Types of Thyme for Cooking: 6 Most Common Culinary Varieties

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There are many different types of thyme that can be grown in a home garden. These varieties offer a range of flavors and scents for your cooking, and there are plenty of options to choose from.

Common (English) thyme, German thyme, French thyme, Lemon thyme, Caraway thyme, and Silver thyme are some of the most common varieties of thyme to cook with.

Growing conditions for all thyme varieties are quite similar. These hardy herbs thrive in full sun, and well-draining soil, and are remarkably drought-tolerant. Certain types of thyme are capable of handling colder climates, giving northern gardeners even more chances to use this herb.

So why settle for just one type of thyme when you can explore the enticing array available? Each variety brings its own unique character to the table.

Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Common thyme, also known as garden thyme or English thyme, is the most widely used type of thyme. Its scientific name is Thymus vulgaris. This herb is highly valued for its aromatic leaves and versatile culinary uses.

Common Thyme - English thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Characteristics of Common Thyme

Common thyme has a distinct reddish stem with small green leaves. It is a hardy plant that thrives in zones 5-9, making it suitable for a wide range of climates. Common thyme typically grows to a height of 6-12 inches, making it a compact herb that can be easily grown in gardens or containers.

One of the defining features of common thyme is its strong and earthy flavor profile. The leaves contain essential oils that give this herb its characteristic taste and aroma. When used in cooking, common thyme adds depth and richness to dishes.

Scientific NameThymus vulgaris
Common Name(s)Common thyme, English thyme, garden thyme
Height6-12″ (15-30cm)
Hardy Zone Range5 – 9
Flower ColorWhite to pink

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Culinary Uses of Common Thyme

Common thyme is extensively used as a seasoning herb with its robust, earthy flavor. From roasted meats to soups and stews, common thyme is generally used in more savory dishes and recipes.

Common thyme is often included in herb blends due to its versatility and ability to complement other ingredients. It pairs well with rosemary, sage, parsley, and oregano, among others. These combinations add complexity to marinades, dry rubs, and sauces.

Some popular culinary uses for common thyme include:

  • Flavoring soups and stews: Add whole sprigs or dried leaves to simmering soups or stews to infuse them with its earthy flavors.
  • Seasoning roasted vegetables: Sprinkle chopped thyme over vegetables before roasting them for an added burst of flavor.
  • Herb blends: Create your own herb blend by combining common thyme with other herbs like basil, parsley, and oregano. This mixture can be used in pasta sauces, marinades, and dressings.
  • Infusing oils: Combine olive oil with fresh thyme sprigs to create infused oils that can be drizzled over salads or for dipping bread.

German Thyme: Winter Thyme

German thyme, also known as Winter Thyme, is a cultivar of common thyme that hails from central Europe. This cultivated variety shares the same scientific name as common thyme, Thymus vulgaris. German thyme typically reaches a height of 8-12 inches, making it a compact and versatile addition to any garden.

German Thyme - winter thyme

Resilience and Adaptability of German Thyme

Gardeners particularly appreciate German thyme for its resilience and adaptability. Its cold-hardy nature ensures it can withstand harsh winters without frost damage.

German thyme is highly valued for its cold hardiness. Hardy to zones 4-9, German thyme is an ideal choice for those living in regions with colder climates. Review the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map if you are uncertain what zone you are in.

Scientific Namecultivar of Thymus vulgaris
Common Name(s)German thyme, winter thyme
Height6-12″ (15-30cm)
Hardy Zone Range4 – 9
Flower ColorWhite to pink

The compact size of German thyme allows for easy cultivation both in outdoor gardens and containers alike. For successful growth, ensure it receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Well-drained soil is essential to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. Regular pruning encourages bushier growth and helps maintain the plant’s shape.

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German Thyme Flavor Profile

German thyme offers a milder taste compared to English thyme. While still aromatic and pleasant, the intensity of its flavor is slightly dialed down, making German thyme an excellent choice for those who prefer more subtle earthy notes.

The versatility of German thyme allows it to be used in soups, stews, seasonings, marinades, and even salads. The unique flavor profile of German thyme adds depth and complexity to these dishes without overpowering them.

