AskDefine | Define thyme

Dictionary Definition



1 any of various mints of the genus Thymus
2 leaves can be used as seasoning for almost any meat and stews and stuffings and vegetables

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /taɪm/
  • Rhymes with: -aɪm



  1. Any plant of the labiate genus Thymus, such as the garden thyme, Thymus vulgaris, a warm, pungent aromatic, that is much used to give a relish to seasoning and soups.


plant of the genus Thymus
  • Arabic: (sáʕtar) , (ʂáʕtar) , (záʕtar)
  • Czech: tymián
  • Estonian: liivatee
  • Finnish: timjami (seasoning), ajuruoho (plant)
  • French: thym
  • German: Thymian
  • Ido: timiano
  • Italian: timo
  • Russian: тимьян (tim’ján) , чабрец (čabréc)
  • Slovene: timijan
  • Spanish: tomillo
  • Swedish: timjan

Extensive Definition

Thyme () is a genus of about 350 species of aromatic perennial herbaceous plants and sub-shrubs to 40 cm tall, in the family Lamiaceae and native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. A number of species have different chemotypes. The stems tend to be narrow or even wiry; the leaves are evergreen in most species, arranged in opposite pairs, oval, entire, and small, 4-20 mm long. The flowers are in dense terminal heads, with an uneven calyx, with the upper lip three-lobed, and the lower cleft; the corolla is tubular, 4-10 mm long, and white, pink or purple.
Thymus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) insect species including Chionodes distinctella and the Coleophora case-bearers C. lixella, C. niveicostella, C. serpylletorum and C. struella (the latter three feed exclusively on Thymus).


Ancient Egyptians used thyme in embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples, believing that thyme was a source of courage. It was thought that the spread of thyme throughout Europe was thanks to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to "give an aromatic flavour to cheese" and liqueurs". In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares. (Huxley 1992). In this period, women would also often give knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves as it was believed to bring courage to the bearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life.


Thyme is widely cultivated as it was grown for its strong flavour, which is due to its content of thymol..
Thyme likes a hot sunny location with good-draining soil. It is planted in the spring and thereafter grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or by dividing rooted sections of the plant. It tolerates drought well.
Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs.

Culinary use

Thyme is used most widely in cooking and provides lots of iron. Thyme is a basic ingredient in French, Greek, Italian, Persian, Spanish and Turkish cuisines, and in those derived from them. It is also widely used in Arab Lebanese and Caribbean cuisines.
Thyme is often used to flavour meats, soups and stews. It has a particular affinity to and is often used as a primary flavour with lamb, tomatoes and eggs.
Thyme, while flavourful, does not overpower and blends well with other herbs and spices. In French cuisine, along with bay and parsley it is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence. In some Middle Eastern Arab countries, the condiment za'atar (Arabic For Thyme) contains thyme as a vital ingredient.

Fresh, Powdered, and Dry

Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. While summer-seasonal, fresh thyme is often available year-round. Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters ("leaves") spaced ½ to 1" apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. If the recipe does not specify fresh or dried, assume that it means fresh. Depending on how it is used in a dish, the whole sprig may be used (e.g. in a bouquet garni), or the leaves removed and the stems discarded. Usually when a recipe specifies 'bunch' or 'sprig' it means the whole form; when it specifies spoons it means the leaves. It is perfectly acceptable to substitute dried for whole thyme. Leaves may be removed from stems either by scraping with the back of a knife, or by pulling through the fingers or tines of a fork. Leaves are often chopped.
Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs. Dried, and especially powdered thyme occupies less space than fresh, so less of it is required when substituted in a recipe. As a rule of thumb, use one third as much dried as fresh thyme - a little less if it is ground. Substitution is often more complicated than that because recipes can specify sprigs and sprigs can vary in yield of leaves. Assuming a 4" sprig (they are often somewhat longer), estimate that 6 sprigs will yield one tablespoon of leaves. The dried equivalent is 1:3, so substitute 1 teaspoon of dried or ¾ tsp of ground thyme for 6 small sprigs.
As with bay, thyme is slow to release its flavours so it is usually added early in the cooking process.

