Thyme and Sage in 4 Differences (With Pictures)


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Sage and thyme are two staples herbs that are quite often used together as a great final touch in countless recipes. Tempted to grow them indoors on your kitchen counter? Go ahead, but do you know the differences between the two? Perhaps you want to read further to know what to expect. Let’s dive in!

Hence, are thyme and sage the same? Although thyme and sage belong to the same family (Lamiaceae) and are both perennials, they belong to two different genus. This explains the differences in:

  1. Appearance: sage is larger than thyme.
  2. Taste: sage more intense than thyme.
  3. Food Pairing: sage and thyme work well together
  4. Nutrition: sage is a vitamin richer herb

Let’s dive into each one of these differences. The pictures and video provided will clarify all you need to expect from those two herbs both in the kitchen and in your growing pot when you will finally decide to give them a go and grow indoors for a stable supply of fresh, chemical-free herbs for your dishes.

Sage in a pot – Photo from Heather Kennedy

Sage and Thyme: Not The Same!

Among the four differences, their appearance is by far the more important one. However, here are some pictures to make everything more clear and make you able to differentiate them in a glance.

Salvia and sage: are the same?

Before diving into details, here a small digression to avoid confusion. Perhaps you might have heard the term salvia and sage used interchangeably, and other times no. Confused? I was! However, the solution to this mystery is pretty simple.

Salvia and sage are the same as even clearly in the first line of this scientific publication from the University of Murdoch “Genus Salvia, commonly known as sage”. This “genus” (a massive group of herb with similar origins) officially contains thousands of different herbs! As detailed by the Mountains Valley Growers, over time, the term sage has been used for those varieties of salvia used for cooking. On the other hand, the term salvia is used to indicate all the other herbs in the large salvia genus used for ornamental purposes only.

In this article, with sage, I will mean the “Salvia Officinalis” as the main variety of salvia used for cooking (also known for such reasons as sage) and the one you want to have indoors for your delicious dishes. It is also known with many other names like

garden sage, kitchen sage, and culinary sage among the most common.

Appearance

Sage, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, grows up to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall. Thyme is a low-growing plant that gets only to 6 to 12 inches tall (15 to 30.5 cm).

First take away

If you are looking for a small herb to squeeze in a little corner of your house (light allowing) and you do not want it to interfere with potential shelves or other furniture around, thyme is the way to go.

Flowers

Sage flowers are often two-lipped corollas in a tube shape inside spikes. Their color can vary greatly from white to purple through pink.

Be careful!

When I talk about sage, I meant the Salvia officinalis. However, there are thousands of different herbs that belong to the salvia family. Some of them have fantastic flowers color like a deep and vivid red in the case of pineapple sage.

Thyme, on the other hand, develops flowers in small clusters. These tiny blooms are typically white in color. However, do not be surprised if some varieties are pink or even red. The flowers also have ovular petals, similar to the leaves.

Here is the catch

If you want to grow such herbs indoors for ornamental purposes, you might want to know what is the specific variety of salvia or thyme you are buying (especially if from seeds). Indeed, you would be disappointed if, after months of growing your “expected” red-flowers thyme, it comes out to be a different variety with white flowers, for instance.

Leaves

Sage has oval leaves that tend to have a rough texture and a slightly wrinkled appearance. This is because they are covered in tiny hair!. Their color ranges from a blend of green and gray to a blend of white and green. The leaves usually have a downy covering as well.

Thyme leaves are small (around a half-inch long, 1cm), oval in shape (similar to sage). They have a gray-green hue and do not present hair.

Remember

Thyme and salvias are perennials. That implies that if you do not make any massive mistake with them (too much water anyone?), they are going to live for many years.

Stems: for both thyme and sage they can get quite woody for the oldest branches. Such stems should not be used for propagation by cuttings, as discussed in this guide. Better to use more

Taste

Sage, has a distinct, hard to confuse taste well-known for its sharp scent, that closely reminds mint. This is because thyme is a member of the same family as mint, The flavor is sometimes likened to pine, and it’s slightly bitter (to some it reminds lemon).

Thyme also has a minty flavor that isn’t overpoweringly strong. It’s described as slightly lemony as well with an earthy tone. It also has a peppery undertone that gives it warmth. Overall, thyme has a reasonably gentle herb that makes it versatile in culinary use.

