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Care and Growth of
Drought Tolerant Thyme Herbs

English thyme herb flowersMy newest addition to my drought tolerant herb collection is thyme. 

Common Thyme or English Thyme (Latin name Thymus vulgaris) is another Mediterranean native, so it's perfect for my dry garden too. 

These herbs grow as small shrubs or shrublets with tiny, oval leaves measuring just 1/4 inch long. 

They are perennial and flower in late spring to early summer in little whorls on the tips of the stems.  The flowers are shaped like tiny trumpets, usually in white or pale violet.

Thyme Plant Basics

Ordinary kitchen thyme is best grown in Sunset Zones 1-24 or USDA Zone 4-8.  It grows up to a foot tall and can spread two feet around.  Older branches take on a woody look at feel at the bottom.  They make nice groundcovers  or a low edging in dry areas.  In the ground they can take full sun to part shade.  Try them along a pathway or let them spill over a low wall or planter. 


Thyme is a classic ingredient in Medieval knot gardens.  Brushing the leaves releases their scent so place them where they can be touched, but they cannot take foot traffic.  In pots I have trouble keeping up with enough water for them in full sun, so I've moved them to part shade and they seem to do better during hot summers in my garden. 

As a low grower between paving stones or informal paths try creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum, T. praecox arcticus, T. drucei).  It is scented and has more of a creeping habit than other thymes.  And it is covered with beautiful purple to pink flowers in the spring.

Flavorful Lemon Thyme

One of the most popular of the scented thymes is lemon scented thyme, sometimes called German Thyme (thymus x citriodorus) with a strong lemony scent.  It alos comes in a variegated form  (thymus citriodorus variegata). This enchanting  herb has bright green with either silvery or creamy golden highlights around the edges.  This charmer usually stays under 8 inches tall but can spread to two feet.  It is excellent fresh or dried with chicken and turkey.

In the kitchen thyme can be used either fresh or dried.  It goes well with poultry and eggs and adds rich flavor to soups and stews. 

Thyme in History and Lore

Thyme also has a long history in the medicine cabinet.  It has carminative, antiseptic and expectorant properties. It has been used as a tea for respiratory problems and gastrointestinal issues.

The lore of thyme is also rich.  It was used in Greece to give courage and energize the sprit.  To say another "smelled of thyme" was a rich compliment.  Thyme was burned whole as an incense to cleanse and purify temples. 

The Romans brought thyme home from Greece and are credited with helping to spreading the herb across the Mediterranian.  They also used thyme for courage and to flavor cheeses and wine.  

Sleeping with a bit of thyme under your pillow is said to prevent nightmares.  Thyme is said to be a favorite plant of elves and fairies. 
I too am enchanted by thyme.  Happy gardening.

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