Harvesting Thyme – Best Tips for Drying and Storing

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Harvesting thyme yourself is the freshest way to enjoy it. However, picking thyme leaves can be a big problem if you do not use an effective technique.

Today I am going to show you how to harvest thyme. Read on, and I will share with you one of my best cooking tips for harvesting thyme. You’ll also learn how to dry and store this versatile perennial herb.

Harvesting thyme doesn’t have to be hard!

What is thyme?

When we cook, we love using anything we can grow. Whether it is fresh herbs like thyme or a recipe or making fried dandelions, if it comes from our garden it always tastes better!

A member of the mint family, thyme (thymus vulgaris) is an herb with small green leaves that grow in clusters from stems. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is very popular in recipes throughout southern Europe and the rest of the world.

This popular ingredient is often used as a fresh culinary herb that smells great and makes food taste great. Fragrant and flavorful, the leaves of thyme are used in both cooking and baking. Dried thyme is one of the most common dried herbs in the spice cabinet of any kitchen.

Since we use so much of this herb in our recipes, we want to show you different ways for harvesting thyme.

Besides showing you how to harvest thyme, we’ll also explain to you how to dry and store it. That way, you’ll always have some for when you want it!

How to Harvest Thyme

There is nothing better than fresh herbs straight from the herb garden; they add fresh flavor to any dish. There are several varieties of thyme, and it has many culinary uses.

The best time to pick thyme is in early summer before it flowers and when there is a lot of new growth. Thyme is a perennial herb, and if you grow it indoors, you can harvest it all year round.

Most people do not enjoy removing the leaves from the stems of garden thyme. The plant has small leaves and woody sections of the stem that makes stripping off the leaves easier or tougher, depending on the method you use.

A pot of fresh thyme.
Growing thyme indoors is super easy. Make sure the soil is well-drained and that it gets some direct sunlight. Then, enjoy the green!

To avoid unnecessary pain, we’re going to show you some tricks that will do the job. This will help save you from going bonkers, which in the end, will help you better learn how to harvest thyme.

Use a Pasta Measurer

One of the methods that we use for harvesting thyme involves the use of a pasta measurer. We feed the stem through the tiniest opening in a pasta measurer. The pasta measurer is an old plastic instrument that contains different sizes of circles, which are used to make portions of raw spaghetti. This tool can easily pull the leaves off the stem.

Since a pasta measurer is almost impossible to find, you can search for a herb stripper instead because it is readily available.

With a Fine-Mesh Strainer

Fortunately, our kitchen has many other tools that we can use to pick fresh thyme leaves, such as a fine-mesh strainer. When harvesting thyme, this may be the best way to separate the leaves from the woody stems.

You begin by pushing the stem’s end through a hole as far as it can go. Then, you carefully but forcefully pull the stem through. This usually gets the tiny but flavorful leaves collected in the strainer.

Use A Perforated Pan

This is another useful tool for harvesting thyme. Used together with a non-perforated pan, they make a perfect combination.

Simply insert a perforated pan into a non-perforated one (like a cookie sheet) and throw in the woody thyme. Lay the the aromatic plant out flat ins a single layer and then put it in the freezer until it is frozen.

Next, open the freezer and use your hands to crumple up the frozen thyme twigs while slightly shaking the pan around. This allows most of the leaves to fall through the perforations.

Sometimes, it is possible for a few small stems to go through as well, but you can easily pick them out. Do this while it is still in the freezer to avoid defrosting too quickly, thus allowing the leaves to remain attached.

Frozen Method

There is another way to get it ready for use after harvesting thyme that does not need any pan. This involves taking a large bundle of the thyme stem and wrapping it in plastic wrap.

Keep both ends of the wrap open, and then put it in the freezer until it is frozen. When you want to use it, we simply pull it out.

Next, hold it between your hands in a vertical position and roll it loosely in the same way the ancient bushman used to start a fire. This makes all the frozen leaves to fall through the open end at the bottom.

Use Young Thyme Plants

One final effective trick for harvesting thyme involves the less woody thyme with green stems. The stems are so soft that they tend to snap.

