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Thymus vulgaris L.

Family : Labiatae


The common English or French thyme (Thymus vulgaris), a native of south-central Europe, is widely cultivated in France, Germany, and Spain for the leaves and essential oil that is used in medicine. It is a favourite culinary and hedging herb in gardens, with numerous decorative and variegated forms. Thyme was used by the ancient Greeks as medicinal herb and by the Romans to flavour some food items. It was often associated with courage and sacrifice.


Thyme is an aromatic, small shrub-like perennial growing 30 to 45 cm in height. It has gnarled thin, square stems, woody at the base and small, about 0.5 cm in length, grayish green, elliptical and very narrow leaves. The flowers are small, lilac or white and fragrant.


Thyme is best propagated from seeds sown early indoors or under glass in an outdoor bed. When 5 to 8 cm high, the young plants are set at intervals of 30 to 45 cm in rows 45 cm apart. A few plants set in a permanent flower bed will be ornamental and also furnish herb enough for flavoring purposes. New plants should be started every 3 or 4 years, as the old plants become too woody to produce tender leaves for culinary use. New plants may be started by sowing seeds or by planting cuttings or by layering the old plants as described earlier. Thyme will do best in a well-drained sunny location. When the plants are in bloom, 12 to 15 cm of the flowering tops should be cut with clippers or a sharp knife. Sometimes two or more crops can be harvested the same season. The flowering tops should be spread on a fine screen or newspaper in a well-ventilated room to dry. After thorough drying, the leaves and flowering tops should be stripped from the stems and stored in a closed container.

Thyme contains 0.8 - 2.0% volatile oil of which the main component is thymol. Other major components are p-cymene and d-linalool. Appreciable amounts of camphene, g-terpinene and carvacrol are also reported.

Culinary, medicinal and other use

Thyme is a widely used herb. The leaves, usually blended with other herbs, may be used in meats, poultry stuffings, gravies, soups, egg dishes, cheese etc. Thyme oils are used in some processed meats and some sauce and prepared foods applications. Leaves make a tonic and stimulating tea, used to treat digestive complaints and respiratory disorders. Antiseptic and vermifuge essential oil (thymol) is added to disinfectants, toothpaste, perfumes, toiletries and liqueurs.


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