Thyme is a popular medicinal and culinary herb with a wide range of uses. Discover how and when to harvest thyme as well as the different ways in which it can be stored and preserved.
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is used both medicinally as well as in the kitchen. In addition to being used fresh, the shoots can also be preserved. Find out everything you need to know about harvesting, freezing and drying thyme as well as preserving thyme in oil.
Thyme can be harvested periodically throughout the entire growing season. It is important to always cut off a whole shoot rather than just individual leaves, and it is best to cut just above a leaf node. When harvesting thyme, select long, young, and non-woody shoots and cut them off with sharp, clean scissors or a knife. If you want to harvest particularly aromatic shoots, cut them off shortly before flowering when the concentration of essential oils in the leaves is at its highest. Once thyme flowers, all its energy is directed away from the leaves and towards the flowers, causing the leaves to become less aromatic. The weather also affects when to harvest thyme. On sunny days, the plant’s fragrance is most intense in the late morning, so this is the best time to harvest. On a cloudy day, harvest your thyme in the early afternoon. Your thyme plant will thrive if you harvest small amounts often rather than large amounts all at once. As a general rule, do not harvest more than a third of your thyme plant at once. Knowing how to harvest thyme without killing it will ensure that it flourishes year after year.
Storing and preserving thyme
The uses of thyme as a medicinal or culinary herb are diverse. Knowing how to store and preserve thyme will ensure that you have a plentiful supply all year round. For this there are several possibilities: drying thyme is perhaps the most common but freezing thyme or preserving it in oil are also excellent options.
Tip: for even more variety in your kitchen and garden, why not read about the different types of thyme in our other article.
One way to preserve thyme is by drying the sprigs. Harvest young, long, non-woody shoots and gather several of these into a bundle. Tie together with string and hang the thyme bunches upside down in a dark, clean, airy, and dry place. Ensure the bundles are protected from sunlight, otherwise the essential oils will break down more quickly, causing the drying thyme leaves to lose their fragrance. The thyme is sufficiently dry after two to four weeks, when the thyme leaves crumble easily between your fingers. Remove the dried thyme leaves from the stems and store in an airtight, labelled jar in a dark place. Dried thyme can be kept for about six to twelve months before it gradually loses its potency.
Can you freeze thyme?
If you have ever wondered how to store fresh thyme, you might be interested to learn that freezing thyme is a great choice. Here are two methods for freezing thyme, either whole or just the leaves:
Option 1: wash the thyme sprigs and gently pat dry. Then let them air dry completely to prevent ice from forming when frozen. Arrange the sprigs on a baking sheet so that they are not touching each other and place into the freezer for one to two hours to freeze a little. Pop the frozen thyme sprigs into a labelled freezer bag together and store in the freezer. Pre-freezing means that it is easy to remove individual sprigs later when cooking. It is best to only use the leaves when cooking, as the stalk often has a bitter taste.
Option 2: you can also freeze fresh thyme leaves without the stalk. Simply pluck the leaves from the shoots, place in an ice cube tray for easy portioning and put into the freezer. You can use the frozen thyme cubes for up to four to six months before it begins to lose quality.
Preserving thyme in oil
Whole, fresh sprigs of thyme can be preserved in oil to extend their shelf life. Pour a good quality oil over the thyme sprigs and leave to infuse until you are ready to use it. This also happens to create a gorgeous infused herbal oil while preserving the sprigs. It is important to note that the shoots must be completely submerged in the oil, or they will quickly become mouldy. Thyme pesto is another delicious way to transform this herb. Simply crush the leaves in a jar together with a little oil, salt, and nuts. The pesto will keep in the fridge for about two weeks.
Tip: it is also possible to make a beautiful thyme tincture. Simply soak the leaves in alcohol for two weeks. After steeping, strain the liquid from the leaves. Pour the tincture into dark bottles and it is ready to use.
Do you want to increase your thyme supply? Find out how in our article on propagating thyme.