Thyme is one of the easiest growing culinary herbs in our gardens. But did you know there are several hundred cultivators (or varieties) of thyme?
Many different thyme varieties have been developed with specific flavors, aesthetics, and growth habits. When deciding what type to grow, consider how you want to use it in recipes or the garden.
- Do you want to season meat dishes or desserts?
- Are you looking for a little silver or gold color in your herb garden?
- Do you want to replace some of your grass lawn with a more drought-tolerant and fragrant ground cover?
Read on to find a thyme that will work well for you.
14 Varieties of Thyme
Thyme is one of the most popular herbs in culinary circles. It’s easy to grow nature also makes it a favorite in the ornamental garden.
While there are hundreds of varieties to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to the most common and the ones that you are more likely to find in a garden center or seed catalogs.
Culinary Thyme Varieties
These thyme varieties are grown for culinary use, though some are also used as ornamentals since they have large clusters of white, pink, or purple flowers.
Culinary thyme is an excellent addition to vegetable gardens to attract pollinators. Both bees and butterflies are attracted to the abundant blooms.
1. Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.)
As you might guess, common thyme is the most widely used culinary thyme. Common thyme grows well in most climates, ranging from zones 3 to 8. Here in zone 4/5 it overwinters reliably and spreads fast.
The leaves will have a sharper flavor and paler, narrower form when grown at the warmer end of its range.
Thyme also has many health benefits. In her Complete Book of Herbs and Spices Sarah Garland says that when steeped into tea, it can help aid digestion; infused into oil, it makes an antiseptic rub. Thyme tea may also help to ease headaches and soothe the nerves.
Common thyme grows 8-12 inches high and has white or pale lilac flowers. This type is also sometimes called garden or English thyme.
2. Caraway Thyme (T. herba-barona)
Caraway thyme is a low-growing (6″) thyme with narrow green leaves and light pink flowers.
This variety of thyme was traditionally used to flavor barons of beef, a large top round roast. Caraway thyme is hardy in zones 4-8.
3. French Thyme/Summer Thyme (T. vulgaris narrow-leaf French)
French thyme is closely related to common thyme but less hardy and may be better grown as an annual north of zone 6. It is also said to be milder and sweeter in flavor.
It is a popular choice for chefs and grows up to twelve inches with a more compact growing habit than common thyme.
4. Golden Lemon Thyme (T. citriodorus v. “aureus”)
Golden lemon thyme resembles lemon thyme in most ways, but it has golden foliage as the name suggests. This variety is suitable for cooking but also makes an attractive ornamental. It has been reported to be hardy as far north as Zone 4a.
5. German Thyme
German thyme is the cold-hardy equivalent of common thyme. Due to its frost-friendly nature, it is sometimes referred to as winter thyme. It has smaller evergreen leaves and thin stems. German thyme has a robust flavor and is one of the more widely used culinary varieties.
6. Lemon Thyme (T. x citriodorus)
Lemon thyme has a lemony, citrus scent and is especially recommended for flavoring fish dishes, poultry, creamy sauces, and some desserts. Lemon thyme grows well in most growing zones. It has pink flowers and it grows between 6 and 12 inches tall.
7. Orange Balsam Thyme (T. vulgaris “Orange Balsam“)
Orange thyme has—you guessed it—orange-scented leaves. It grows between 4 and 12 inches high and has tiny gray-green leaves and pale pink flowers. The Missouri Botanical Garden says its flavor is much better fresh than dried. It grows well in zones 5-8.
8. Orangelo Thyme
This is a newer orange-flavored variety and grows up to 2 feet tall. Burpee Seeds recommends it for culinary use either fresh or dried.
9. Silver Queen Thyme (T. x citriodorus v. “Silver Queen”)
Silver Queen is another lemon thyme, good in tea and cooking. It has, as you might guess, silver-edged leaves. Silver Queen thyme stays short, 3-12″ high. It grows in zones 5-8 and has pale lilac flowers.
10. Summer Thyme (see French thyme)
Summer thyme is also known as French thyme. It has a narrower leaf than the English variety and is less hardy so the northern climates may choose to grow it as an annual.
Ornamental Varieties of Thyme
These thymes are usually grown as ornamentals or ground covers.
11. Creeping Thyme (T. serpyllum)
As its name suggests, Creeping Thyme is a flat ground-hugging plant usually no more than 3″ high. Its tiny leaves are bluish-green and hairy, and its blossoms are deep pink.
It is often used in paths and lawns as it stands up well to foot traffic. It grows well from zone 8 in the south to zone 4 or 5 in the north.
12. Minus (T. praecox “Minus”)
Minus is a miniature variety of thyme, growing only to 6″ high. Its showy light-pink flowers are attractive to butterflies. Minus grows well in zones 4-8.
13. Mother of Thyme (see creeping thyme)
Mother of thyme is one of the common names used for creeping or wild thyme. It has a low-growing habit and is often found growing in rock gardens or along walkways.
14. Wooly Thyme, (T. pseudolanuginosus)
Wooly thyme has tiny grayish leaves and small pink flowers. As the name suggests, leaves and stems are wooly. It’s a flat creeping variety, not usually growing above 3 inches tall.
Common Questions About Thyme
Are All Types Of Thyme Edible?
According to the Perdue Aromatic and Plants index, all species of Thymus vulgaris L. and Thymus serpyllum are classified as safe to use as culinary herbs or in essential oils. All the varieties we’ve listed here can be used to add flavor to your favorite recipes, although some are stronger and more aromatic than others.
How Many Varieties of Thyme Are There?
Over 300 species of thyme have been identified with many other hybrids and subspecies that have adapted to different growing regions. The most popular in culinary circles are English and French thyme.
Which Varieties Are Best For Ground Cover?
Both creeping thyme and wooly thyme are commonly used for ground covers.
Creeping thyme is tougher and better able to resist foot traffic. The common thyme that has escaped into my lawn stands up to foot traffic pretty well too.
One master gardener recommends lemon thyme as a ground cover, partly because it blooms less prolifically. If you want to add a scented walkway to your garden, don’t miss our article on using herbs as groundcovers.
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. Both varieties will be more fragrant and have higher concentrations of oil if they are grown in warm, dry places.
Thyme’s many varieties offer the gardener a wide range of fragrances, flavors, looks, and growth habits.
There are so many interesting types of thyme; it can be hard to choose just one. But no matter which one you choose, don’t miss out on this easy-growing herb, and be sure to find a place for thyme in your garden this year.