Thyme vs Basil | Taste, Appearance & Substitutes

Herbs, regardless of which one you use, add something special to any dish you cook. But, if you have thyme and basil as options, which one should you choose? 

When it comes to the question of thyme vs basil, you can make a decision by comparing them based on taste, appearance, leaves, stems, flowers, nutrients, health effects, and culinary uses. 

Planning to grow thyme? Prepare yourself for possible problems you may encounter: How to Fix Thyme Leaves Turning Brown? 

If you want to compare thyme and basil, you have to check every aspect of them and not just their taste. This also includes looking at the appearance and nutritional values of each herb. 

1. Appearance  

Putting these two popular herbs next to each other, there’s an obvious size difference, with basil being much larger than thyme!

Thyme keeps relatively low at 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) by 16 inches (40 cm) varying with the type of cultivar. While basil grows to a height between 1 and 5 ft (30 – 150 cm), and the spreading capacity is decided by the cultivar type.


If you are looking for a plant that will stay relatively small and is easier to control, thyme makes for the better herb. But, if you have the space and are looking for an appealing herb that has several applications when fresh, basil does edge thyme out as the best option. 

2. Leaves

The leaves of these two plants couldn’t be any more different! You definitely won’t be mistaking the two for each other or any other herb for that matter. 

Thyme leaves are oval and short, usually only measuring around 4 mm, rarely surpassing 20 mm (0.4 – 2 cm.) But, basil have smooth, extensively veined ovate and somewhat lanceolate shaped leaves that measure anywhere between 1.1 to 4.3 inches (3 – 11 cm). 

Thyme leaves may appear long and slender when dry but this is far from its appearance while fresh. Both herbs have green leaves but basil variants can show more deeper shades of green than thyme which is mostly light green. Also, basil leaves have a slightly glossy leaf coating. 

Both plants are aromatic, if not when intact then when crushed. An interesting difference is that basil leaves feature serrated edges while thyme leaves are smooth edged. 


Evidently thyme leaves are the smaller of the two plants. However, if you want a somewhat showy herb or one with leaves larger than thyme, basil does have a slight edge with its larger and greener foliage. 

3. Stems

Thyme is known for bearing woody or semi-woody stems and an interesting trait is that if you take a closer look you’ll find very fine hairs on the stem. Basil does have a softer and smoother surface as compared to thyme’s stem. 

Constant pruning is necessary especially for basil as failure to do so will result in stems becoming woody and this somewhat inhibits growth as foliage and essential oil production ceases. To prevent this, nip flower buds before they open. 

Also note, thyme stems are fragrant while basil stems are non-fragrant.


Basil does encounter quite a few problems while growing. You won’t be very successful growing this herb if you don’t have experience with woody herbs. On the other hand thyme do have woody stems of their own which can be problematic to novel herb gardeners.

With this in mind, it’s going to entail an equal amount of effort whichever of these two herbs you choose to buy.  

4. Flowers

People rarely keep herbs just for their flowers, they are usually just a casual addition. But, that doesn’t mean they should be completely disregarded. Having a flower to stare at occasionally does herb to beautify these evergreen plants.  

Basil bears white (occasionally purple) flowers that emerge in clusters along a long spike that is usually situated on the central stem. Thyme flowers are either pink or purple and also appear at the tips of stems but do not grow on a separate vertical spike like basil. Instead thyme flowers appear in a cluster.

Thyme blooms in late to early spring and duration depends on the specific cultivar of the thyme. Basil flowers appear in summer. If you do decide to let your herb flower, know that the flowers are completely edible and can be used in a multitude of dishes. 

NOTE- You can offset flowering in herbs by pruning them every week or so during their prime flowering period. 

Another different characteristic between thyme and basil is that thyme flowers have four petals while basil flowers have five petals. 

5. Taste

Every herb has a distinct taste, some are mild while some are quite overpowering and need to be used with caution! Take a look at what flavors you can expect from 

Sweet basil has a fresh herby flavor that has hints of black pepper, star anise, and a slight tinge of mint. The taste of sweet basil varies greatly from the taste of Thai basil which bears a stronger flavor that replicates that of licorice. Lemon basil has more of a citrus flavor. 

Thyme differs from basil as it has more of a distinct minty, earthy flavor, with hints of lemon, overall coming off as subtle. 


If you are looking for a herb that makes the biggest impact when fresh, basil is the herb for you. But, if you like a dried herb with great flavor making ability, thyme tasks the cup. Either way, these two herbs have certain dishes or meats which they suit better. 

You can use them appropriately depending on what protein or dish you are preparing. 

6. Nutrients 

For people who are very conscious about what they put in their body. Knowing the nutrient content of everything you eat is important. Take a look at all of the nutrients thyme and basil will contain. 


Thyme definitely offers more macronutrients than basil does. But, basil does prove to be a better alternative when you want to cut down on certain nutrients or minerals, one being Sodium. 

Another point is that these herbs have nutrients and minerals present in extremely low quantities unless you eat them in an extremely large quantity. 


The calorie score for these two herbs shows a very shocking result. For the same weight (100g) of the herbs, thyme has 101 kcal while basil has a mere 23 kcal. This shows basil is excellent for low calorie diet requirements. 


