The secret to any truly spectacular recipe is the blend of herbs and spices used for flavoring. Thyme and oregano are staples in most kitchens because they’re both very versatile and easy to use herbs. While they may be used in similar recipes, they are two very different plants.
What’s the difference between thyme and oregano? The flavor and scent are their most defining features, with thyme being a complex combination of sweet and peppery as well as minty and lemony, whereas oregano is a very bold, pungent and earthy flavor.
In this article, we’ll teach you how to identify each herb, put them to their best use, and learn about their various similarities and differences.
Identifying Thyme vs Oregano
Learning about herbs can be tricky because, although they each taste very unique, many of them look very similar.
What does thyme look like? It has either a green stem or a stem with a slightly reddish tint to it and small green leaves that are roundish, but many have tiny pointed tips that grow in small clusters, spread out amongst the stems.
In contrast, oregano is much bushier, with large flat, oval leaves that can sometimes be a bit fuzzy. It has a musty scent, smelling a little bit like minty hay.
Thyme smells spicier, and, if green can be used to represent an odor, it describes thyme well.
Cooking with Thyme and/or Oregano
Learning how to cook with herbs is a skill that masterful chefs spend lifetimes on. There are hundreds, if not thousands of potential combinations that add delicate nuances to any dish.
If you’re not planning on becoming a world-famous chef but do want to master a few great combinations to impress family and friends and elevate your meals, using thyme and oregano to their best effects will make a world of difference.
You can also turn oregano and thyme into herb ice cubes. Find out how here.
Thyme vs Oregano: Taste
Thyme and oregano each have very unique and identifiable flavors.
There are a few different types of thyme plants, but they all have some degree of minty, lemony and slightly sweet and peppery taste.
Oregano has a very strong flavor which is considered pungent. It’s similar to marjoram, only stronger. It leaves an astringent feel in your mouth as if suddenly your mouth is very clean and almost like your saliva has been evaporated.
Thyme and oregano pair well together is most recipes, but there are a few dishes that are particularly suited to one or the other.
Best Thyme Recipes
Thyme is a light, unobtrusive herb that lends its flavor well to a wide variety of dishes, especially chicken and veal for meats and nearly all vegetables.
It works really well as a marinade as the subtle flavors seep into the meats or vegetables your marinating, and the same is true for using to flavor broth-based soups.
Thyme is very popular in Creole dishes, such as Chicken Creole, Jambalaya or Southern Rice and Gravy.
If you’re wondering what herbs pair well with thyme, you usually can’t go wrong with adding marjoram or oregano, rosemary, sage or tarragon, basil or bay, and of course garlic.
Best Oregano Recipes
While thyme is great for light meats, oregano can stand up to the bolder flavors of beef, pork, and lamb. It’s a very popular herb for use in Italian, Greek and Mexican food, so you’ll often see it in harmony with tomatoes and legumes.
It’s also often added to salad dressings and, as with most herbs, will accent just about any vegetable nicely.
A common question about this herb is how to use oregano leaves. Because the leaves of this herb are somewhat larger than those of many other herbs, you can use them almost as a salad green or similar to basil or even cilantro leaves.
When you use larger leaves instead of diced or dried oregano, the flavor will stay more compact, giving a lovely burst when it’s consumed but not transferring the flavor to the entire dish as you would notice in a broth or sauce using dried oregano, for example.
Some herbs that will also pair nicely with oregano include the already mentioned basil and cilantro, as well as parsley, mint, marjoram, bay, garlic and, of course, thyme.
If you want to make your own Italian seasoning at home using thyme and oregano, check out this video on YouTube by Rockin Robin Cooks.
Oregano and Thyme Health Benefits
Almost all herbs have a long list of health benefits and thyme and oregano are no exception to this rule.
When you think about plants, you often assume there will be some benefits related to immunity, thanks to vitamins and antioxidants. This is true for thyme, which is a good source of Vitamin C and A, both known to boost immunity. But the benefits go much deeper.
