Thyme vs Rosemary | Which is Better & Possible Substitutes

When you mention the word ‘herbs’, two particular herbs come to mind, that’s rosemary and thyme. These two have formed the base of flavors in most areas of the culinary world. But, when it comes to the question of thyme vs rosemary, which herbs top the other?

Both Thyme and Rosemary are equally useful and you have to choose which one you like based on your own preferences. You can judge them on appearance, leaves, stems, flowers, nutrients, health effects, and culinary uses. 

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Read on as we help you compare thyme vs rosemary. 

1. Appearance

If you put a thyme and rosemary plant next to each other, you would instantly be able to tell that there are stark differences. The most prominent being the size of the plants!

Thyme is a short bush that is usually as wide as it is tall. But, rosemary is extremely tall and more or less a shrub. The former measures 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) by 16 inches (40 cm) while the latter grows to 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) by 4 feet (1.2 m). 


Obviously, rosemary is the larger of the two and this ultimately means that the plant needs more space if you intend on growing it. On the other hand, thyme is a small manageable shrub that can even be grown indoors in apartments with limited space.   

Thyme seems best for small apartments and people without gardens, while both are appropriate for people with garden space and porches. 

2. Leaves 

Upon closer inspection, you’ll identify another point where thyme and rosemary differ greatly. This includes their length, color, and even characteristics. 

Thyme leaves are light green, shorter, softer, and less pointed, measuring no more than 0.2 inches (5 mm). Rosemary has pointed needle-like leaves, dark green, stiff, and oval-shaped, and are between 0.4 inches (1 cm) and 1.8 inches (4 cm) in length.

NOTE- Rosemary leaves give off an aroma after just being touched. Thyme leaves need to be crushed to release essence. 


Either of these plants proves to be a pleasing plant to own as they have their own unique leaves. It comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer the short softer leaves or alternatively, do you find the needle-like stiff leaves better? 

3. Stems

Rosemary plants are closely associated with woody stems that don’t look too easy to prune off. Thyme plant stems also can become woody but this happens when the plant is especially old and mature. 


Whichever plant you choose to adopt, you are still likely to have to deal with constant pruning and woody stems! 

4. Flowers

When it comes to rosemary, you’ll have to remember that it is natural for the flowers to come in a range of colors (white, purple, blue, dark purple). Meanwhile, thyme does not display such a wide variety of colors and is restricted to pink or purple.

Both plants have flowers that appear in small clusters and this is where the similarity ends!

Thyme flowers feature four petals and arise from the tips of branches while rosemary flowers have five petals and arise between flowers. Also, it’s worth noting that the thyme flower petals are slightly larger than those of the rosemary flower. 


Both flowers are equally showy and you won’t feel like you missed out on much regardless of which ones you decide to buy. Just do bear in mind that although both plants bear edible flowers, the taste of rosemary flowers can be a tad bit overwhelming for some! 

5. Taste

Because you find several recipes that feature thyme and rosemary don’t assume that they have the same or similar flavors! They actually have distinctly different tastes and understanding them is key to helping you find appropriate culinary uses for each of them. 

The best way to explain their individual tastes and aromas is by describing them separately, one at a time. 


Rosemary has a potent taste and has the ability to overpower most other flavors that aren’t strong enough to rival it! This powerful herb has a slightly bitter taste that prompts other flavors like pine or a slightly woody flavor. 


Thyme is the opposite of thyme, bearing a subtle and beastly differing flavor. Depending on what specific thyme you are using, you can identify certain flavors similar to lemon and mint. All the flavors of thyme cannot be distinguished in rosemary. 


The only similar taste you may catch in both rosemary and thyme is a slightly peppery taste. Otherwise, each of these herbs is unique and brings something different to the table. Which tastes better comes down to a personal choice of herb and flavor you prefer. 

6. Nutrients 

Despite having low quantities, herbs are packed with a multitude of nutrients. It may not amount to much when you eat them once in a while, however, daily consumption can make a great difference. Perhaps one you can notice! 


These two herbs aren’t short of nutrients and you’ll find they have a better nutrient profile than most foods you consume, albeit in smaller quantities! 

But, if you must draw a line between the two, rosemary does have a bit more water content than thyme. Thyme has 65% water content while rosemary has 68% water content, meaning that thyme is slightly denser in nutrient content. 


Rosemary and thyme don’t have enough calories for you to be worried about how much you consume! But, if you must know, rosemary contains a higher calorie value than thyme. 


Although thyme is richer in protein, rosemary has a better protein quality. Rosemary has a small amount of each amino acid while thyme packs a few namely, methionine, phenylalanine, and histidine. 


Rosemary has a higher amount of fats although thyme has a better fatty acid composition but there is a hidden difference. 

Thyme fats are largely composed of polyunsaturated fats while rosemary features larger amounts of saturated fatty acids. 


Thyme and rosemary share a similar carbohydrate content but a distinct difference is that rosemary has a higher fiber content than thyme. This could make rosemary a bit favorable to people who prefer to have a high-fiber diet. 


Thyme contains more Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, and C than rosemary. While rosemary contains more Vitamin B5 and Folate than thyme. 

But, you should also note that both herbs lack Vitamins B12, D, E, and K. 


