Wild Thyme

Black Thyme

Some 350 species of small, evergreen, aromatic, mostly woody-based perennials and subshrubs belong to this Eurasian genus, which occurs mainly on dry grassland and calcareous soils. Many species are good garden plants, having a neat habit, fragrant foliage, and colorful flowers; their small size is ideally suited to crevices in paving, rock gardens, walls, and containers. Although tiny, the numerous flowers produce copious nectar, making thymes important as bee plants. Thymes hybridize freely in cultivation, making the taxonomy of Thymus complex, with numerous synonyms and invalid names. In common with many pleasant-smelling plants, thyme came to symbolize death, because the souls of the dead were thought to rest in the flowers; the smell of thyme has apparently been detected at several haunted sites. It is also associated with various rituals once carried out by young women to reveal their true love. Thymes vary in aroma but the majority can be used to flavor food. Most widely used are T. vulgaris, T. x citriodorus and their cultivars.. The main medicinal thymes are T. serpyllum and T. vulgaris. Much of the dried thyme and essential oil of thyme in international trade comes from Spain, where there are 37 different species of Thymus, including 24 endemic species. The main species collected are T. praecox and T pulegioides ("tomillos serpoles"), and T. baeticus, T capitatus, T. hyemalis, T. mastichina, T. orospedanus, T. serpilloides subsp. gracilis, and T. zygis subsp. zygis ("tomillos"). There is concern that the harvesting of some rarer thymes-and even the rarer ones that are collected in error-is not sustainable. In addition, the practice of uprooting whole plants causes soil erosion in fragile, arid ecosystems. All thymes are rich in volatile oil, whcih consists mainly of thymol, a powerful antiseptic. The oil varies considerably in composition between species and from plant to plant. Commercial thyme oil is largely derived from T. zygis (Spanish sauce thyme), a white-flowered species found only in Spain and Portugal. Oil from T. serpyllum (sometimes known as serpolet oil) differs from T. vulgaris in being lower in carvacol and higher in linalol and cymol, and thus having a sedative effect. Red and white thyme oil refer to the color of the oil, which turns red when oxidized by contact with metal, but remains clear otherwise. Thymus is the original Greek name, which was used by Theophrastus for both thyme and savory (Satureja, See, Savory).

Variable, prostrate, mat-forming subshrub with slender, creeping stems, and elliptic-ovate, hairy leaves, 4-8mm (1/8-⅜in) long. Rounded clusters of pink to purple flowers appear in summer.

Common Name:
Black Thyme
Other Names:
Creeping Thyme, Creeping Wild Thyme, Garden Thyme, Mother of Thyme, Mountain Thyme. Wild Thyme
Botanical Name:
Thymus serpyllum
Native Location:
N Europe
Well-drained soil in sun. Most thymes prefer neutral to alkaline soil and thrive in stony or rocky situations. Thymes dislike wet winters, and benefit from a layer of gravel to protect the foliage from contact with wet soil. In autumn remove fallen leaves that settle on thyme plants as these may cause rotting. Trim lightly after flowering and remove dead flower heads to encourage bushiness. Remove green shoots of variegated cultivars to maintain variegation. In areas with cold, damp winters, T. camphoratus is best grown in an alpine house. Thymus vulgaris is used in companion planting to control flea beetles, cabbage white butterflies, and other cabbage pests.
By seed sown in spring (species only); by softwood or semi-ripe cuttings in summer; by division in spring.
Whole plants and flowering tops are collected in summer, as flowering begins, and distilled for oil, or dried for elixirs, liquid extracts, and infusions. Sprigs are picked during the growing season and used fresh, or dried for infusions.
Var. albus
Has white flowers.
Annie Hall
Has light green leaves and pale pink flowers.
Var. coccineus
(Red-flowered Thyme)

Has bright magenta flowers.
Forms a hummock of minute, glossy, rounded leaves, with magenta-pink flowers. Shy flowering.
Height: 5cm (2in)
Width: 10-20cm (4-8in)
Is vigorous, with variegated gold and light green leaves, and lilac flowers.
Lemon Curd
Has lemon-scented leaves and mauve-pink flowers.
Is compact, with lanceolate leaves, to 4mm (1/8in) long, and pink flowers.
Height: 5cm (2in)
Width: 10cm (4in)
Syn. Minus