Medicinal Use

The essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is made up of 20-55% thymol. Thymol, an antiseptic, is the main active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, it was used to medicate bandages. It has also been shown to be effective against the fungus that commonly infects toenails.
A tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for cough and bronchitis. Medicinally thyme is used for respiratory infections in the form of a tincture, tisane, salve, syrup or by steam inhalation. Because it is antiseptic, thyme boiled in water and cooled is very effective against inflammation of the throat when gargled 3 times a day. The inflammation will normally disappear in 2 - 5 days. Other infections and wounds can be dripped with thyme that has been boiled in water and cooled.
In traditional Jamaican childbirth practice, thyme tea is given to the mother after delivery of the baby. Its oxytocin-like effect causes uterine contractions and more rapid delivery of the placenta but this was said by Sheila Kitzinger to cause an increased prevalence of retained placenta.

Important species

Thymus vulgaris (Common Thyme or Garden Thyme) is a commonly used culinary herb. It also has medicinal uses. Common thyme is a Mediterranean perennial which is best suited to well-drained soils and enjoys full sun.
Thymus herba-barona (Caraway Thyme) is used both as a culinary herb and a groundcover, and has a strong caraway scent due to the chemical carvone.
Thymus × citriodorus (Citrus Thyme; hybrid T. pulegioides × T. vulgaris) is also a popular culinary herb, with cultivars selected with flavours of various Citrus fruit (lemon thyme, etc.)
Thymus pseudolanuginosus (Woolly Thyme) is not a culinary herb, but is grown as a ground cover.
Thymus serpyllum (Wild Thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees. All thyme species are nectar sources, but wild thyme covers large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe (Greece is especially famous for wild thyme honey) and North Africa, as well as in similar landscapes in the Berkshire Mountains and Catskill Mountains of the northeastern US.

Various cultivars

There are a number of different cultivars of thyme with established or growing popularity, including:
  • Lemon thyme -- smells lemony
  • Variegated lemon thyme -- with bi-color leaves
  • Orange thyme -- an unusually low-growing, ground cover thyme that smells like orange
  • Creeping thyme -- the lowest-growing of the widely used thymes, good for walkways
  • Silver thyme -- white/cream variegated
  • English thyme -- the most common
  • Summer thyme -- unusually strong flavor

Thyme names

  • Mexico: Tomillo
  • France: Thym. Provence thyme is also called farigoule.
  • Arabic speaking countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria.. etc.): Za'atar
  • Poland: Tymianek


Brown's English-Telugu dictionary says that THYME is like `MARUVAM' a fragrant ground-sticking plant, used for adorning women's hair and in garlands for deities.


  • S. S. Tawfik, M. I. Abbady, Ahmed M. Zahran and A. M. K. ‎Abouelalla. Therapeutic Efficacy Attained with Thyme ‎Essential Oil Supplementation Throughout γ-irradiated ‎Rats. Egypt. J. Rad. Sci. Applic., 19(1): 1-22 (2006).‎‏ ‏‎ ‎

See also

thyme in Afrikaans: Tiemie
thyme in Arabic: زعتر
thyme in Bosnian: Majčina dušica
thyme in Bulgarian: Мащерка
thyme in Catalan: Farigola
thyme in Danish: Timian
thyme in German: Thymiane
thyme in Modern Greek (1453-): Θυμάρι
thyme in Spanish: Thymus
thyme in Esperanto: Timiano
thyme in Persian: کاکوتی
thyme in French: Thym
thyme in Armenian: Ուրց
thyme in Upper Sorbian: Babyduška
thyme in Croatian: Timijan
thyme in Italian: Thymus
thyme in Hebrew: קורנית (צמח)
thyme in Latin: Thymus (planta)
thyme in Luxembourgish: Teimerjännchen
thyme in Hungarian: Kakukkfű
thyme in Dutch: Tijm
thyme in Japanese: タイム (植物)
thyme in Norwegian: Timian
thyme in Norwegian Nynorsk: Timian
thyme in Narom: Thŷmbe
thyme in Polish: Macierzanka tymianek
thyme in Portuguese: Thymus
thyme in Romanian: Thymus
thyme in Russian: Тимьян
thyme in Slovenian: Timijan
thyme in Serbian: Мајчина душица
thyme in Finnish: Timjami
thyme in Swedish: Timjan
thyme in Turkish: Kekik
thyme in Walloon: Pilé (plante)
thyme in Chinese: 百里香属
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