Thymus mastichina (Mastic Thyme)

Thymus mastichina, commonly called Mastic Thyme or Spanish Majoram, is a small, upright, intensely aromatic evergreen subshrub with small green leaves, fluffy balls of tiny white flowers, and feathery calyces.

It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically in Portugal and Spain.


Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT&WIDTH

Thymus_mastichina height and width

BLOOM TIME

Thymus mastichina bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Mastic Thyme scientific name

  • Botanical name: Thymus mastichina (TY-muss  MAS-ti-kina)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Mastic Thyme, Spanish Marjoram, Wild Majoram 
NameMeaning
ThymusThere are several versions of the origin of the name:
1- From the Greek word thymon meaning smoke or to fumigate. Related to its use as an incense for its fragrance.
2- From the Greek word thumos meaning courage. Thyme symbolised bravery.
3- From the Greek word thymos, meaning perfume. Because of its intense fragrance
mastichinaDerives from the Greek word massein, meaning to chew.

How to identify Thymus mastichina

Thymus mastichina shrub (Mastic thyme, Spanish marjoram)

Shrub

Small, aromatic evergreen subshrub with an upright form. It has many stems, tiny green leaves, clusters of white flowers, and light green calyces. When in bloom, the appearance is a small shrub full of greenish-white fluffy balls.

This shrub is intensely aromatic with a eucalyptus-like fragrance.

The shrub has an average height of 30 cm (1 ft) and 40cm (1.3 ft) when in flower. The width is about 30 cm (1 ft)

Thymus mastichina stem (Mastic thyme, Spanish marjoram)

Stem

The stems are upright, greyish-brown and woody at the base.

The leaves grow opposite at each node, often with tufts of tiny foliage in the leaf axils. 

The clusters of flowers appear on the upper part of the stem.  

Thymus mastichina leaf (Mastic thyme, Spanish marjoram)

Leaf

The leaf is green, flat (or wavy margined), oval-shaped and slightly hairy. It is strongly aromatic, especially when crushed.

The size varies between 3.5 and 13 mm ( 0.1 and 0.5 in) long and 1 and 4 mm (0.03 and 0.15 in) wide.

Thymus mastichina flower (Mastic thyme, Spanish marjoram)

Flower

The inflorescence has a globose or spike form and varies between 10 to18 mm  (0.4  to 0.7 in) in diameter. 

The flowers are white or cream with a fused corolla. They are two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes, and the lower lip has 3 lobes. The stamens are white and stick out from inside the corolla.

The tiny flowers open from yellowish-green buds encased in a calyx of long narrow sepals with long hairs that give a feathery appearance.

The flowers look like fluffy snowballs and bloom in spring and summer.


Interested in low-maintenance plants? I have a special offer for you. Click the button below to download my free guides.

A hand-picked selection of drought-tolerant plants bundled into a collection of exclusive FREE ebooks just for you!


Thymus mastichina Usage

Ornamental

The Mastic thyme looks very cute with its fluffy balls of flowers and is appreciated as an ornamental plant. It is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) and is still not very well known worldwide. Otherwise, I am sure it would be a popular ornamental plant because of its pretty looks and extreme resistance to adverse weather.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. Can be planted in containers, beds or borders. In rock or gravel, aromatic or seaside gardens. 

They are ideal for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.

Thymus mastichina from my garden

Medicinal

Thymus mastichina has been used in traditional medicine as a herbal tea for treating sore throats, coughs, and digestive problems. Also used as an antiseptic lotion for skin diseases and mouthwash. 

Studies have demonstrated its antimicrobial and antiseptic properties.

Cosmetics

The essential oil obtained from the Mastic Thyme plant is used in perfumery and mouthwash solutions.

Culinary

Mastic Thyme is widely used in culinary.

Its leaves are used for seasoning meat dishes and sauces. It helps to digest high-fat foods. 

It is an ideal substitute for salt in any type of meal.

Its essential oil, called “oil of marjoram”, is used in the food industry to flavour soups and processed meats such as pork sausages.

Used to preserve food, like meat and cheese.

Biodiversity

The fragrant flowers of Mastic thyme are rich in nectar and very attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. This plant will enhance the biodiversity of your garden.

Other uses

Studies have confirmed that Thymus mastichina is a good natural substitute for synthetic antibiotics for food spoilage control and also as a possible replacement of salt in cheese production.

Thymus mastichina habitat

This shrub is seen in dry, rocky areas, uncultivated lands, roadsides and scrublands.  It also grows in thickets and open woods.

It is extremely resistant to adverse environments growing well in arid terrain with low nutritional value and sunny exposure.

How to care for Thymus mastichina

Cold exposure

It’s a hardy plant and tolerates temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF) and winter frosts. However, when the plant is not yet established, it will need winter protection during the first few years. You should cover the root area with mulch to protect the roots from low temperatures. 

Sun exposure

This plant needs full sun exposure, at least 6 hours per day.

Soil

Mastic thyme likes poor, well-drained stony soils. It can tolerate most types of soils, from acidic to mildly alkaline.

Watering

Thymus mastichina is a drought-tolerant plant native to the Mediterranean basin and adapted to hot, dry summers. So it rarely needs watering once established. It especially dislikes humid winters.

During its evolution, it developed mechanisms for drought tolerance:

  • Hairy  branches and leaves to trap moisture 
  • Symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal root fungi provides water and nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates.

During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young thyme every two to three weeks during the summer.  Allow the soil to dry out between watering. In case of a heat wave, water more frequently. Monitor your plants closely and look out for any signs of stress.

When watering, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil to allow the roots to grow deeply. 

To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the Thyme (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching. 

Other conditions

Can tolerate maritime exposure.

The best time to plant this shrub is at the beginning of autumn to give it time to develop its roots while the soil is still warm

How to prune Thymus mastichina

This thyme needs to be pruned a couple of times during the year to remain vigorous and beautiful.

Ideally, you should give it a light prune in the spring and then a hard prune (about one-third)  in late summer after flowering. Be careful to always prune above the leaf, as the stems will not regrow if it is cut back too hard.

How to propagate Thymus mastichina

Propagation by seed

Thyme can be propagated by seed. Sow them in spring in a cold frame or the autumn in a greenhouse.

The seeds usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 15ºC (60ºF).

Sow seed on the surface. Do not cover or barely cover as they need light to germinate.

When the seedlings are strong enough to handle, you can plant them in individual pots and grow them in the greenhouse or cold frame. Gradually acclimatize them to outdoor conditions before planting in the final location after the last frosts in spring or in autumn.

When transplanting, pinch each stem’s tip to stimulate more branching to create a more bushy form.

Propagation by cuttings

Thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings.

Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from mid-summer to early autumn. Take a 5 to 8 cm (2.7 to 4 in) cutting with a heel or at a node from the current year’s growth. Roots will form within a few weeks. Semi-ripe cuttings can be placed in a cold frame over winter. 

Plant them out in late spring after the last expected frosts.

Basal cuttings of young shoots can be taken in the spring. Roots will form in a frame (to maintain moisture) during the summer, and the plant will be ready to plant in the final spot in autumn.

Propagation by layering

Thyme can also be propagated by layering the branches at any time during the year. Bend the stem down, hold it to the ground with a peg or rock, and cover it with soil.

Other Thymes you may also like

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Internet

Article from Jardin Sec

Article from Useful Temperate Plants

Books

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood

If you liked this content, please share !