Is slow-growing and compact, with tiny leaves and pink flowers.
Height: 1cm (½in)
Width: 60cm (24in)
Pink Chintz
Is vigorous, with gray-green hairy leaves, and flesh-pink flowers. Discovered as a seedling at the Royal Horticultural Society's garden, Wisely, England in 1939.
Height: 1-7cm (½-3in)
Width: 60cm (24in)
Rainbow Falls
Forms a loose mat, with long stems, gold-variegated, red-flushed leaves and mauve flowers.
Has dark, bronze-tinted foliage and deep pink flowers.
Has pale green leaves and numerous pure white flowers.
Is compact, with upright heads of dark-budded, salmon-pink flowers.
Height: 1-7cm (½-3in)
Width: 45cm (18in)
1-7cm (½-3in)
1m (3ft)
Common thyme and wild thyme—often used interchangeably and referred to simply as "thyme"—have been celebrated in medicine and myth for over 2,000 years. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans used thyme to treat indigestion, hangovers, insect bites, and "melancholy". The ancients also burned thyme as a sacred offering to their gods, and as an insect repellent. In fact, many scholars believe thyme's genus name is originally from the ancient Greek word for "fumigate". However, thyme was also strongly associated with courage and strength—Roman soldiers commonly bathed in a thyme herbal bath before going out to battle—and the herb's Latin name is most likely from the Greek thumos, for "bravery". Thyme's symbolic association with bravery carried through to the Middle Ages. Medieval ladies at court traditionally embroidered special scarves with a sprig of thyme and then gave the scarves to their knights before the men left for war. The ancient Egyptians used thyme in their embalming fluids, and since then thyme has been additionally linked to death and spirits. In Britain, thyme was the major ingredient in a magical potion that allowed the user to see elves and fairies. Another strongly held folk belief was that thyme "inhabited" the souls of those who had been murdered or who had met a violent death; many people claimed you could smell the scent of thyme wherever those poor souls had met their demise. Some people still believe that growing thyme indoors invites illness or death into the family.
Parts Used:
Whole Plant, Leaves, oil
An aromatic, sedative herb that is diuretic and expectorant, reduces spasms, and improves digestion. It is strongly antiseptic and promotes healing.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for bronchitis, mucus, sinusitis, whooping cough, laryngitis, flatulent indigestion, painful menstruation, colic and hangovers. Effective in treating alcoholism. Externally for minor injuries, mastitis, sciatica, rheumatism, and mouth, gum and throat infections. Combine with Marrubium vulgare (See, Horehound) and Prunus serotina (See, Wild Black Cherry) for whooping cough; and with astringent herbs, such as Commiphora myrrha (See, Myrrh) and Rubus idaeus (See, Raspberry) for throat infections. Source of serpolet oil, which has similar effects to thyme oil (from T. vulgaris), used in aromatherapy for stress-related conditions.
Common and wild thyme have antiseptic, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, warming, stomach-soothing, and sweat-promoting properties. Common thyme also has antidepressant and antifungal actions, and wild thyme is taken internally for asthma, bronchitis, coughs, colic, gastritis, headaches (especially tension headaches), indigestion, laryngitis, muscle pain and spasms, and whooping cough. Common thyme is also taken internally to treat depression, diarrhea, and enuresis (bed-wetting); wild thyme is used internally for alcohol or drug withdrawal, anxiety, hangovers, insomnia, painful menstrual periods, and stress. Both common and wild thyme may be used externally—in creams, gargles, or oils—to treat arthritic and rheumatic pain and swelling, bruises, gingivitis (gum disease), minor skin infections and wounds, muscle aches and strains, and sore throats. The oil extracted from common thyme may also be used externally to remove warts.
Common and wild thyme are available as dried herb and in capsules, oils, teas, and tinctures. To make a tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb and steep for 10 minutes. Strain, and drink up to 2 cups a day. For tension headaches, allow tea to cool completely.
Culinary Uses:
Leaves may be used as for T. vulgaris in cooking.
Do not take common or wild thyme medicinally if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. Use thyme oil with caution. It can irritate the skin and mucous membranes and may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Contraindicated during pregnancy.
Oil may cause allergic reactions.
The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pg 387, 389-390
The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke Copyright©2000 Yankee Publishing, Inc. pp127-128