French Thyme: Summer Thyme

French thyme, also known as Summer Thyme, is a delightful cultivar of common thyme that hails from France. With its brown stems and narrower grayish-green leaves, it adds a touch of elegance to any garden. Unlike its hardier cousins, however, French thyme is less tolerant to cold temperatures and thrives best in zones 6-9. Its compact growth habit allows it to reach heights of 6-12 inches, making it a versatile addition to various landscapes.

Scientific Namecultivar of Thymus vulgaris
Common Name(s)French thyme, summer thyme
Height6-12″ (15-30cm)
Hardy Zone Range6 – 9
Flower ColorPurple

Flavor Profile of French Thyme

French thyme has a milder and slightly sweeter taste compared to common thyme. This unique flavor profile makes it an excellent choice for those seeking a more delicate note in their cooking. It harmonizes exceptionally well with other subtle flavors, which explains its prevalence in traditional French cuisine.

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French Thyme Culinary Uses

French thyme shines in an array of dishes. Its tiny leaves shine when used in sauces, soups, and seasonings for fish, meat, and vegetables. French thyme often takes center stage as one of the main herbs in bouquet garni—a classic blend of herbs tied together with twine or enclosed in cheesecloth for convenient removal after cooking in soups, stews, and stocks.

With its elegant appearance and slightly sweeter flavor, French thyme is a versatile herb that adds a delicate touch to gardens and a delightful note to your kitchen creations.

Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus)

Lemon thyme is a thyme species originating from the Mediterranean region that offers a delightful citrusy twist to the traditional thymes commonly found in herb gardens.

Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus)

Characteristics of Lemon Thyme

Scientifically known as Thymus citriodorus, lemon thyme is appreciated by gardeners for its distinctive characteristics. The plant boasts light green slightly elongated leaves that add a touch of elegance to any garden. Lemon thyme has reasonable cold tolerance, thriving in zones 5-11. Lemon thyme grows to a height between 6 and 12 inches. Its lavender-like summer-blooming flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden. This enhances the beauty of your outdoor space and contributes to the ecosystem’s overall health.

Scientific NameThymus citriodorus
Common Name(s)Lemon thyme
Height6-12″ (15-30cm)
Hardy Zone Range5 – 11
Flower ColorPink to lavender

Fragrance and Flavor of Lemon Thyme

One of the most remarkable features of lemon thyme is its aromatic leaves, which possess a refreshing lemon-like fragrance and flavor. Just brushing against the foliage releases an invigorating scent reminiscent of freshly squeezed lemons. When used in culinary applications, these aromatic leaves add brightness and depth to your cooking.

The citrusy flavor profile makes lemon thyme an excellent companion for fish and poultry dishes. It complements the natural flavors of these proteins, enhancing their taste with a zesty twist. Lemon thyme can also be incorporated into salads and vegetable dishes to elevate their overall appeal.

Purchase Lemon Thyme plants from Amazon

Creative Culinary Possibilities with Lemon Thyme

There are numerous creative culinary possibilities to explore with lemon thyme:

  • Infuse olive oil with fresh lemon thyme leaves for a fragrant dressing or a marinade.
  • Sprinkle chopped lemon thyme over roasted vegetables for a burst of citrusy flavor.
  • Add finely minced lemon thyme leaves to butter or cream cheese spread for sandwiches or crackers.
  • Incorporate lemon thyme into homemade salad dressings or vinaigrettes.
  • Create herb-infused salts by mixing dried lemon thyme leaves with coarse sea salt to add to grilled meat or roasted vegetables.

The aromatic leaves of lemon thyme offer a refreshing lemon-like fragrance and flavor, opening up a world of culinary possibilities that can add brightness and depth to your meals.

Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona)

Caraway thyme is a thyme variety that possesses a distinct aroma reminiscent of caraway seeds. Its unique fragrance sets it apart from other herbs in your garden.

Characteristics of Caraway Thyme

Caraway thyme, known scientifically as Thymus herba-barona, has tiny dark green leaves and boasts a low-growing habit, reaching only 3-6 inches in height. Its compact nature makes it an ideal ground cover for herb or vegetable gardens. Caraway thyme is less cold-tolerant compared to some other varieties of thyme. It grows best in zones 6-11, so if you reside outside this range, you may need to take extra precautions during colder months.