Food Pairing

Sage and thyme are both frequently used spices in the kitchen. They’re used separately, but you can also combine them for some delicious meals. For instance, this chicken with sage, thyme, and rosemary lets you experiment with fresh herbs from your garden. You can also make meatloaf with sage and thyme.

You can also make drinks with the two herbs. For example, this sage and thyme tea is an excellent wintertime drink. You can even brew up a cup when you start to feel a sore throat coming on or if you’re struggling with a stubborn cough.

Sage is rarer in American dishes than thyme and is often limited to holiday meals such as Thanksgiving dinner. However, the Food Network suggests that it’s worth revisiting throughout the year. Yet, they do warn that dried sage is much less flavorful than its fresh counterpart.

When you’re cooking with sage, it’s possible to substitute the herb with thyme. This is convenient in recipes with long cooking times because it stands up well to exposure to longer cooking times without losing its flavor.

Thyme can also be replaced with sage in recipes calling for it. Some suggest replacing sage with thyme in similar amounts.

I do not agree

If you need to replace thyme with sage in a recipe, I use a half tablespoon of sage for each spoon of thyme. This works exceptionally well as a substitute for meats like poultry.

What Are My Two Best Recipes?

Here a quick list with videos of my favorite recipes using sage. There are many others, really. Even if not as popular as basil, this herb is a great companion of many dishes.

Cappellacci (a type of pasta, similar to tortellini dumplings) with sage and butter: This recipe requires you to prepare the pasta dough. You can skip this step by buying a ready one (available in large supermarkets). Once this is sorted, you need to create a feeling. This is a mix of parmesan, ricotta (staple cheese in our cuisine), and spinach.

The sage is the “cherry on top.” Indeed, after melting some butter in a frypan, you drop a couple of sage leaves that will then fry, creating an aromatic sauce to which you will add your almost boiled cappellacci that will then absorb such rich flavor sauce.

Cappellacci with Sage & Butter Sauce | Gennaro Contaldo - AD

Thyme-flavored steak: there are really dozens of recipes with thyme from simple venison potato to more complex and wintery soup. However, my best pick is a thyme flavored steak. Simple, tasty, and useful. Ideal for a quiet Saturday night or a tasty treat (do not often read red meat, but once in a while is a good boost to my iron content).

There are many opinions on how the perfect steak should be prepared. I am not an expert myself, so I follow people that know what they are doing. Below you can find a video of Rasman explaining in less than 3 min how to prepare it.

Gordon Ramsay's ULTIMATE COOKERY COURSE: How to Cook the Perfect Steak

Essentially you need to cook your steak when at almost ambient temperature (for a uniform cooked) and salt before placing it on a frying pan with hot oil.

Here the trick

Thyme and garlic should not be added together with the steak. Indeed, this might cause the thyme altering so the flavor. Butter should be added at the end and mixed with the steak and thyme to allow the flavor to mix with each other (the butter is the carrier).

Bonus recipe: Can Thyme and Sage go well together?

Yes, they can, although not in many recipes. One of my best picks is the Baked chicken with thyme and sage butter.

You have to simply create a mix of butter sage and thyme that will be used on the chicken skin (within it) and then placed in the oven. This will guarantee the flavor to sink in the meat, given a great flavor to your plate.

Nutrition Facts

For 100g of dried sage, the main nutritional value is shown in the table below, according to the Nutrition Data Database.

For simplicity, I reported the vitamins and components in which the sag is extremely rich. Impressive is its amount of vitamin K: few grams are enough to provide your daily intake. This vitamin is vital for bone development and general blood system regulation. It is also extremely rich in vitamin A and B6, promoting healthy teeth, skeletal, and skin development.

The table also illustrates the value of nutrients for 100g of dry thyme taken from here.

Here another take away!

Although the amount of calories is more or less the same, thyme has a way lower vitamin content. Only in the case of manganese thyme is slightly richer.

If you are vitamin A deficient, sage is a great supplement that you might want to introduce into your diet. Way better than thyme.

100g dry sage100g dry thyme
Calories315 kcal (mainly from carbs)354 kcal mainly from carbs)
Vitamin K2143% daily intake1428% daily intake
Vitamin A118% daily intake2.3% daily intake
Vitamin B6134% daily intake32% daily intake
Manganese157% daily intake393% daily intake
Calcium165% daily intake148% daily intake
Iron156% daily intake0% daily intake

Can Thyme and Sage Grow Together?