Specifically, thyme benefits for skin are interesting. Many people struggle with acne, and this is not limited to our teen years. A few studies show that thyme as a tincture can heal and prevent pimples and acne better than many commercial products.
Thyme has other unusual uses as well.
It can be used as a disinfectant, not just for your body, but for your home. It is antifungal, so it can help keep high-humidity living spaces free from mold if it’s added to your cleaning products.
It has also been known to repel all sorts of pests, from mice and rats to mosquitos and even microbial bacteria and viruses.
It smells great and can lift your mood as well, so spritzing it around your house as a diluted essential oil can have many, wide-ranging benefits.
Benefits of Oregano
Oregano has been used as a medicinal herb throughout many generations of traditional or alternative healing.
It’s well documented to be full of antioxidants, antibacterial and antiviral, however, there are fewer studies showing exactly how effective it may be.
The studies that are available usually involve oregano oil, as opposed to the dried or fresh version of the leaf.
Difference Between Oregano Leaf and Oregano Oil
If you’re cooking with oregano, your likely using the leaf, either fresh or dried. The dried version will probably also include some of the stems, but the final product will be crushed up into tiny pieces so the stems will be indistinguishable from the leaf.
Oregano oil is pressed from the leaves and stems of oregano, resulting in very concentrated oil. It’s so potent that it should never be used without being first diluted as it can cause significant burns, either on your skin, if used topically, or on your tongue or throat if ingested.
However, when it’s diluted with another oil or put into a recipe, it can bring with it many health benefits with only a small amount of the essential oil.
How to Take Oregano Oil
Oregano oil is available either in capsules or as an essential oil in a liquid. If you have the capsules, you’ll simply follow the directions on the label and use as instructed. If you have a liquid oil, you have plenty of options.
If you would like to use it topically to help with skin conditions or infections, dilute it first with another oil such as olive oil or grapeseed oil, using 1 teaspoon of safe carrier oil per single drop of potent oregano oil.
Combine well and then rub onto the affected area of your skin.
If you want to use oregano oil to combat a cold or otherwise boost your immunity, you can place some of the oil under your tongue for quick absorption.
Again, you’ll need to dilute it to protect your mouth, but you can use it in an equal ratio to olive oil or grapeseed oil. Rinse your mouth well after a few minutes to prevent any of the oil from lingering and causing irritation.
If you don’t mind the flavor of the oregano oil you can also simply dilute a single drop into a glass of water and drink it. This is simple and very effective.
What are the benefits of oregano tea?
Oregano tea is a popular go-to remedy for several minor health conditions. It’s often used to soothe sore throats and ease coughing, and it can also relieve nausea and other digestive problems.
There aren’t a lot of scientific studies to reference, but oregano has been used as a medicinal, healing herb in traditional medicines since the dawn of time.
It has plenty of antioxidants and is known to be anti-inflammatory so it will boost your immune system and overall health, and its also antiviral and antibacterial, helping you recover and prevent common frustrations like colds and cases of flu.
Is growing oregano from seed hard?
Oregano is quite easy to grow, either from seeds or from trimmings from an established plant if you have friends or family who are also growing this herb.
Oregano seeds are incredibly small and almost look like dust, so be careful when you open a package. They love well-drained soil but are otherwise simple to care from.
They’ll take about 2 weeks to germinate, in which time you’ll start to have lovely fresh oregano for your recipes on demand.
How to make thyme tea?
Thyme tea tastes delicious and it’s a great tea to have when you’re feeling a little under the weather because of it’s antimicrobial and antiviral quality.
You can make thyme tea with either fresh thyme or dried, and it’s very easy. The one thing you want to keep in mind is to use hot water, not boiling water.
If your water is more than about 200 degrees F (it boils at 212), it will start to degrade the nutritional value of any herb you may be using. You can boil your water and then simply let it sit and cool for 5 – 10 minutes before pouring over your thyme. I
f you have fresh thyme, use 2 – 3 sprigs sized to fit in your mug. If you’re working with dried thyme, adding about 2 teaspoons to a tea infuser ball will work well.
This tea is even more lovely when enhanced with a little ginger and/or honey.