Mother of thyme, or Thymus praecox Opiz, is a perennial shrubby culinary herb from the mint family. Foliage is dense and mat-forming, making mother of thyme suitable for use as a ground cover, in borders, or combined with other plantings in containers. Mother of thyme prefers full sun, well-drained soil, and is drought tolerant. This herb is native to Asia, Europe, and Africa, but is planted in gardens in temperate climates worldwide.
Average height for mother of thyme is around 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm). There are two varieties of thyme: low-growing creeping thyme and bush thyme, which reaches around 12 inches (30 cm) in height. Mother of thyme is of the creeping variety and will spread to around 24 inches (61 cm). It is not considered invasive.
Thyme foliage is made up of tiny, aromatic green leaves that reach about a quarter of an inch (6 mm) in length. The woody stems are tough and should be discarded before using in cooking. In summer, mother of thyme produces small purplish or pink flowers.
Despite its fragile appearance, this vigorous herb does best in average soil. In fact, too much fertilizer or water can harm the plant by making it grow too quickly, risking damage from winter freezes. The plant does well in rock gardens and can tolerate some foot traffic, although it may not tolerate it as much as other thyme varieties. The herb may be propagated from cuttings or divisions.
Thyme is resistant to deer and rabbit, plant diseases, and insects. Gardeners plant it near cabbage to repel white cabbage moths. It is hardy to temperatures as low as -20°F (-29°C), and in milder climates is evergreen through much of the winter.
To retain best growth and flavor, the dead stems should be pruned back in the spring to where the new growth begins. Additionally, as mother of thyme grows the center may lose its leaves and appear dead. Every three to four years as needed, the plant may be dug up in the spring and divided to maintain a healthier appearance. After division, soil should be kept moist until a new root system is established.
Thyme leaves are used as a flavoring for meats, stews, and vegetable dishes. Its leaves may be used for tea or dried and used in fragrant sachets. The herb also has been used medicinally for at least 5,000 years.