An amazingly versatile seasoning that goes well with nearly every savory dish, thyme is a delicate herb with an unforgettable aroma. There are lots of reasons to cook with it, especially in its fresh form: it adds a light but enjoyable flavor to bean, egg, vegetable, and meat dishes; it's got antioxidant and anti-microbial properties; and for such a small herb, it packs an impressing serving of vitamin C and iron.
Tips for using thyme:
– Add to your favorite pasta sauce for an unexpectedly complexity of flavor.
– Use in omelets and egg scrambles to add an appealing aromatic element.
– Hearty bean and lentil dishes are perfectly complemented by the flavor of thyme.
– When poaching fish, try adding thyme to the poaching liquid.
– Thyme is a part of the traditional French "bouquet garni," a bouquet of herbs used to season stocks, soups, and broths.
– Stuff several sprigs alongside some fresh rosemary and a bay leaf or two for a delicious, flavorful roasted chicken.
– Thyme was burnt as an incense in ancient Greek temples; the smell from burning it is said to shoo away insects.
– When cooking with thyme, either fresh or dried, always add towards the end; too much heat can cook out its delicate flavor.
Thyme in the Garden
Slow, spotty germination can make it tough to grow thyme from seed. It's much easier to buy a mature plant, or start from some cuttings from a friend. But with a little determination and some trial and error, you can definitely grow thyme yourself! (I'm doing it right now!)
For a head start, you can plant seeds or cuttings indoors 6 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost. This allows the seeds to germinate in a controlled environment, where harsh temperatures won't slow them down. Plant outside 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost in well-drained soil, about 9 inches apart. Thyme will grow to about 6-12 inches in height.
If you want to grow in a pot indoors, that's totally doable too! Plant in a clay pot in a mixture of sand, potting soil, peat moss, and perlite, so that your plant has access to all the nutrients it needs without being in danger of soggy roots (herbs hate soggy roots). Thyme can grow in indirect sunlight, which makes it an excellent addition to a kitchen herb garden. Try to give it at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, and place in a west- or south-facing window.
Caring for Thyme
Water normally. Trim to encourage new growth. You can prune in the spring and summer to keep the plants from getting out of hand. If you have cold winters, remember to lightly mulch around the plants after the ground freezes.
Harvest and Storage
Throughout the summer, leaves and sprigs can be harvested at any time. Harvest as needed and use fresh, or if you prefer, dry and conserve. Remove leaves from woody stems by pinching the end of the stem with your thumb and forefinger, and pulling up the stalk. Discard peripheral twigs.
To dry, first wash fresh thyme and then towel off thoroughly. Tie several sprigs together in small, bunched bouquets. Hang them in a dark, well-ventilated, warm area with low humidity. About two weeks should be all they need. Once dried, store in an airtight container.
Alternatively, you can remove the leaves and place them on a cookie sheet, stirring them up once a day, for a few days. This is the quickest way to dry the herb.
To freeze, remove leaves. Pack an ice tray about 3/4 of the way full with thyme, and then fill the rest of the way with olive oil or unsalted butter. Place in the freezer. This is an excellent way to save money and make the most of your fresh herbs!