Growing, Drying And Using Homemade Thyme

Thyme is an easy-to-grow and delicious herb also known for its valuable medicinal properties. Learn how to cultivate, harvest and use this useful herb.

Thyme is a hardy herb which is easy to grow and usually used for flavoring savory and warming dishes such as soups, sauces and meat, but is also touted for certain medicinal qualities. The active ingredient in thyme is even used in products like Listerine and Vicks Vapor Rub, and a quick search on the web yields several home recipes for teas, mouthwashes and other thyme-based home remedies.

Although thyme is an easy herb to grow, it grows very slowly. Therefore, if you wait too late in the spring to begin growing your thyme, it may be the safest bet to buy seedlings instead of seeds - so the thyme won't fall victim to the first frost before the first harvest.

When growing your thyme from seeds, be sure to sprout it indoors very early in the spring. Once the last frost has safely passed, it is time to transfer the plants outside to a sunny spot - thyme grows most vigorously in full sun, but will also tolerate partial shade. The seedlings should be planted in well-drained soil. Resist the urge to use fertilizer - some gardening experts say that although this yields larger plants, the essential oils in such plants is not as strong and neither is the flavor or medicinal value.

The thyme is ready for harvesting right before the plant is in full bloom, and the best time of day for harvesting is in the early morning after the dew has dried. Snip the stems at the point at which they are no longer tender. Be sure to leave 3-4 inches of foliage, as the plant may not recover if snipped too short. The thyme can then either be used fresh, frozen (place the clipping in a plastic sandwich bag), or dried for later. If using the thyme in a recipe, check the ingredient list to find out which form of the herb is better in that particular dish.

To dry thyme (or any fresh herb), place the clippings in a paper bag, such as a brown paper lunch bag. Put the bag in a dry place and give it a shake once or twice a day. With this method, the thyme should be dry and ready to use (and wonderfully fragrant!) in about a day or two. Once the thyme has dried, rub the leaves off with your fingers and store the leaves in an airtight container in a cool and dark place for best results.

It is important to make sure the thyme is fully dry before storing it, as herbs that still contain moisture may mildew and rot in storage. Also, as a general tip when using dried herbs, don't shake the herbs directly into a boiling pot - the steam may enter the jar, and any moisture that remains in the jar could also cause mildew and rotting.

Besides enhancing savory dishes such as stews and roasts, thyme is delicious steeped in olive oil or added to butter for a wonderful accompaniment to fresh, crusty bread. Thyme also complements boiled or roasted new potatoes well. Herbs that blend well with thyme include French tarragon, winter savory, bay leaf, and parsley.

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