Thymus is native throughout Europe and much of Asia, from Scandinavia in the north and the Iberian Peninsula in the south west, including the islands, eastwards through western and central Europe, the Mediterranean countries, including north west Africa north of the Sahara, Turkey, Russia, Mongolia and Japan and as far south as the Himalaya. Thymus belongs to the family Lamiaceae and there are around 250 species and subspecies and over 300 cultivars.  Not all thymes are hardy in the UK and these need winter protection.

Opinion is divided as to the origin of the name Thymus.  Dioscorides used the name thymon for this herb.  Some authors consider the name to derive from the Greek thyo, to scent, others that it derives from the Greek thymos, or thumus, meaning courage or strength.

The Romans took thyme to the countries they conquered in northern Europe, including T. vulgaris, which is native to the Mediterranean region.  Thyme has been used in cooking, medicinally as an antiseptic and for coughs and chest conditions, in pot pourri and as an aromatic strewing herb.  Parkinson in Theatrum Botanicum in 1640, described Guilded or Embroidered Thyme, with green leaves, striped or edged with gold.  There are many references to thyme in literature; Oberon in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, says "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows."


Updated April 2010