Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Herb of the Week - Thyme, English, German and French

Okay I am cheating today.  I have another blog ( where I am posting the planting, maintaining, harvesting and creating that can be done with a 20 x20 Community Garden patch.

I have my patch and the blog is a discussion of my joys and sorrows of this endeavor which I hope will inspire others to get a community plot or till up a small patch in  the backyard.

Today (Wednesday) I posted a how to on making a raised bed.  I created a raised bed for the thyme in the Community Patch.  so now I am going to give a few details about three of the plants in that bed.

English Thyme, German Thyme and French Thyme - What's the difference?

 According to some English and German are the same. However, they are not really.  They are at best sub- species which developed originally due to climate differences in these three locations.  All are considered Thymus vulgaris which is Thyme.

Now I am having camera issues so these were the best I can do, but the German and the English are next to each other and by golly they do look similar to me.

German on the left, English on the right

However if you look more closely, you will see that the English thyme has a red stem and the German does not.  I think the scent and flavor are the same, however. You will have to take my word for that.

German Thyme  has tiny leaves when compared to Common thyme.  But the leaves are packed with more aromatic oils than many larger-leaved varieties. Also called winter thyme because it’s one of the most cold hardy thymes, it is an upright grower.  So right now these look similar, but soon the German will be branching skyward while the English will be spreading sideways.

Here is a close up of German Thyme:

slightly rounded leaf but not as round a common thyme

Here is Common Thyme
Common thyme has a rounded leaf. and bushy habit and an upright style of growth.  

However the English thyme has a decidedly pointed leaf.  That is obvious even in these photos.  English Thyme is a smaller low growing plant with tiny leaves and an intense flavor. Essential in chowders, and delicious sprinkled on potatoes for roasting. One of the best thymes for culinary use which is why I grow it.

Here is English thyme close up:
not like common thyme!

Now let's look at French Thyme

French Thyme is another culinary thyme, but it originated in the Provence region of  France and is the thyme used in Herbs De Provence and in other French dishes.  The flavor is kin to Common thyme but a bit more musky.  The leaves on this plant are pointed rather than rounded and the stem has a reddish color.  This is not as hardy as English Thyme and is a slower grower, so it is perfect in containers.  French Thyme is one of the thyme plants that did not make it through last winter in my herb garden.

French is on the far right, Lemon thyme is on the left
Here is a close up:
French thyme
The big difference between each of these Thyme plants is not so much the flavor or the look, but rather the hardiness.  There are subtle differences in flavor which is why I like to use the English in my vinegar and the German fresh in cooking.  The French is perfect dried and does not lose as much flavor in the drying process as other more round leaf thymes tend to.

Which ever thyme you choose, try this blend.

1 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoons whole white peppercorns
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender flowers

Pinch of savory 

Place the pepper and herbs in a food processor and grind to a powder.  Use as a meat rub, sauce seasoning, or blend 1 Tbls with lemon juice and oil to make a vinaigrette.

Which one should you grow?  Only you will know.  However, if people do have a preference, I'd love to hear about it.


  1. Thank you for this post. I've planted both "English" and "Common" Thyme seeds this past week and was wondering if there was really any difference !

  2. How funny to find out that my "winter" and my German thyme are the same thing. I thought they looked identical, but wasn't sure. It is proving hardy for me, and is indeed staying a nice upright rounded plant, spreading slowing outward in a circular fashion. I think it is a nice plant just to have since the deer do not eat it. It looks nice most the year and has pretty little flowers that the bees love.

  3. This year several local nurseries have been selling English thyme as common thyme. I have no idea why, but it has the obvious pointed, not rounded leaves.

  4. Thx for the info. I planted an unknown (well, forgotten) thyme last year. It struggled, gave up prematurely in late summer, and failed to find its strong inner self this winter. Its remains have been moved to a better place.

    This year the choice for replacement was German thyme, although what I really wanted was Spanish thyme, because in the commercial world of spices nothing beats its complexity of flavors.

    Your post gave me hope of achieving similar results.

    Also I think I shall move it to a sunnier location.

  5. What an informative post!!! Thank you Very Much...I was posed with a choice when I noticed there was English thyme and German thyme to chose from for purchase locally. Now I know what the differences are and am grateful for the knowledge ahead of purchasing and planting!!!!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing the apparent differences clearly and without any possible confusion.The photos are obviously good tools also. Quite helpful indeed.

  7. I have had a common thyme plant in a 5 gallon container for five years now, a Lemon thyme, and yesterday, I planted a German thyme, into a 15 gallon container. Here in San Diego, we have thyme all year. I find having fresh thyme, basil, rosemary, Mexican tarragon, chives to be essential in our kitchen. Making compost to feed your herbs, elevates the flavor. You can create compost easily enough a 5 gallon bucket, once you are making compost, toss some earthworms into your compost. Feed your plants a handful of compost in early spring. In my experience, I have read that herbs will grow in poor soil. Yes, however, they will not have as much flavor. Thyme seems to love water, and then, to be allowed to dry out before watering again. Our lemon thyme prefers to be kept a bit drier than, our common thyme does, in terms of, being at it's highest level of flavor. I am anxious to use the new German Thyme, I planted yesterday. This morning, the plant is reaching for the sky so, I'm guessing that it's a happy plant.

  8. My German thyme is winter hardy in Ft. Wayne, IN but lemon thyme is not. Results for English thyme is ok - not reliably winter-hardy. Rosemary survives potted in glacial cold of my kitchen with huge north-facing patio door.

  9. Which thyme can best withstand Florida's (zone 9b) summer heat and fall salty winds?

    1. My guess would be English thyme as the narrower leaves would not loose too much moisture in the heat. However, having never grown herbs in Florida, I could be wrong.


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