By Fi Young

Thymus in flower

Sage and onion stuffing seems to be the norm for stuffing a Christmas turkey, but what about using thyme?  A Google search produced 9 million results!  A quick look through the first five pages of the search shows that thyme can be mixed with a variety of plants.  The most common are : onions, parsley, apple, lemon, orange and chestnuts.

But what exactly is thyme?

Thyme or to provide its correct botanical Latin genus name: Thymus vulgaris L. [1] is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint family) and according to Mabberley [2] thyme is distributed from the West Mediterranean to South East Italy.

Thyme (also known as common thyme or garden thyme) is an aromatic perennial evergreen shrub which prefers to grow in well drained neutral to alkaline soils in full sunlight.  The RHS Dictionary of Gardening describes the plant as “shoots 30cm, vertical, often branching, lower parts woody. Leaves 8 x 2.5mm linear to lanceolate, pubescent below, revolute.  Flowers crowded in whorls, bracts similar to leaves, grey green. Calyx to 4mm campanulate. Corolla white or purple.” [3] The entire plant is aromatic hence the use of its many plant parts in cooking.

But there are many more uses for thyme than just cooking.  In traditional herbal medicine thyme treated respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis.  The herb came in many useable forms such as a tea, an ointment, a tincture, a syrup and inhaled in a steam.  It was also be used to ‘prevent hardening of the arteries, treatment of toothache, urinary tract infection and dyspepsia. [4]

Fresh thyme has been discovered to have the highest level of anti-oxidants amongst herbs and is a rich source of metals : potassium, iron, calcium, manganese, selenium and vitamins B-Complex, folic acid, beta carotene, A, C, E and K.  When dried a plant contains up to 2.5% of essential oils and many of the chemical constituents have biological uses.  A couple of examples are : Thymol (the main component of thyme) is an antiseptic, an antibacterial, an antifungal and an antioxidant.  Eugenol is neuro-protective, anti-cancer, antibacterial and an anti-anaphylactic.  I cannot do justice to the many, many uses of thyme and I suggest you read the excellent article by Dauqan et al where all this information was located. [5]

Thymus vulgaris illustration from Biodiversity Heritage Library

Maybe I should grow this very useful shrub!  Apparently it is difficult to grow from seed because of its slow germination, so it is better to take cuttings from a friends plant, buy a small plant from the local supermarket or a larger shrub from a garden centre.  Unlike the article I got these gardening tips from I strongly suggest you do not try to “take cuttings from a friend” but from a friends’ plant! [6]

Well its thyme to wrap up this article.  I wish you all a happy holiday season and New Year and I hope you have a great thyme with family and friends!

Thyme for the references…

[1] Johnson AT, Smith HA (1986) Plant Names Simplified. Landsman Bookshop Ltd, Herefordshire: page 110

[2] Mabberley DJ (2006) The Plant Book, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press: 713-714

[3] Huxley A (1999) The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, The Royal Horticultural Society, London, Vol. 4 R-Z : page 464

[4] Ghasemi Pirbalouti A, Emami, Z, Malekpoor, F (2015) An overview on genus Thymus, Journal of Herbal Drugs. J Herbal Drugs available online at

[5] Dauqan EMA, Adbullah A (2017) Medicinal and functional value of thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) Herb, Journal of Applied Biology & Biotechnology, Vol. 5(2): 17-22 available online at

[6] The Old Farmer’s Almanac (2018Dec19) Growing Thyme : planting, growing and harveting time, available online at

Editor’s note

There are several species and hybrids of Thymus used for culinary purposes.  Flavours can differ based on the species and cultivar being grown.

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