Along with bay leaf, basil, and oregano, thyme is one of the best Mediterranean herbs you must have in your kitchen.
Even better, you can try growing them in your herb garden for a fresh supply.
When to harvest thyme? The best time to harvest your thyme is right before it flowers. Do this periodically throughout the spring and summer to encourage growth. Also, it would be best to do it in the morning after the morning dew has dried.
How Do You Know When Your Thyme Is Ready to Harvest?
If you love cooking with thyme, it’s a good idea to add it to your herb garden along with parsley, rosemary, and oregano.
Some even prefer growing them in containers, making it easy to bring them inside during the winter months.
One of the most important parts of growing thyme is knowing when you can harvest its fragrant leaves.
After all, harvesting at the wrong time or, worse, overdoing it can slow down the plant’s growth.
On the other hand, doing it correctly and at the right times will encourage the plant to produce more leaves!
So, when is the right time to harvest thyme?
During the first year, you will want to be very sparse and light when it comes to picking the leaves.
These first 12 months play a big role in the plant getting established, so make sure you don’t take more than a few small sprigs.
Basically, you will know the plant is ready for harvesting when it is around four to five inches in diameter and is eight to 10 inches tall.
Again, avoid harvesting during its dormant months, which is during winter.
It would be best to do a major harvest before the first frost, as these plants cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Thyme?
As mentioned, it’s a good idea to do a big harvest before your thyme plants flower.
If you wait longer and they bloom, you will have lost some of the herb’s potency and flavor.
While you can still harvest after this, there’s a good chance you’ll get a milder flavor.
You will want to pinch off the flowers so that the plants can focus on producing more leaves.
Doing this will also prevent the plant from seeding.
Like most culinary herbs, your thyme plant will benefit the most if you harvest its leaves several times during its growing season.
If you fail to do this, especially after it’s finished blooming, the plant can turn woody and will need to be replaced in a few years.
Also, older thyme plants tend to be leggy and woody and produce not-so-flavorful leaves, so divide or replace them with new ones.
How To Harvest Thyme?
The three most common thyme varieties are French or English thyme, lemon thyme, and caraway thyme.
Whether growing them in pots indoors or in your outdoor herb garden, it’s important that you give them their preferred growing conditions.
As you probably already know, these plants enjoy exposure to full sun and thrive in warm temperatures.
Because they like sunny conditions, you can plant them alongside rosemary.
Tomatoes and cabbages are also good companion plants for thyme.
This culinary herb takes a long time to mature, more so when grown from seed.
As such, most gardeners prefer growing them from cuttings or divisions instead.
Here’s how to harvest its leaves once you’re confident it is mature enough for picking:
Step 1: Gather your tools.
Before anything else, you’ll want to make sure your garden shears or pruners are clean and sterilized.
After all, you’ll essentially be wounding your plant, so your tools should be clean to keep them safe from infections.
Also, using your bare hands might damage and stress the plant, even more, causing diseases and pest infestations.
Step 2: Cut young, fresh sprigs.
Inspect the plant and look for fresh leaves to harvest.
You’ll want to stay away from the woody parts because the plant needs them for regrowth.
Besides, these woody stems are not as fragrant, so we don’t use them for cooking.
When cutting, you should do so above a leaf node to help the plant grow new leaves.
Step 3: Do not cut more than a third of the plant.
Aim to do several light cuttings spread throughout the growing season instead of just one big harvest.
This way, the thyme plant will have enough time to regrow new sprigs before entering its dormant stage.
You’ll also want to take leaves from all around the plant as opposed to just one location.
Step 4: Stop harvesting in the fall.
If you fail to remove the flowers during summer, your thyme plants will most likely go to seed in the fall.
When this happens, you might want to stop harvesting the leaves.
Since the plant is more focused on producing the seeds, the flavor of the leaves will be less than what you’d expect.
Should You Wash Thyme After Harvesting?
It’s good practice to wash fresh herbs before using or storing them for later.
Regardless of whether you’re using them now or dry and storing them for long, you’ll want to rinse your freshly harvested thyme under cool running water.
This is also a good time to get rid of any damaged or dead parts.
Line them up on a clean paper towel to allow them to air dry.
Then, decide if you want to keep some of your fresh harvest in the fridge or dry them all up.
Can You Eat Thyme Immediately After Harvesting?
Assuming you rinse it thoroughly under clean running water, it’s perfectly fine to eat thyme after harvesting.
If you harvested it at the correct time, expect the concentrated herbal, almost minty flavor to have hints of wood, sharp grass, and floral notes.
Of course, the flavor is different in lemon thyme, which has the citrus fragrance of lemons.
Compared to dried herbs, which give off hints of bitterness, some prefer using fresh thyme.
Especially if you were able to harvest a big batch, you’d want to store both fresh thyme leaves and dried thyme.
How To Store Fresh Thyme in the Fridge
Stored correctly, fresh thyme can stay in the fridge and be good enough for cooking for roughly 10 to 14 days.
To do this, you’ll want to wrap the herbs in a damp but clean paper towel before putting them in a resealable plastic bag.
You will find many uses for fresh thyme—either add to a dish together with the stem or sprinkle the leaves on top.
For longer storage in the fridge, grab a tall jar and put about one inch of water inside.
Then, place the sprigs standing up as you would when storing a bouquet of fresh flowers.
With frequent water changes, your fresh thyme can last for three months or longer in the fridge like this.
How To Freeze Thyme
Like other herbs, thyme can keep its flavor and texture intact after being frozen.
To do this, you can follow the same ice cube freezing method you use when freezing other herbs.
Firstly, remove the leaves from the stem by pinching the stem between your forefinger and thumb and sliding them down to break off the leaves.
Then, place the leaves in the ice cube tray filled with water before putting the tray in the freezer.
After freezing, remove the frozen cubes and transfer them to freezer bags.
If that’s too much prep for you, you can just put the sprigs in a freezer bag and toss that in the freezer.
How To Dry Thyme for Longer Storage?
Aside from freezing, it’s also a good idea to dry thyme so that you can enjoy its flavors throughout the year.
Using a Food Dehydrator
The quickest and easiest way to do this is with a food dehydrator.
Thyme leaves are small, so use the dehydrator’s fine screen to make sure you get everything.
Start by preheating the machine around 90 to 100 degrees. You might have to wait one to three hours for the drying to finish.
After the first hour mark, check the leaves every 30 minutes to see if they crumble easily.
If they do, you’ll know that they are done drying. Store the dried thyme leaves in airtight containers.
Using a Microwave
To dry thyme in the microwave, line up the sprigs on a clean paper towel in a single layer.
Microwave it for 30 seconds, rearrange and turn the sprigs, and then microwave it again.
Using an Oven
For oven drying, you’ll want to layout the sprigs in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Then, preheat the oven to 180 degrees before putting the sheet in, leaving the door open.
Allow them to soak in the heat for two hours, checking every half hour after the one-hour mark.
Air Drying Thyme
For those who don’t own a food dehydrator or a microwave, you can also just air dry thyme instead.
Cover the sprigs with a paper bag with some holes to allow for good ventilation.
Then, hang it up to keep your herbs safe from dust and so that the bag catches any leaf that falls off.
Compared to using machines, air drying thyme takes longer, usually about 10 days.
Thyme is a slow-growing yet hardy evergreen perennials that come in over 50 varieties.
Because of its fragrant leaves and unique flavor, you’ll never run out of uses for these wonderful herbs.
What’s more, you can grow these drought-friendly plants in pots or plant them in your garden.
Come harvest time, and you’ll have plenty to add flavor to your vegetables, grilled meats, and even soups!