What Does Thyme Look Like? Expanding Your Culinary Skills

Green thyme in a bowl on boards

If there is one thing that foodies and adventurous cooks love to do, it is to try out new flavors. When it comes to expanding your taste buds, one of the best things you can do is to experiment new herbs and spices. Since thyme is a kitchen game changer, it should be on your list.

Thyme is best used fresh, but because of all the green herbs available in the market, it can be very difficult to identify. Don’t worry, you’re not the one who has had the idea of making ordinary dishes pop with fresh thyme and you are certainly not the first one who has been having a hard time looking for it.

So what does thyme look like? Either you know you’ve got thyme growing somewhere in the garden or you want to look for it in the supermarket, I’m here to help. Here’s what you need to consider when looking for fresh thyme.

What Does Thyme Look Like?

Close-up of thyme

Thyme is a perennial evergreen shrub. Its leaves are typically green, but some varieties have gray-colored leaves. This plant is able to produce nutlet fruits as well as two-lipped flowers which are either purple or pink. A great way to tell it apart from other small plants is that thyme is entirely aromatic.

Thyme is a member of the mint family; this is why it has the appearance of a woody, low growing herb. And just like mint, its leaves are the ones that contain most of the flavor and aroma. The small leaves are the ones used to enhance the taste of meats and a wide array of dishes.

This plant can be easily mistaken for weeds since most of its varieties will spread out of the ground when it grows. Some varieties of thyme also have pointed leaves that grow on long stems that shoot upward; this is why it can easily be mistaken for rosemary or for other similar herbs.

The Most Popular Varieties Of Thyme

There are as much as 400 varieties of thyme. The most common one is the creeping thyme; this variety is regarded as the mother of all thymes. This variety however, is commonly used as a lawn substitute. When it comes to culinary use, the English, German and French thyme varieties are more popular.



English thyme

English thyme

The English thyme has a reddish stem and leaves that are oval in shape. The leaves of the English thyme also have pointed ends. Its taste as well as its aroma is much similar to the German thyme. But since it does not contain much of essential oil, it has a milder taste and scent.

​French thyme

​French thyme

The French thyme on the other hand has pointier leaves and it also has reddish stems just like the English thyme. The main difference is that it grows slower than the other varieties. The French thyme grows better in pots rather than in gardens, I highly recommended it when cooking French dishes.

German thyme

The German thyme is the most common variety and it is widely used in making bouquet garni. It has small rounded leaves which are green in color. Its stems are also green which typically grows upwards instead of spreading on the ground. Since it contains more essential oil, it is said to have bolder flavors.

How To Differentiate Thyme From Other Plants

smell thyme and basil plant

Aside from its appearance, you can identify thyme by its flavor and aroma. Although it can be easily mistaken for rosemary because this herb also has small, pointy leaves as well as a distinct flavor and aroma, thyme has a gentler profile. Unlike rosemary, it is not pungent and has a light earthy flavor.

Another way of differentiating thyme from other plants is by picking up the plant and smelling its leaves, stem and flowers. Since thyme is entirely aromatic, it can easily stand out from plants that smell like ordinary grass. Bees also love to go near thyme but mosquitoes and other insects are repelled by it.


Thymus serpyllum

Thyme can be very hard to spot when it grows unexpectedly in your garden or if you plan on finding it as you forage outdoors. But you have to keep in mind that fresh thyme is way more flavorful and aromatic than dried thyme. This is why it is never a waste of effort if you try to harvest or buy them fresh.

Thyme is a low growing shrub with stems that will either spread out on the ground or grow upwards. The stem is either reddish or green and its small, green leaves are oval in shape with either rounded or pointed ends. It can also be easily mistaken for rosemary or for ordinary weeds growing in your garden.

This plant can also bring forth small, two-lipped flowers as well as tiny fruits. Aside from its appearance, you can differentiate thyme from other plants through its aroma. The entire thyme plant provides a gentle scent that you can clearly distinguish from other herbs, grasses or shrubs.

Thyme can add a lot of flavor to your dishes. It is the main ingredient in most bouquet garni, in the French herbes de Provence and the expensive Benedictine liqueur. If you really want to expand your palate and cooking skills, I highly suggest that you try finding fresh ones for your enjoyment.

Do you have thyme growing in your garden? Tell us more about how it looks like in the comment section.

About the Author Emily Taylor

My name is Emily Taylor, gardening is my passion and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. I know that there are millions of people out there want their backyard and garden be attractive just like their front yard, so I am here to help you create your own backyard paradise.

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