Scientific NameThymus herba-barona
Common Name(s)Caraway thyme
Height3-6″ (7-15cm)
Hardy Zone Range6 – 11
Flower ColorPink to purple

Flowering Ground Cover: Color and Contrast with Caraway Thyme

Caraway thyme is low-growing which makes it an excellent choice for ground covers in both herb gardens and general landscapes, adding visual interest with its dark green foliage.

This perennial produces charming blossoms that further enhance its appeal. Its flowers bloom in various shades of pink and purple, creating a beautiful contrast against the backdrop of the herb’s foliage. Consider using caraway thyme as a flowering ground cover to add a touch of vibrancy and charm to your garden.

Caraway Thyme Flavor Profile and Culinary Uses

One of the most enticing aspects of caraway thyme is its strong aroma reminiscent of caraway seeds, lending itself well to various culinary applications. Caraway thyme pairs well with breads, cheeses, meat seasoning, and pickling recipes due to its unique flavor profile. Adding caraway thyme to your favorite bread recipe can infuse it with an irresistible fragrance. The leaves also make a delightful addition to salads, infusing them with their unique aroma and flavor.

With its low-growing habit, dark green leaves, and charming blossoms, Caraway thyme serves as an excellent ground cover choice for herb gardens or general landscapes. Whether you’re using it in breads, cheeses, pickling recipes, salads, or herbal teas, caraway thyme adds a distinct flavor.

Silver Thyme (Thymus argenteus)

Silver thyme, scientifically known as Thymus argenteus, is a captivating variety of thyme with unique characteristics and flavors. Its stunning appearance includes small grayish-green leaves adorned with silver edges, creating a visually appealing contrast.

Silver thyme (Thymus argenteus)

This herb typically grows to a height of 6-12 inches, making it suitable for both garden beds and containers. It blooms with pinkish flowers in the summer. Silver thyme is reasonably cold tolerant and is hardy in zones 5-10.

Scientific NameThymus argenteus
Common Name(s)Silver thyme
Height6-12″ (15-30cm)
Hardy Zone Range5 – 10
Flower ColorPink

Silver Thyme Flavor and Culinary Applications

Silver thyme has a flavor profile that leans more towards lemon thyme, infusing dishes with a subtle citrusy note. It makes an excellent addition to soups and stews. The herb’s refreshing citrus notes also make it ideal for sauces, providing a tangy twist that complements seafood or vegetable-based dishes.

Silver thyme shines when used to season chicken or beef. Whether sprinkled over roasted chicken or added during the marinating process, this herb elevates the savory flavors of your meals.

Some ways to incorporate Silver thyme into your cooking include:

  • Creating a delicious herb butter by combining softened butter with minced silver thyme leaves, and spreading it on bread or using it to finish grilled meat.
  • Sprinkling freshly chopped silver thyme leaves over salads for an extra burst of flavor.
  • Blending silver thyme into homemade vinaigrettes adds a zesty touch to your salads.

With its stunning appearance and unique flavor profile, silver thyme is a versatile herb that adds a touch of elegance and zest to any dish.

Other Kinds of Culinary Thymes

There are several other lesser-known types of thyme that can be explored for their unique flavors and aromas.

Orange Balsam Thyme: Adding a Zesty Twist

Orange Balsam thyme is a Common thyme cultivar that boasts an intense orange zest taste and a boldness that is more pronounced than common thyme. It is a low-growing variety with woody stems. Orange balsam thyme features gray-green leaves and produces charming pink flowers, making it a visually appealing addition to your gardens. It is hardy in zones 5-11, making it suitable for a variety of climates. Whether you’re preparing seafood or poultry dishes, orange balsam thyme will also lend a unique and vibrant flavor profile to your kitchen creations.

Juniper Thyme: Spice Up Your Cooking

Juniper thyme, also known as Moonlight thyme, is perfect for those who prefer a spicier kick in their recipes. It stands out from other varieties with its grayish-green color and robust flavor. Juniper thyme (Thymus leucotrichus) is hardy in zones 5-9 and grows to be 6-8” in height with pink to lavender flowers. Juniper thyme has a distinctive spiciness that sets it apart from other varieties, making it an excellent addition to meat-based dishes such as roasts or stews.

