What is Acinos?

Marjorie McAtee

Acinos, or alpine calamint, is a perennial plant related to thyme. Acinos is considered easy to grow and can even be called an evergreen in climates where the winter season is mild. It is a low-growing, flowering plant with dark green leaves and purple to pink flowers with white markings. It is typically grown in rock gardens. Acinos generally thrives when planted in well-draining soil and allowed full sun to partial shade.

Rue, which has been used for years in herbal medicine, is often planted alongside acinos.
Rue, which has been used for years in herbal medicine, is often planted alongside acinos.

Alpine calamint is a popular rock garden plant. It is alpine in origin and generally found widely in Europe. Acinos is a woody, low-growing plant that forms mounds. It usually grows to a height of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm), and should typically be placed about 6 to 9 inches (15 to 22 cm) apart in the garden to allow it plenty of growing room.

These plants typically need full sun to partial shade, and like well-draining soil, though they aren't considered terribly partial about soil type or quality. Acinos can generally do well in all types of soil, including gravelly or rocky soil. It is believed able to tolerate drought very well, although, ideally, it prefers regular watering.

Acinos plants usually produce small, aromatic, elliptical or rounded, dark green leaves. These leaves may or may not be toothed. Flowers are generally small, spike-like, and purple to purplish-pink in color. In midsummer, the flowers may have white markings. Acinos may begin to bloom in late spring and continue to bloom all summer long until the early autumn.

The aromatic leaves and flowers of the alpine calamint are usually attractive to butterflies and bees. Rock or alpine gardeners are generally advised to plant herbs such as rosemary, hyssop, and rue alongside acinos. Acinos plants can be propagated by dividing and replanting the original root ball to create more plants. They can also be propagated directly from seed. Seeds should ideally be planted in late spring after the last frost.

Aside from its ornamental use as a garden plant, acinos can also be eaten. In fact, one of its alternative names is mountain basil thyme. Acinos is said to have a flavor similar to that of thyme, but milder. The leaves are said to complement game when used as a spice, and can also be eaten fresh in a salad.

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