Thyme is a perennial herb that belongs to the mint family, along with other popular herbs such as basil, oregano, rosemary, and sage. It has small, oval-shaped leaves that grow on woody stems. The leaves are usually green, but some varieties have purple or variegated foliage. The flowers are tiny and white, pink, or purple, depending on the type of thyme.
Fresh Thyme is native to the Mediterranean region, where it has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times. The name “thyme” comes from the Greek word “thymos”, which means courage or strength. Thyme was associated with bravery and valor by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed that it could boost morale and ward off evil spirits. Thyme was also used as a preservative, a disinfectant, a perfume, and an incense.
|Aspect of Fresh Thyme||Description|
|Scientific Name||Thymus vulgaris|
|Flavor Profile||Earthy, slightly minty|
|Culinary Uses||Seasoning, marinades, soups, stews|
|Fresh vs. Dried||Can be used fresh or dried|
|Nutritional Benefits||High in vitamin C, antioxidants|
|Medicinal Uses||Relieves coughs, aids digestion|
|Growing Conditions||Well-drained soil, plenty of sunlight|
|Shelf Life||Up to two weeks when refrigerated|
|Cultural Significance||Symbol of bravery in ancient Greece|
Thyme is not only delicious but also nutritious and beneficial for your health. It is rich in antioxidants, vitamins (especially vitamin C), minerals (especially iron), and dietary fiber. It also contains thymol and carvacrol, two compounds that have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties. Thyme can help with respiratory infections, coughs, sore throats, indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, arthritis pain, skin problems (such as acne), wounds (such as cuts or burns), insect bites or stings (such as bee stings), and oral hygiene (such as bad breath or gingivitis).
Substitute for Thyme
If you are looking for fresh thyme substitutes, you have several options to choose from. Here are some of the best alternatives that can provide a similar flavor and aroma to fresh thyme:
- Oregano: Oregano is a herb that belongs to the same family as thyme, and it has a minty, earthy, and slightly bitter taste. You can use fresh or dried oregano in place of fresh thyme in a 1:1 ratio. Oregano is commonly used in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cuisines, and it pairs well with tomato, cheese, garlic, onion, and meat dishes1.
- Marjoram: Marjoram is another herb that is closely related to thyme, and it has a more delicate and sweeter flavor. You can use fresh or dried marjoram in place of fresh thyme in a 1:1 ratio. Marjoram is popular in French, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines, and it goes well with chicken, fish, lamb, vegetables, and salads2.
- Basil: Basil is a herb that has a bright and licorice-like flavor. You can use fresh basil in place of fresh thyme in a 1:2 ratio, meaning you need half the amount of basil as thyme. Basil is widely used in Asian, Indian, and Italian cuisines, and it complements dishes with tomato, eggplant, zucchini, cheese, and pasta1.
- Savory: Savory is a herb that has a strong and peppery flavor. You can use fresh or dried savory in place of fresh thyme in a 1:1 ratio. Savory is common in German, Romanian, and Bulgarian cuisines, and it enhances dishes with beans, lentils, cabbage, potatoes, and meat2.
- Rosemary: Rosemary is a herb that has a piney and woody flavor. You can use fresh or dried rosemary in place of fresh thyme in a 1:2 ratio, meaning you need half the amount of rosemary as thyme. Rosemary is typical in Mediterranean and British cuisines, and it adds flavor to dishes with lamb, pork, chicken, potatoes, breads, and soups1.
Types of Thyme
There are over 300 species of thyme in the genus Thymus. Some of them are ornamental plants that are grown for their flowers or foliage. Others are culinary herbs that are grown for their leaves or flowers. Here are some of the most common types of thyme that you can grow and use in your kitchen:
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
This is the most widely used variety of thyme for cooking. It has small green leaves that have a minty and earthy flavor with a hint of lemon. It is also known as garden thyme or English thyme.
Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus)
This is a hybrid variety of thyme that has a strong lemon scent and flavor. It has green or variegated leaves that are slightly larger than common thyme. It is also known as citrus thyme or lemon-scented thyme.
French thyme (Thymus vulgaris ‘Narrow Leaf French’)
This is a variety of common thyme that has narrow gray-green leaves that have a more delicate flavor than common thyme. It is also known as summer thyme or narrow-leaved French thyme.
Caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona)
This is a variety of wild thyme that has small green leaves that have a caraway-like flavor. It is also known as creeping thyme or wild caraway.
Orange thyme (Thymus fragrantissimus):
This is a variety of wild thyme that has small green leaves that have an orange-like flavor. It is also known as orange-scented thyme or orange balsam thyme.
Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus):
This is an ornamental variety of wild thyme that has tiny gray-green leaves that are covered with fine hairs. It has little or no scent or flavor. It is also known as lanuginose thyme or woolly creeping thyme.
