Arbor Gate's Picks
of the Month

German Winter Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

December 8, 2016 Back to Picks >

The Arbor Gate’s monthly ‘Herb Picks’ for 2014 honor the memory of Madalene Hill and celebrate her pioneering work in bringing herbs to all the gardeners of the Gulf South (and beyond). Each month’s herb is closely associated with Madalene.

February 2014 marks the fifth anniversary of the dedication of the Madalene Hill Herb Garden at The Arbor Gate.

She was our teacher, mentor, and friend.

German Winter Thyme is one of several in the genus Thymus vulgaris, also known as “common” or “garden” thyme. These thymes are native from the western Mediterranean to Southeastern Italy, and are normally used in cooking, though the essential oil is also antibacterial and antifungal. Thymus vulgaris has wide variations, often unrelated to the numerous cultivar names. Individual plants exhibit a wide range of growth habits, leaf sizes, leaf colors, and scents. Even more confusing, Narrow-leaf French, French Summer, or Greek Gray may be offered as German Winter Thyme.

All thymes demand well-drained garden soil and full sun. Early spring pruning that removes one half to one third of the stems is beneficial. This pruning helps reduce the amount of dead wood on the plant, and the more old wood, the shorter the life of the thyme plant, as woody thyme plants are susceptible to the cold in a hard winter. A woody thyme plant, however, will not be able to survive harder pruning than specified above.

One of the highly valued upright thymes, German Winter is known for its pungency, which it shares with the better-known English and French varieties. All are quite sturdy in our mild Zone 8 winters, though they often decline during the summer’s heat.

Providing sufficient water helps all thymes survive our hot months, though drainage must be outstanding, and it’s best not to water the leaves. A soaker hose near the roots and under a layer of mulch seems to work quite well. As with all thymes, German Winter Thyme thrives on use, so take sprigs frequently and the little stems will branch and provide fresh leaves continuously.

This particular thyme was one of Madalene’s favorite culinary thymes. It’s upright habit makes harvesting convenient, it can be successfully grown in our region, it is a beautiful herb, and it adds much flavor to the pot!