- Latin synonyms: Satureja acinos, Acinos arvensis
- Family: Mint Family – Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
- Growing form: Annual or short-lived perennial herb.
- Height: 10–30 cm (4–12 in.). Usually many-stemmed. Stem erect–ascending, roundedly 4-edged, hairy, often reddish violet. With pleasant fragrance.
- Flower: Corolla irregular (zygomorphic), purplish, 7–10 mm (0.28–0.4 in.) long, fused, bilabiate, long-tubed, hairy. Upper lip flat; lower lip with white markings, 3-lobed, central lobe larger than lateral lobes, with notched tips. Calyx cylindrical, curving, with oval base, bilabiate, 11–13-veined, 5-lobed, 3 lobes on upper lip shorter than lobes on lower lip. Stamens 4, of which 2 long and 2 short. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Inflorescence a spike-like cluster comprised of separate axillary whorls, terminating stem.
- Leaves: Opposite, very short-stalked. Blade narrowly ovate–lanceolate–almost elliptic, with entire margins–sparsely shallow-toothed, both sides short-haired. Inflorescence’s subtending bracts like stem leaves.
- Fruit: 4-parted schizocarp. Mericarps rounded, yellowish brown.
- Habitat: Meadows, river banks, rocky outcrops, ridged slopes, roadsides. Calciphile.
- Flowering time: June–August.
Basil-thyme is often a short-lived perennial in Finland, but sometimes it grows as an annual. In its favoured habitat further south in Europe it is apparently and exceptionally able to complete its life cycle in a single summer, so becoming a perennial has been an adaptation to the shorter and cooler northern growing season. The species grows mainly on meadows and banks, and its native habitats were ridged slopes and light-filled rocky outcrops.
Basil-thyme’s green parts have a strong, pleasant fragrance which reminds many people of the familiar culinary herb summer savory (Clinopodium hortense, also Satureja hortensis). The Ancient Romans used the name satureja to refer to this plant – Linné later expanded the name to include the whole genre. The origin of the name is possibly a reference to the Greek mythological satyrs, the licentious male nature spirits. According to myth the plant, which thrived in the mountain meadows that the satyrs lived in, strongly affected their sexual drive. At least summer savory has been used in the ancient past to increase libido, although nowadays it is better known for its peppery flavour. Basil-thyme is small and quite rare in Finland and is not used in the kitchen, but a botanist with a good nose can pick up the scent on this charming little plant’s genus by the fragrance alone. Basil-thyme’s scientific name acinos comes from the Greek word akinos, meaning ‘with good fragrance’.
Another member of the genus that grows in Finland is wild basil (C. vulgare), which differs from basil-thyme in that it has e.g. a crimson corolla which is also larger. Also, wild basil’s leaves have virtually no fragrance.