14 Types of Thyme: Discover the Perfect Variety for Your Kitchen or Garden

Thyme in a container

Thyme, known for its versatility in the kitchen and ease of growth in gardens, offers a delightful array of flavors, aesthetics, and growth habits through its various cultivators. With hundreds of thyme varieties to choose from, finding the perfect one for your recipes or garden can be an exciting endeavor.

The World of Thyme

Thyme, a beloved herb in culinary circles, is equally adored in ornamental gardens. In this article, we will explore the most common thyme varieties found in garden centers and seed catalogs.

Culinary Thyme Varieties

Cultivated for culinary use, these thyme varieties often showcase beautiful clusters of white, pink, or purple flowers, making them excellent additions to vegetable gardens for attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Pink flowers of thymus vulgaris

1. Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.)

Common thyme, the most widely used culinary thyme, thrives in various climates, from zones 3 to 8. It overwinters reliably and spreads quickly, growing 8-12 inches high. The leaves have a sharper flavor and a narrower form when grown in warmer climates. Apart from its culinary uses, common thyme offers numerous health benefits, aiding digestion, acting as an antiseptic rub when infused into oil, and providing relief for headaches and nerves when made into tea.

2. Caraway Thyme (T. herba-barona)

Caraway thyme, a low-growing variety reaching 6 inches in height, features narrow green leaves and light pink flowers. Traditionally used to flavor barons of beef, it thrives in zones 4-8.

3. French Thyme/Summer Thyme (T. vulgaris narrow-leaf French)

Closely related to common thyme, French thyme is milder and sweeter in flavor. It grows up to twelve inches with a more compact habit than common thyme, making it a popular choice among chefs. While less hardy, it can be grown as an annual north of zone 6.

4. Golden Lemon Thyme (T. citriodorus v. “aureus”)

Resembling lemon thyme in most aspects, golden lemon thyme stands out with its golden foliage, adding an attractive ornamental element to gardens. It is hardy as far north as Zone 4a and suitable for cooking.

5. German Thyme

German thyme, the cold-hardy counterpart of common thyme, is often referred to as winter thyme. It features smaller evergreen leaves and thin stems, with a robust flavor and widespread use in culinary applications.

6. Lemon Thyme (T. x citriodorus)

Lemon thyme, with its lemony citrus scent, is a popular choice for flavoring fish dishes, poultry, creamy sauces, and desserts. Growing well in most zones, it reaches a height of 6-12 inches and boasts pink flowers.

Lemon thyme herb

7. Orange Balsam Thyme (T. vulgaris “Orange Balsam”)

Orange thyme delights with its orange-scented leaves. Growing between 4 and 12 inches, it features tiny gray-green leaves and pale pink flowers. Its flavor is best enjoyed fresh and it thrives in zones 5-8.

8. Orangelo Thyme

This newer variety offers an enticing orange flavor and can grow up to 2 feet tall. Recommended for culinary use, both fresh and dried, it opens up a world of aromatic possibilities.

9. Silver Queen Thyme (T. x citriodorus v. “Silver Queen”)

Silver Queen thyme, another lemon-scented variety, is perfect for both tea and cooking. Its silver-edged leaves give it a unique appearance, and it grows between 3 and 12 inches tall with pale lilac flowers. It thrives in zones 5-8.

10. Summer Thyme (see French thyme)

Also known as French thyme, summer thyme features narrower leaves compared to its English counterpart. Although less hardy, it can be a delightful addition to gardens, especially in warmer climates.

Ornamental Varieties of Thyme

These thyme varieties are predominantly grown as ornamentals or ground covers, adding beauty to gardens and landscapes.

Wild thyme growing in the garden

11. Creeping Thyme (T. serpyllum)

As its name suggests, creeping thyme is a ground-hugging plant, growing no more than 3 inches tall. Its bluish-green hairy leaves and deep pink blossoms make it an excellent choice for paths and lawns, withstanding foot traffic. It thrives from zone 8 in the south to zone 4 or 5 in the north.

12. Minus (T. praecox “Minus”)

This miniature thyme variety reaches a height of 6 inches, displaying stunning light-pink flowers that attract butterflies. It grows well in zones 4-8 and adds a touch of elegance to any garden.

13. Mother of Thyme (see creeping thyme)

Mother of thyme, also known as creeping or wild thyme, has a low-growing habit and is often found in rock gardens or along walkways. Its versatility and beauty make it a popular choice for various landscaping projects.

14. Wooly Thyme (T. pseudolanuginosus)

Wooly thyme, with its tiny grayish leaves and small pink flowers, offers a unique texture with its wooly stems and leaves. This flat creeping variety rarely grows above 3 inches tall, making it an excellent ground cover option.

Common Questions About Thyme

Sprigs of thyme on a cutting board

Are All Types of Thyme Edible?

According to the Perdue Aromatic and Plants Index, all species of Thymus vulgaris L. and Thymus serpyllum are safe to use as culinary herbs or in essential oils. The varieties listed here can enhance the flavor of your favorite recipes, with some offering stronger and more aromatic characteristics than others.

How Many Varieties of Thyme Are There?

Over 300 species of thyme have been identified, along with numerous hybrids and subspecies that have adapted to different growing regions. English and French thyme remain the most popular choices in culinary circles.

Which Varieties Are Best for Ground Cover?

Both creeping thyme and wooly thyme are commonly used as ground covers. Creeping thyme is particularly resilient to foot traffic, while common thyme also exhibits good resistance when allowed to freely grow in lawns. Lemon thyme can be a wonderful addition for scented walkways.

What Types of Thyme Are Best for Herbal Medicine/Essential Oils?

In her book “Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide,” Rosemary Gladstar recommends common thyme and lemon thyme for herbal medicine and essential oils. These varieties tend to be more fragrant and have higher concentrations of beneficial oils in warm, dry environments.

In Conclusion

Thyme offers a vast array of fragrances, flavors, looks, and growth habits, making it a delightful addition to any garden or kitchen. With so many captivating options to choose from, it can be challenging to pick just one. However, no matter which variety you choose, don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy this easy-growing herb. Make space for thyme in your garden this year and savor its many delights.