You want to place them together in the same container? It all depends on their light and water requirements. Regarding lights, both herbs enjoy full 6 to 8 hours of sun and can survive frost to come back to life during warmer seasons.

What about water? Both thyme and sage are low-watering herbs with the same light requirement (at least 6 hours of sunlight). They are both droughts tolerant making them ideal as low maintenance herb to keep on your kitchen counter or enjoying some sun on a windowsill.

Hence, sage and thyme are good companion herbs that can be grown in the same container.

Here what to look at!

Spacing when growing two herbs is critical. In general, if not for some particular demanding herbs (mint, for instance), a distance among herbs (if placed on a line) should be at least 6 inches (15 cm).

Propagating from Cuttings: Thyme or Sage?

Propagation by cutting is a great technique to produce an endless supply of herbs for free. It is essentially a naturally available clonation. You just cut one branch of the herb, cut in the right spot from the mother plant, and a cm or less of water in a small glass was to live your cutting.

You can find here a detailed propagation by cutting guide with step by step pictures.

I have great news for you! Both thyme and sage can be propagated by cutting.

In short, start with cuttings that are about 4 inches (10 cm) long. Use a good pair of shears to have a clean-cut and increase your chances of rooting. Avoid propagating an herb that is already flowering.

Then, strip the top leaves and leave only 2-3 pairs of top leaves. Your steam is then ready to sit in a small glass of water with half a centimeter of water. I suggest covering it with a small plastic bag to trap moisture. You can add either rooting hormone or honey to speed the rooting process. Moreover, avoid woody stems. Although rotting is still possible, this will make your life way harder.

How Long Do They Last: Perennial or Annual?

As detailed in this life span guide for herbs, there (almost) two types of herbs: annual and perennial. The first type, as the word suggests, they last only a year (or less). The most famous among them is undoubtedly basil. On the opposite, perennial can last a very long time (even decades, as rosemary).

My preference? Well, perennial with no doubt. Those herbs are stronger, do not require replanting, reseeding, or propagating for a long time.

The good news?

Both sage and thyme are perennial herbs! To ensure that your sage and thyme last long, just avoid overwatering. Why? This is the number one mistake among gardeners. No the soil choice, no the light requirements, but the watering.

As common sense, many gardeners also recommend cutting dead stems. This will allow the herbs to focus its energy on the stronger stems, promote growth, and avoid the development of disease or fungi. Indeed, having dead/decomposing material hanging around is not a good idea.

Regarding thyme, there are gardeners who recommend removing, dividing, every few years to help them survive. They also recommend not allowing the thyme to get overheated. For example, if you’re growing it inside, near a heater or fireplace, just move it away. These are not the best places for this herb.

Growing Thyme and Sage? All Start From The Right Potting Mix

Growing herbs that last requires a potting mix with specific characteristics. No rocket science here. You might already know that aeration, nutrients content and water retention capabilities are critical.

You can create the best soil yourself; here e a detailed DIY guide. However, for an easy solution (especially for indoor gardeners like yourself where we do not have much space in our apartment or houses or simply a bit lazy to get our hands dirty) just having an excellent medium delivered to our doorstep (or office) is my ideal solution.

Below an article with my favorite pick (just check click the picture) with all the plus (and minus). This will help you understand what to look for in the soil at the moment of choosing one! Good read!

Related Questions

What herb is closest to sage? Among the several herbs that are closest to sage (salvia Officinalis) taste-wise, thyme is bar far the best pick. Also, marjoram and rosemary can be used, although with caution and in different ratios due to their different flavor.

Do sage and basil grow well together? Basil and sage definitely do not grow well together. They should not be placed in the same planter due to their different water requirements. Indeed, basil thrives in a soil that would be too moist for sage, triggering root rot for the latter.

Further Readings

DIY best potting soil

What is a growing medium and basic materials with photos

Perlite vs Vermiculite: Differences, Uses and Pitfalls with Photos

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Andrea

A young Italian guy with a passion for growing edible herbs. After moving to the UK 6 years ago in a tiny flat, it was impossible to grow herbs outside. So I start my journey in growing indoor and so I decided to share my knowledge.

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