How to Grow Thyme
Thyme is an easy-to-grow herb that can thrive in a variety of conditions. It prefers full sun, well-drained soil, and moderate water. It can tolerate drought, heat, cold, and poor soil. It can also grow in containers, raised beds, or hanging baskets. Here are some tips on how to grow thyme successfully:
- Choose the right type of thyme for your climate and purpose. Common thyme and lemon thyme are the best choices for culinary use, as they have the most flavor and aroma. French thyme and caraway thyme are also good options for cooking. Orange thyme is good for desserts and drinks. Woolly thyme is good for ground cover or edging.
- Start thyme from seeds, cuttings, or divisions. You can sow thyme seeds indoors in late winter or early spring, or outdoors in late spring or early summer. You can also take stem cuttings from existing plants in spring or summer, or divide mature plants in spring or fall. Plant thyme seeds or cuttings about 1/4 inch deep and 6 to 12 inches apart. Plant thyme divisions about 12 to 18 inches apart.
- Water thyme regularly but not excessively. Thyme likes moist but not soggy soil. Water thyme once a week or when the top inch of soil feels dry. Reduce watering in winter or during rainy seasons. Avoid overhead watering to prevent fungal diseases.
- Fertilize thyme sparingly or not at all. Thyme does not need much fertilizer to grow well. Too much fertilizer can reduce its flavor and aroma. If you want to fertilize thyme, use a balanced organic fertilizer once or twice a year in spring or summer.
- Prune thyme occasionally to maintain its shape and health. Thyme tends to become woody and leggy over time. Prune thyme lightly after flowering to remove dead or damaged stems and encourage new growth. You can also prune thyme more severely in early spring to rejuvenate old plants.
- Harvest thyme as needed throughout the year. You can harvest thyme leaves or sprigs anytime you need them for cooking or other purposes. Cut the stems with scissors or a sharp knife, leaving at least 2 inches of growth above the ground. Use fresh thyme immediately or store it for later use.
How to Store Fresh Thyme
Fresh thyme can be stored in different ways depending on how long you want to keep it and how you want to use it later. Here are some methods of storing fresh thyme:
- In the refrigerator: This is the simplest and most common way of storing fresh thyme for up to two weeks. Rinse the thyme sprigs under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel and place them in a resealable plastic bag or an airtight container. Store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
- In the freezer: This is a good way of storing fresh thyme for up to six months without losing much of its flavor and aroma. Rinse the thyme sprigs under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Strip the leaves from the stems and spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Freeze them until firm, then transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or container. Label and date the bag or container and store it in the freezer.
- In oil: This is a good way of storing fresh thyme for up to three months while infusing it with oil for cooking or dressing purposes. Rinse the thyme sprigs under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Pack them tightly in a clean glass jar and cover them with olive oil or another oil of your choice. Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place.
- In vinegar: This is a good way of storing fresh thyme for up to six months while infusing it with vinegar for pickling or seasoning purposes. Rinse the thyme sprigs under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Pack them tightly in a clean glass jar and cover them with white vinegar or another vinegar of your choice. Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place.
- In honey: This is a good way of storing fresh thyme for up to one year while infusing it with honey for sweetening or medicinal purposes. Rinse the thyme sprigs under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Pack them tightly in a clean glass jar and cover them with raw honey or another honey of your choice. Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place.
How to Use Fresh Thyme
Fresh thyme can be used in many ways to add flavor and aroma to your dishes and drinks. Here are some ideas on how to use fresh thyme:
- Add fresh thyme leaves or sprigs to soups, stews, casseroles, roasts, braises, curries, gravies, sauces, marinades, dressings, dips, spreads, and salads. Thyme goes well with meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, cheese, eggs, bread, and rice.
- Make a simple and delicious herb butter by mixing softened butter with chopped fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic. Use it to spread on bread, toast, crackers, or baked potatoes. You can also use it to baste meat or fish while cooking.
- Make a refreshing and soothing tea by steeping fresh thyme leaves or sprigs in hot water for about 10 minutes. Add honey or lemon juice to taste. You can also add other herbs such as mint, lavender, or chamomile for more flavor and benefits.
- Make a fragrant and flavorful oil by heating olive oil or another oil of your choice in a small saucepan over low heat. Add fresh thyme leaves or sprigs and let them infuse for about 15 minutes. Strain the oil and store it in a glass bottle in a cool, dark place. Use it to drizzle over salads, pasta, pizza, or bread.
- Make a sweet and tangy vinegar by heating white vinegar or another vinegar of your choice in a small saucepan over low heat. Add fresh thyme leaves or sprigs and let them infuse for about 15 minutes. Strain the vinegar and store it in a glass bottle in a cool, dark place. Use it to pickle vegetables, fruits, or eggs. You can also use it to make vinaigrettes or dressings.