Taking into consideration a weight of 100 grams, there is 5.5 g of protein in fresh thyme and 3.15 g of protein in fresh basil. 

Again this difference shows that thyme has more protein and people looking to get more protein can eat thyme. While people looking for less protein can opt for fresh basil. 


Basil shows a fat content of 0.64 g while that of thyme is 1.68 g, showing a difference of 1.04 g of fat. This means that if you are looking to eat a low fat diet, adding basil to your dishes helps to reduce fat content. 


Thyme carries 24.4 g carbohydrates and basil holds 2.65 g of carbohydrates per 100 g of fresh herb. Thyme almost has a ten fold higher carbohydrate content than basil. 

If you are looking to avoid carbohydrates, you should limit thyme content in your food.  


Thyme has a higher Vitamin B1, B2, B3, C, E, K and Folate than basil. But, basil contains more Vitamin A than thyme. 

Evidently, thyme has a better nutrient composition than basil, thus providing a healthier alternative to basil. 


The mineral composition of thyme and basil appears almost identical to the nutrient details mentioned above. 

Thyme has higher amounts of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc and Copper. Basil does beat thyme in one aspect, it has much less Sodium than thyme. 

Clearly you’ll get more minerals from thyme but if you want to limit your intake, basil will be the better ingredient to add to your meals. 

7. Health Effects 

Basil has several beneficial components such as the antioxidant Lutein, Zeaxanthin, β-Carotene, and β-Cryptoxanthin. Thyme has antioxidants and a compound known as Thymol which benefits the body in many ways. Both herbs produce essential oil.

Basil health benefits include antioxidants which help in relieving stress, phytochemicals help in cancer prevention, while a chemical called Eugenol assists in lowering blood pressure and preventing heart diseases. Apart from this, basil exhibits anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties like most herbs. 

Thyme also contains antioxidants but has many different health benefits such as potential relief, cough-suppressant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Thyme oil also surprisingly acts as a natural insect repellent and it comes into use as a skin aide for people with eczema and acne.


Either one of these herbs comes packed with several ways to improve health and act as a natural remedy for a number of health problems. Perhaps adding a bit of both of these herbs to your diet would be the best plan of action.  

8. Culinary Uses

You hear about herbs being used as natural remedies, in medicines, and even as an aid around the household.


Thyme finds great use in flavoring soups with its subtle flavors that aren’t overpowering yet flavorful. Basil on the other hand is most popular for making pesto soups and sauces.


If you are looking for a herb to add an element to your meats, thyme is more likely to do that as it pairs with almost any meat, particularly red meats. You can prepare the perfect meat marinade with a sprig or two of thyme, resulting in an excellent roast, braise, or stew. 

Basil pairs better with vegetarian dishes and when it does pair with meats, it’s usually with chicken, pork, or seafood. 

What Meat Goes With Thyme? 4 Best Meat Options


Both herbs thyme and basil can be incorporated into oil to make a fragrant and flavorful herb oil. Following a simple set of steps, anyone can make this oil at home. 

Also, the herbs themselves produce an oil that is otherwise known as essential oil. Thyme and basil essential oils have been cleared and are safe to cook with. 


Being herbs, both thyme and basil can be utilized to make a cup of great tasting tea! That’s just their common uses. Other beverages you are likely to find thyme and basil in are lemonades, and even alcoholic drinks like cocktails. 

Given that these herbs either have a citrus-like flavor or a minty taste, their presence suits a lot of drinks.  


Basil is extremely popular as a garnish, a topping for pizza, and a main component of a range of salads.

Thyme doesn’t get to see as much use in these types of dishes but you can find a few uses in confectionery for thyme leaves or flowers.  


It’s evident that both thyme and basil are important herbs to have in the kitchen. If not in a beverage or a soup, it’ll definitely be useful for preparing a flavorful meat dish. Basil does have a small edge over thyme since the former finds great use as a garnish and pizza, pasta topping.

Thyme Substitutes

Thyme is a common ingredient for Mediterranean and French dishes. But, if your cuisine is quite different, you may not have this herb on hand, especially if you are not growing this herb in your garden. 

Substitutes for fresh thyme are:

  • Marjoram
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano 

Substitutes for dried thyme are:

  • Poultry seasoning
  • Italian seasoning
  • Za’atar
  • Herbes de Provence

Basil Substitutes

If a recipe calls for basil and you don’t have any, what’s the next best option? Not adding an alternative may throw off the whole dish and you will have to consider your options. There are a few herbs that act as a near perfect substitute. 

The few herbs do fit into the flavor profile of basil are:

  • Mint
  • Tarragon

We doubt they will make a perfect fit, but they do come very close to filling in that missing flavor!


Basil and thyme are both herbs but their prominence in certain areas of the world differs greatly and so do their culinary uses. 

Thyme is more popular in preparation of meats while basil is more common among other dishes such as pizza, pastas, and salads. Apart from their uses, thyme and basil also differ in terms of taste, nutrient value, appearance, flowers, and health effects.

Need to store your thyme for later use? Read: Can You Freeze Thyme?


Can I substitute basil for thyme?

Yes, you can substitute basil for thyme. But, remember that basil is a slight bit stronger with its licorice flavor so it should be used in half the quantity as thyme.