Last Updated on April 9, 2023
Thyme is one of the most commonly grown household herbs due to its ease of growth. To get a prolonged harvest and enjoy more of this herb, you need to know how to harvest thyme without killing the plant.
Thyme grows really fast and well if provided with the right growing conditions, and is an extremely versatile herb for adding flavor in cooking and baking. Keep reading to learn more about this incredible herb.
The Thyme Herb
Thyme, scientific name Thymus vulgaris, is a plant native to the Mediterranean but is currently grown almost everywhere in the world. It is a hardy, perennial plant belonging to the mint family that is extremely easy to grow. Because of this and its size, it can be grown in a variety of areas such as in the garden, on the porch, and in any indoor environment.
This wonderful herb has a pleasant, pungent clover flavor that brings some people, good memories of summer!
Thyme comes in at least 50 varieties with different flavors and fragrances. Different thyme varieties are used for different purposes. These are the fragrant ornamental and culinary varieties. The culinary varieties of thyme are usually evergreen, and the English variety is mostly used in cooking.
Taking care of or maintenance of this herb is quite simple. It does not require much care and develops easily. For starters, it is drought friendly so it has low watering needs. If you are into bees, you will love it even more because it will attract bees to your garden. It is usually harvested in the summer months but depending on the climate where you live, you can easily harvest it late into the fall.
Harvesting Thyme Herb
Harvesting thyme the right way is of utmost importance. It is difficult not to know when the right time to harvest thyme is, as it can be quite easy to tell. The most important thing with harvesting thyme is to wait until the plant has grown to 8″ – 10″ in height. Once it has reached this height, you can safely harvest the herb without the risk of killing the plant.
Only trim a few stems at a time for cooking. If you want to do a larger harvest, you should wait until the plant has developed more and produced larger biomass. Regardless of what stage of growth you harvest your thyme at, always leave a few leaves on the plant for it to regenerate.
When harvesting thyme, do it right before the plant starts to flower. This is when the flavor is the most intense. It reduces after the plant flowers. If you can, always harvest thyme in the morning when the plant’s dew has dried from the leaves. The flavorful essential oils are at their peak at this time.
How to harvest thyme so it keeps growing
Just as important as knowing when to harvest thyme, you need to know exactly how to harvest it without killing the plant. Here are the steps that you need to follow:
- If you want enough to cook one dish, simply cut one or two stems by clipping the stems back to the woody section of the plant.
- If you want only a few leaves for a smaller meal, rinse the whole stem while it is still on the plant. Then use your fingers or a herb stripper to pull the leaves off the stem.
- To harvest thyme for drying, use a pair of garden clippers or scissors to cut off the top 5-8″ of growth and leave the tough and woody plants behind.
- Whatever purpose you want to harvest your thyme for, you can cut back as much as you want from the plants but always leave about 4-5″ of growth behind so that your plants can regenerate. If you harvest your thyme in this way, you will be able to easily get 2-3 harvests from the same plant before the winter arrives.
- Trim your plants regularly. Trimming your plants regularly is very good for them so do not be afraid to do it. It will encourage new growth to keep coming, while also helping keep the plant in a compact shape. This is especially desirable if you are growing your plant indoors or in a compact space. When you trip, always be careful to leave at least five inches of growth. This will keep your plant thriving.
- The first time you harvest your thyme, do not harvest more than a third of the plant. This way your plant will keep growing and establish well, then you will be able to harvest more from it in the future. If you overharvest it early on, it may not recover.
- Trim your thyme plant whenever it gets leggy to encourage continuous growth.
How to Preserve Thyme
As we have already mentioned, a healthy maintained thyme plant can produce so much herb that you can harvest and store, even more, if you have multiple growing plants. Depending on how long you wish to store your thyme, there are various ways that you can preserve it.
Store fresh spring
Keep a fresh spring or sprigs of thyme in a glass of cool water, like you would keep flowers in a vase. Change the water regularly and make sure that the glass never runs dry. You can keep them fresh for a couple of weeks this way.
Fresh thyme leaves that are still attached to the stem can be kept fresh in the refrigerator for about a week or two before they go bad or loses their flavor. Store fresh thyme leaves in the refrigerator in an airtight container with damp paper towels. They will help to maintain freshness.
If you want to store the herbs for a longer period though, drying might be the best way to do it. The good news is that thyme is one of the easier herbs to dry. If the temperatures are warm enough, you can even let it air dry.
To dry your thyme:
- Gently rinse off harvested thyme stems in cool water from the tap or fill a sink or bowl and wash them thoroughly.
- Pat them dry with a paper towel or a clean towel and then let them air out for about two years or until they are completely dry.
- Gather the stems into bundles that you can use per dish that you prepare. Tie the stalks of the bundles together at their ends using a string or twine. Hang the bundles in a dark, warm, and well-ventilated area. Spread them out on a paper towel, rack, or tray in a single layer, especially in a humid area. Keep them away from direct sunlight.
- You can place the herb bundles in paper bags with slits if you wish. This will protect the herbs as they dry and catch leaves that may fall off.
- Expect to wait about 2-3 weeks for the herbs to dry. The exact amount of time will depend on the humidity levels and other environmental conditions. Because thyme leaves a quite small, check on them regularly as they may dry quicker than expected. You will know that the leaves are sufficiently dry when they turn crispy and start crumbling. At this stage, you can take and store them in storage containers, and label and use them as you go. Stored this way, your thyme can last for up to two years. The one disadvantage of dried thyme is that it does not have as strong of a flavor as its fresh counterpart. But you will still get to enjoy it.
Another option for long-term storage option for thyme is freezing. You can do this by chopping the leaves up into small pieces, putting them in ice cube trays, and then filling them up with water all the way. Frozen thyme can store for a few months. If however, your thyme starts to turn brown before you use it, it is best to toss it as consuming it in that state may be unsafe.
You can also make herb oil cubes. Pick thyme leaves from the stems and place them in an ice cube tray. Cover the leaves with olive oil and store them in the freezer. These cubes will last for a few months and will be convenient for easy cooking as you can take one or two cubes and toss them into a pan to cook.
Conclusion – How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant
Thyme is an incredibly versatile herb that is so easy to grow and enjoy. To keep enjoying the long-term benefits of growing this plant, it is important to know how to harvest thyme without killing the plant. If you follow the advice provided in this article, you should confidently be able to grow, harvest and store your thyme so you can enjoy it for as long as you like, whether it is in or out of season.
We hope you found this article helpful.
Happy growing and harvesting!
An aquaculture specialist and freelance writer. Passionate about anything sustainable living, such as growing your own food, and if you can do it in conjunction with fish farming, even better! I currently work as an aquaculture researcher where I can expand and share my knowledge and skills on aquaculture, crop farming and adding value to wastewater by using it to grow food products. I enjoy reading and learning as much as possible, and writing is another avenue for me to share the knowledge I gain with others. I want my writing to inspire people to try their hand at gardening, whether indoors or outdoors. You can even start by keeping a few houseplants indoors to help you gain a bit of confidence if you need to.