Italian Oregano Thyme: A Fusion of Flavors

True to its name, Italian oregano thyme combines the best qualities of both oregano and thyme. With its long stems of green dark leaves and unmistakable aroma reminiscent of oregano, this Common oregano cultivar is hardy in zones 5-11. Italian oregano thyme has a powerful aroma and taste similar to oregano, but with pleasant hints of thyme that add a special touch to any dish it is used in. Its versatility allows it to be used in various culinary applications ranging from pasta sauces and soups to roasted vegetables.

Consider the culinary purposes and flavors of different thyme varieties when cooking. Each type has distinct characteristics that enhance various dishes, offering impressive options for your creations.

Ornamental Thyme Varieties

While most people are familiar with culinary thyme, there are also several ornamental thyme varieties that are primarily grown for their decorative purposes. These ornamental thymes not only add color and texture to gardens but also require minimal maintenance, making them a popular choice for landscaping.

One of the most popular ornamental thyme varieties is creeping pink thyme, which has delicate pink flowers that create a stunning visual display when in bloom. Its low-growing habit allows it to spread across the ground, forming a dense mat of foliage. Creeping pink thyme is often used as ground cover or in between stepping stones to create a charming pathway.

Another eye-catching option is woolly thyme, which features soft, fuzzy leaves that give it a unique texture. This variety forms dense mounds of silver-gray foliage that contrast beautifully against other plants in the garden. Woolly thyme is particularly well-suited for rock gardens or slopes where its trailing stems can cascade down walls or over edges.

Mother of thyme is another versatile herb with small, rounded leaves and vibrant pink to lavender flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer. Its low-maintenance nature makes it an excellent choice for borders, rock gardens, and containers.

What sets these ornamental varieties apart from their culinary counterparts is their ability to thrive in even the harshest of growing conditions while requiring minimal care. They are typically drought-tolerant and are ideal for busy gardeners or for those with limited gardening experience.


There are several different types of thyme that you can choose from to enhance your culinary vegetable or herb garden. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a versatile option that is widely used in cooking. German thyme offers a unique flavor profile, while French thyme adds a touch of elegance. Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) provides a refreshing citrusy twist, while Caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona) brings a hint of caraway flavor to the table. Silver thyme (Thymus argenteus) stands out with its attractive silver foliage.

For those interested in adding beauty to their gardens or landscapes, ornamental thyme varieties are also an excellent choice. With their vibrant colors and unique textures, these varieties can be used as ground covers or in rock gardens to create eye-catching displays.

To make the most informed decision about which type of thyme is right for you, consider factors such as taste preferences and growing conditions in your area. With an extensive array of thyme varieties available, each boasting unique flavors and scents, cultivating a diverse collection of thyme in your garden ensures an exciting aromatic cooking and gardening journey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kind of thyme is best for cooking?

The best varieties of thyme to use for culinary purposes include Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and its cultivars, German thyme and French thyme, as well as lemon thyme, caraway thyme, and Italian oregano thyme.

What is the difference between French thyme and English thyme?

English thyme and French thyme are different cultivated varieties of the same species, Thymus vulgaris. English thyme (also called Common thyme) tastes more robust than French thyme which is sweeter, but English thyme can handle colder weather than French thyme (which is also known as Summer thyme).

What herbs does thyme grow well with?

Rosemary, oregano, and sage all make excellent thyme companion plants in your herb garden due to their similar growing conditions.

Can I grow thyme indoors?

Thyme can thrive indoors if provided with sufficient sunlight and well-drained soil. Consider placing it near a sunny window or using artificial grow lights.

What is the difference between thyme and lemon thyme?

Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a popular herb known for its strong earthy flavor, while lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is a variety of thyme with a subtle citrus aroma and taste, adding a refreshing lemon-like twist to dishes.

How long does it take for thyme plants to mature?

Thyme plants typically reach maturity within one to two years after planting. However, you can start harvesting thyme leaves once the plant has established itself.

Last Updated on 28 April 2024 by Bob Lee

About Bob Lee

Bob Lee is a gardening and culinary arts enthusiast currently residing in Minnesota's northern climate. He shares his 25+ years of experience on HerbGardenCooking.com where he combines practical gardening know-how with inventive cooking techniques.