tolerant than other varieties.
This variety of thyme is quite curious since it is a ground cover plant used between pathways, rocks and stones that produces delicate lavender flowers and is very fragrant. It grows fast, with deep green leaves and reddish stems. Caraway thyme is a hardy perennial that needs sun and well drained or rocky soil. Of all the ornamental thyme, this is the only one that should also be used for cooking. During medieval times it was used to freshen aging beef. It can also be used with bread and is a replacement for the real caraway, a herb that is also known as meridian fennel or Persian cumin.
Some types of thyme, like woolly thyme are used for ornamental purposes. This one grows well in rock gardens since it is very soft and flat like a carpet. Woolly thyme creeps, covering between stepping stones and pavers, with a gray (it is the grayest of all thyme) leaf color that blends well. It rarely flowers, so it will not attract bees. This slow grower needs regular watering and drainage.
One of the best ornamental types of thyme is lavender thyme because it has that heavily lavender scent. It has pretty pink flowers and intense green leaves. Lavender thyme is not as flat as other types of cover thyme, reaching a height of 3 inches (8 centimeters), so it is best to plant it between rocks or where not much walking is done. This variety of thyme can withstand more heat than other types.
Mint thyme grows quickly to fill in spaces between stones, it is best to mulch to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. Make sure to water well to get it established, especially during hot summer months. This type of thyme is more heat resistant and does not have a fragrance. The name is a bit of a mystery. Mint thyme grows low and blooms with pretty pink flowers.
Silver Needle Thyme
Just like it name suggest, this variety of thyme has a soft silver green hue. Leaves may look like a small juniper twig, but it is actually very soft to walk on. It blooms early in spring, covering itself with dark lilac flowers. Silver needle thyme only grows one 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) so it is great for cascading over a short wall or for a container.
This is one of the smallest types of thyme, growing between 1/4-1 inch (0.6-2.5 centimeters) with closely spaced leaves and flowers that are dark pink in color. Elfin thyme sometimes blooms a lot in a year and other years it barely blooms. It is a great choice for planting between stepping stones with very small spaces. It needs at least five hours of sunlight per day to keep it from getting leggy.
There are many other types of ornamental and culinary thyme. Including them all would make this article super long! Which is your favorite type of thyme?