Some similarities to : Selfheal (when flower heads viewed hastily from above) but wild thyme has flowers that are much more mauve than the dark-blue of Selfheal.
Easily mistaken for :
Breckland Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) but that is quite rare and grows only in Breckland, in Norfolk and very few other places.
Not to be confused semantically with Thyme Broomrape,
Thyme-leaved Speedwell, T
Basil Thyme, or
Thyme-Moss [plants of similar names belonging to differing genera or families]
Could be mistaken for :
Garden Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a cultivar that grows wild in a few widely scattered places and is larger than Wild Thyme, with larger and grey-green leaves and paler flowers. Large Thyme (Thymus pulegioides) is much taller at up to 25cm and more strongly aromatic than Wild Thyme; has hairs on the two sharper-angled sides of the squarish stems and has flowers in longer heads..
The lilac/pink flowers, in particular the prominent large lip bearing three lobes, has the same general shape (and colour) as that of the flowers of Pyramidal Orchid, but other than that, there can be no mistaking the two. Indeed, it is the three parallel-sided lobes set at about 60° to each other that is one of the identifying features of Wild Thyme.
Wild Thyme is an under-shrub with mats of both non-flowering but rooting stems bearing leaves, and short flowering stems bearing over a dozen flowers each. The outer flowers of each flowering stem open up first, initially leaving a disc of un-opened flower buds in the middle. Un-opened flowers show a deeper purple flower within a beetroot coloured ring of sepal teeth. They will all eventually open.
The plant likes to grow in lowish mountain places especially on lime or chalk, but also grows in dry grassy places and dry heaths and dunes.
There seems to be great confusion over its scientific name, some calling it Thymus praecox, others calling it Thymus serphyllum (the scientific name for
Breckland Thyme!, and yet others declaring it to variously be Thymus polytrichus ssp. britannicus, Thymus praecox ssp. brittanicus and Thymus polytrichus ssp. ligusticus. Even Clive Stace is confused. Despite this profusion of scientific names, there are no hybrids of Wild Thyme.
Wild Thyme is a very low plant apt to form carpets partly covering limestone grassland in patches. When crushed between the fingers has an unmistakable smell of
Garden Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) due to the presence of
thymol, a monoterpene and also to carvacrol, an isomer of thymol. Both are also present in Oregano and in Wild Bergamot, which are also members of the mint family. Both inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould and kill fungal spores. Thymol has been used to control varroa mite in bee colonies.
Wild Thyme can be used instead of garden thyme when cooking.