Again, thyme beats rosemary out when it comes to mineral content. The ratio sits at 7:1 when comparing the mineral values of thyme and rosemary. 

The following minerals are present in higher concentrations in thyme than in rosemary; Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, Phosphorus, Calcium, and Manganese. Rosemary though does have a slightly higher quantity of Potassium. 

NOTE- Potassium content in both herbs is taken as the same, however, potassium does have a minute bit more! 

7. Health Effects 

We usually associate herbs with good health but if asked to elaborate, we can’t! To help you avoid this embarrassing situation, we’ll explain why these herbs are worth adding to your diet to aid your health.

Thyme contains high amounts of a compound known as Thymol which exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. In addition to this, it also exhibits immunomodulatory activities. 

Components in thyme may also protect against certain cardiac and hepatic damage which is most likely with high consumption of hot frying oil. 

A high amount of phenolic phytochemicals in rosemary have led to studies showing that this herb has significant benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, thrombotic, and anti-atherosclerotic properties. 

Furthermore, some evidence also points to rosemary’s ability to decrease blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol levels. The herb can also debilitate serious effects of cardiac remodeling caused by myocardial infarction. 

Other Health Benefits

Studies show rosemary does have anticancer effects for certain organs such as the colon, pancreas, breast, cervix, prostate, bladder, ovaries, lung, and even leukemia!

Both thyme and rosemary show antihyperglycemic effects which assist diabetes patients in maintaining a lower glucose level. 

Some studies have shown positive effects on the brain on the inhalation of rosemary. It stimulates brain wave activity and can possibly even improve cognitive performance. Some studies even point to its ability to boost overall mood! 

NOTE- Although most of the properties of thyme and rosemary are positive, there is one risk. Thyme and rosemary may bind with specific proteins from enzymes. In turn, this may negatively or positively affect the effectiveness of certain drugs. 


You can’t really pick out a winner in this category as each one comes with ample reasons to be called a health-benefiting herb! 

8. Culinary Uses

Herbs have significant use in modern civilization and most of their uses have been carried down through history. Today, herbs such as thyme and rosemary act as founding elements in modern-day seasoning.  


Both herbs find use in the development of soups. Their tastes may be extremely different but they do make for a delightful and surprising starter to any meal that’s a few courses long! 

Thyme soups or rosemary soups or soups that contain both can clear the palate well and get you excited for the next course. You can leverage them when making a vegetarian soup or easily pair them with a protein to make a flavorful broth. 


Neither of these herbs is an exact match for each and every protein on this earth. In fact, which herb to use depends on the meat in question. 

Meats that taste best with thyme are fish and poultry. But, meats that go better with rosemary are red meats like lamb and beef and all forms of pork. 


Generally, all herbs are able to infuse oils with the natural oils they already contain. This process applies to herbs and helps to spice up any old oil and get it to emit an impressive aroma and flavor. 

The process is simple and only requires you to add a few sprigs of the herb to your oil bottle and allow it to sit for a week or two at most.  


It may seem like an unlikely use, but thyme and rosemary do occasionally find use in beverages. You can use either one in tea, proving to be a hot and soothing beverage that gives off a few benefits. 

When talking about cooler beverages, you can find a few alcoholic beverage recipes containing these herbs. This is especially true for cocktails that contain gin and citrus flavors. 


Again, thyme and rosemary seem to be neck in neck and it is almost impossible to pick out a winner! It may come down to a personal preference as to which one you prefer to eat. 

Thyme and Rosemary Substitutes

If you ever lack thyme or rosemary for a recipe, you can use the one you have. Thyme and rosemary act as great substitutes for each other. 

However, we should warn you that rosemary is much more potent than thyme in any of its forms! So, be careful when interchanging them due to availability issues. You can follow the following measurement to avoid getting it wrong. 

  • Substitute rosemary with thyme by using double the quantity. (1 tablespoon of rosemary = 2 tablespoons of thyme)
  • Substitute thyme with rosemary by using half the quantity. (1 tablespoon of thyme = ½ tablespoon of rosemary) 

Other substitutes for thyme and rosemary are as follows:

Thyme- Italian seasoning, oregano, marjoram, dried thyme. 

Rosemary- Italian seasoning, herbes de provence, (use lemon verbena/lemon balm in case you require lemon thyme.) 


Thyme and rosemary are two herbs that are a great addition to the garden. They both have so many uses that can have your menu planned for the whole week. 

Thyme vs rosemary is a debate that many people have their own opinion about. You can choose which is better by judging them based on appearance, leaves, stems, flowers, nutrients, health effects, and culinary uses.  

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How long will fresh thyme and rosemary last? 

There are several ways to store and keep fresh thyme and rosemary but they usually have a maximum shelf-life of 3 – 4 months, that’s assuming you use the best storage method! You can place them in a cloth in the fridge, cut them off at the stem, and place them in a jar of water, or you can keep a live plant in the kitchen using aeroponic technology. 

Can you use rosemary and thyme together?

Yes, rosemary and thyme can be used together! Despite having very different tastes, they actually do well when in combination. Particularly in meat marination, their unique flavors provide excellent depths to red meats.