Although thyme and sage are well-known culinary herbs, each has unique features, uses, and benefits. Learn what they have in common and what makes them stand out.
Sage and thyme are popular among people who like growing and using herbs. They are aromatic with distinct scents and flavors, making them easily identified.
Alongside Rosemary and Parsley, they are mentioned in the refrain of the famous song "Scarborough Fair" by Simon & Garfunkel.
But can you use them interchangeably or in other than culinary applications?
This tutorial explains their differences and similarities, so you can decide how best to use them.
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Plant type: Is thyme and sage the same thing?
Both are aromatic perennial evergreen herbs from the same mint family Lamiaceae.
They are native to the Mediterranean, though naturalized in many places worldwide.
Sage (Salvia Officinalis), also known as common sage or garden sage. As its binary name, "officinalis," suggests, it is a herb with medicinal uses (the officina was the traditional storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored) (1)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the most common species of the genus Thymus; however, there are several thyme species commonly used as well, such as lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) or wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum). People often confuse thyme with oregano.
Appearance: Can you tell the difference?
Differences between sage and thyme start with their appearance.
Thyme plants have thin and sometimes wiry stems, while sage stems are usually woody. Thyme has small oval-shaped leaves that stay green all year round, while sage leaves are grayish and larger with a rough and wrinkled texture. Both sage and thyme leaves are aromatic, but sage has a stronger and more distinct scent.
Flowers of thyme develop in dense clusters with tiny blooms, while sage flowers are larger and range in color from blue to purplish.
Thyme plants come in different varieties. Thymus vulgaris has small white flowers. On the other hand, the Thymus serpyllum wild variety has beautiful purple flowers.
Both herbs have distinct aromatic profiles. Sage has a strong and pungent scent that is similar to mint, as they belong to the same family. It is known for its intense and robust fragrance that can be described as herbal and savory.
Thyme, on the other hand, has a more delicate and subtle scent. Its aroma is often described as herbaceous, with a combination of mint, citrus, and floral notes. While sage has a powerful and distinct scent, thyme offers a gentler and more nuanced fragrance.
Taste: Does thyme taste like sage?
Sage has a unique and distinct taste that is easy to distinguish from anything else. The flavor of sage can be compared to pine, with a slight bitterness that some people say reminds them of lemon.
Conversely, thyme has a more subtle taste with hints of mint, citrus, and subtle earthiness. Its flavor is herbaceous and slightly floral. It adds depth and complexity to recipes without overpowering other ingredients. While sage offers a bold and pronounced taste, thyme provides a delicate and versatile flavor that can complement a wide range of dishes.
Culinary uses: What do you use sage and thyme in cooking?
They are versatile herbs frequently used in cooking. Whether separately or combined, they create delicious dishes as they complement each other nicely.
While thyme is often used to rub steak or chicken, sage shines in recipes with sauces or marinades, where it can release its flavors. My favorite dishes with are Sage and Butter Sauce for Pasta or Butternut Squash Soup with Sage, which allows its unique flavors to enhance the overall taste.
You can also use sage and thyme together in recipes like herb-roasted vegetables or meat stuffing.
Keep in mind that fresh sage has more flavor compared to dried sage.
What is a good substitute for sage?
A good substitute for sage in cooking is dried or fresh thyme. When using it as a substitute, start with a smaller amount and adjust to taste, as its flavor can be slightly milder than sage. For each half of the tablespoon of sage, use one tablespoon of thyme.
It works vice versa; if you need a substitute for thyme, sage might be a good alternative but in smaller quantities.
Other possible substitutes for sage include marjoram or rosemary, depending on the specific recipe and desired flavor profile.
Best Sage and Thyme Recipes
To inspire you, I found this Easy Roasted Chicken Breast Recipe with Sage and Thyme, which is of the easiest and most flavorful chicken dishes.
Combining these two herbs creates a delightful and flavorful blend that enhances the taste of the chicken. The direction starts with removing the chicken skin and seasoning the chicken with a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and thyme on both sides. Next, heat a skillet and sauté the chicken for approximately 3 minutes on each side until it forms a nice crust. Once the chicken is browned, transfer the skillet to a preheated oven and bake it for an additional 8 minutes or until it is fully cooked. While the chicken is baking, thinly slice the sage leaves and fry them with butter for about 1 minute to infuse the flavors.
One of the easiest delicious meals is Sage and thyme roasted vegetables.
The process starts by cutting the root vegetables, squash, and onion into similar-sized pieces; set the oven to 425 temperature degrees. Please place them in a large bowl.In the small bowl, add olive oil, sage, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper according to your taste. Toss the vegetables well, ensuring everything is coated evenly. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper. Bake them in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes until they become tender and golden. Once cooked, drizzle the roasted vegetables with maple syrup, adjusting the amount to your preference.
Medicinal uses: What does sage do for the body?
In the past, herbs played a significant role as medicinal remedies; nowadays, more and more people enjoy and explore their benefits.
Thyme is one of the herbs that, besides its aromatic scent, has many medicinal health benefits.
A hot cup of thyme tea is packed with flavors and contains thymol, which has potent antimicrobial properties and helps to alleviate coughs or sore throat. Thymol is also a potent antiseptic and active ingredient in products like Listerine.
Studies have shown that thyme essential oil has properties that can fight against bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, and candida Albicans yeast. (2)
Sage is packed with vitamin K, minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, flavonoids, and volatile oils. It is known for its antibacterial properties that ease oral issues such as plaque build-up and wound healing when applied topically. Sage's anti-inflammatory power can also alleviate gum inflammation. Gargling with sage infusion may aid in healing mouth wounds or soothing a sore throat.
Additionally, sage contains compounds that have properties similar to estrogen, making it potentially beneficial during menopause caused by estrogen decline.
As its bitter and pungent taste suggests, salvia eases digestion, especially for people with difficulty digesting fatty food.
Lastly, sage contains acetylcholine and antioxidants, which may help improve memory, problem-solving, and other cognitive abilities.
Herbs have played an important role in and have been given symbolic meaning.
Sage was often associated with wisdom and knowledge, symbolizing intellectual growth and spiritual enlightenment. In some cultures, it is believed that sage cleanses negative energies and is used for smudging and purifying spaces.
Thyme, on the other hand, is associated with courage and inner strength, symbolizing resilience, determination, and the ability to overcome challenges.
Growing Conditions: Can Thyme and Sage Grow Together?
Thyme and sage can grow together in the same garden or planting bed. They have similar growing conditions, which makes them great companion plants. While they are easily available at garden centers, they can also be successfully grown at home, allowing you to enjoy fresh sage and thyme right from your own garden.
Both herbs prefer full sun, which means they need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day and prefer well-drained soil that is not waterlogged. They do not like overly wet soil, so water them sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
If you are growing them inside, keep them away from a heater or fireplace, as they don't like too much heat.
Can you propagate them from cuttings?
Both herbs can be propagated from cuttings. Propagating herbs from cuttings is a common and effective method to create new plants. Here is a detailed guide on how to do it. In a nutshell, choose a stem from the parent plant that is not too young and not flowering. Using scissors, cut a section of the stem that is around 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) long. Make the cut just below a node, which is the point where leaves emerge from the stem, strip the top leaves, and leave only 2-3 pairs of top leaves. Insert the cuttings into well-draining soil. You can use rooting hormone powder to promote root development, but it is not necessary. That's it.