- Make a delicious and healthy honey by warming raw honey or another honey of your choice in a small saucepan over low heat. Add fresh thyme leaves or sprigs and let them infuse for about 15 minutes. Strain the honey and store it in a glass jar in a cool, dark place. Use it to sweeten tea, coffee, yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, or toast. You can also use it to make syrups or glazes
Fresh Thyme vs Dried Thyme
Fresh thyme and dried thyme are both forms of the same herb, but they have some differences in their appearance, flavor, aroma, and usage. Here are some of the main differences between fresh thyme and dried thyme:
Fresh thyme has green or variegated leaves that grow on woody stems. Dried thyme has brown or gray leaves that are crumbled or powdered. Fresh thyme looks more vibrant and appealing than dried thyme.
Fresh thyme has a more intense and complex flavor than dried thyme. It has a minty and earthy taste with a hint of lemon. Dried thyme has a more muted and uniform flavor. It has a slightly bitter and woody taste.
Fresh thyme has a more potent and pleasant aroma than dried thyme. It has a citrusy and herbal smell that can fill the room. Dried thyme has a more subtle and dull aroma. It has a musty and dusty smell.
Fresh thyme and dried thyme can be used interchangeably in most recipes, but they have different amounts and methods of application. Generally, you need to use less dried thyme than fresh thyme, as dried thyme is more concentrated and can overpower the dish.
A good rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of dried thyme for every tablespoon of fresh thyme. You also need to add dried thyme earlier in the cooking process than fresh thyme, as dried thyme needs more time to release its flavor and aroma. Fresh thyme can be added later in the cooking process or as a garnish, as fresh thyme can retain its flavor and aroma better.
What are some of the health benefits of fresh or dried thyme?
Fresh or dried thyme has many health benefits due to its rich content of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals. Some of the health benefits of fresh or dried thyme are:
- It can help with respiratory infections, coughs, sore throats, bronchitis, asthma, and allergies due to its antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties.
- It can help with indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis due to its carminative, antiseptic, and astringent properties.
- It can help with arthritis pain, muscle spasms, cramps, headaches, and menstrual pain due to its analgesic and antirheumatic properties.
- It can help with skin problems such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, wounds (such as cuts or burns), insect bites or stings (such as bee stings), and fungal infections (such as athlete’s foot or ringworm) due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties.
- It can help with oral hygiene such as bad breath (halitosis), gingivitis (gum inflammation), tooth decay (caries), and plaque (biofilm) due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- It can help with mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia due to its antidepressant and sedative properties.
- It can help with immune system disorders such as colds, flu (influenza), fever (pyrexia), infections (such as urinary tract infections or UTIs), and inflammation (such as rheumatoid arthritis or RA) due to its immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties.
- It can help with blood disorders such as anemia (iron deficiency), high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and blood clots (thrombosis) due to its hematopoietic, hypotensive, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, and anticoagulant properties.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your doctor before using any herb or supplement.
Fresh thyme and dried thyme are both useful herbs that can enhance the flavor and aroma of many dishes. However, they have some differences in their appearance, flavor, aroma, and usage that you need to consider when choosing which one to use. Fresh thyme is more suitable for dishes that require a more intense and complex flavor and aroma, such as soups, stews, roasts, braises, curries, sauces, marinades, dressings, dips, spreads, salads, desserts, and drinks. Dried thyme is more suitable for dishes that require a more subtle and uniform flavor and aroma, such as breads, crackers, biscuits, cookies, cakes, pies, muffins, scones, granola bars, cereals, oatmeal, popcorns, nuts, seeds, chips, pretzels, popcorns.
How long does fresh thyme last?
Fresh thyme can last for up to two weeks in the refrigerator if stored properly. You can also freeze fresh thyme for up to six months or preserve it in oil, vinegar, or honey for up to one year.
How long does dried thyme last?
Dried thyme can last for up to two years in a cool, dark place if stored properly. You can also store dried thyme in an airtight container or a ziplock bag to prevent moisture and air from affecting its quality.
How do you know if fresh or dried thyme is bad?
You can tell if fresh or dried thyme is bad by looking at its color, texture, smell, and taste. If fresh or dried thyme has changed its color to brown or black or has developed mold or spots on it; if fresh or dried thyme has become soft or brittle or has lost its shape; if fresh or dried thyme has lost its smell or has developed an unpleasant odor; or if fresh or dried thyme has lost its taste or has become bitter or sour; then it is time to discard it.
Can you substitute other herbs for fresh or dried thyme?
You can substitute other herbs for fresh or dried thyme depending on the recipe and your preference. Some of the common herbs that can replace fresh or dried thyme are oregano, rosemary, sage, marjoram, basil, mint, parsley, cilantro (coriander), dill (dill weed), tarragon (dragon’s wort), bay leaf (laurel), lavender (lavandula), lemon balm (melissa), lemon verbena (aloysia citrodora), savory (satureja), chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), fennel (foeniculum vulgare), caraway (carum carvi), cumin (cuminum cyminum), coriander (coriandrum sativum), anise (pimpinella anisum), fenugreek (trigonella foenum-graecum), etc.