A crop of young, green thyme plants.
The young plants can be chopped and used, stems and all.

This means that they are tender enough to eat. Toss these bits into a pile and then fine-chop everything, stems and leaves.

You can also throw the entire sprig into most sauces and strain them if necessary. You may add small bundles in a bouquet garnish as well. 

This involves wrapping a bundle of thyme herbs in cheesecloth and tying them with butcher’s twine. We do this when making Julia Child’s recipe for Beef Bourguignon.

Top tips for harvesting thyme:

  • Pick it first thing in the morning with a pair of garden shears. You want to do this before the afternoon heat sets in, especially during the summer months.
  • When harvesting thyme, snip near the base of the plant. Don’t take more than one third of the plant so that it can continue to grow new leaves.

While you may love the smell and taste of fresh herbs, removing the tiny leaves may put you off. However, you should not forfeit a tasty meal simply because you cannot figure out how to remove the precious leaves.

Extracting the leaves does not have to be torturous since you can use simple tricks such as these. Some of the techniques involve the use of certain kitchen equipment, while others need only the use of your hands.

How to dry thyme

After harvesting thyme, you may want to dry it so it can be used for months after you pick it. This is especially true for large harvests.

Drying thyme is a great option for long-term storage, allowing you to enjoy it well into the winter months if you live in a colder climate like we do here in Wisconsin. Properly stored in an airtight container, it will stay good for one to three years.

A bunch of thyme hanging out to dry.

For the best flavor, it’s always a good idea to use it within a year though.

The two most popular ways to dry thyme are by using an ancient technique of drying it in a hanging bundle or using the modern technology of a food dehydrator.

How to Dry Thyme by Hanging

This is the oldest and easiest way to dry thyme. Simple tie a bunch of it together by the stems and allow it to hang in a dark place with low humidity. The leaves will be ready to come off the stems in 1 to 2 weeks.

How to Dry Tyme in a Dehydrator

A food food dehydrator is another good way to dry thyme. With this easy method, place the harvested herbs in a single layer of the dehydrator trays. You can strip the leaves off the dried stems in less than 2 days using this method.

Expert Cooking Tip: Dried herbs are more potent than fresh ones. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of dried herb, you’ll want to use about a tablespoon of the fresh stuff.

A bunch of thyme and a couple of drinks.
Herb-infused tea, using fresh thyme.

Common questions

What is thyme good for?

Thyme seasoning adds a wonderful and fragrant flavor to many foods. You will find it in a variety of soups and stews as well as in beef, chicken, pork, and seafood recipes of all kinds.

Use it in homemade tomato sauce for an extra boost of fresh flavor. After harvesting thyme, you can even infuse it into olive oil.

Thyme’s essential oils make it great for soaps, candles, body lotions, and more. It is also one of the most popular ornamental plants loved for it’s fragrant leaves and makes a great companion plant to other herbs and vegetables.

What are the different kinds of thyme?

In addition to common thyme, there are other varieties like lemon-scented thyme (known as lemon thyme) and caraway thyme. They all have a bit of a different flavor and can be used for different recipes or other purposes.

Can you freeze thyme?

Yes, you can freeze thyme and use it later. Just put it in a freezer bag, making sure to get all the air out.

Leave the leaves on the stems if you like and pull out a sprig at a time, as ended. For best results, you’ll want to use it within a year of harvesting thyme.

Expert Cooking Tip – After harvesting thyme, add it to some ice cube trays, then fill them with water and freeze. Add these thyme ice cubes to soups an broths for some fresh herb flavor!

Related recipes

See more cooking tips like how to rinse quinoa and what plates are safe to use in an air fryer and how to tell when peaches are ripe.

Now that we’ve shown you a bunch of ways for how to harvest tyme and how to dry and store it, let’s put it to good use with some of our favorite recipes

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This post is updated from the original one published in 2017.

Meet the Platter Talk Guys

Dan & Scott split their time between Wisconsin and Southwest Florida and are dads to six boys. Good food runs through their veins, and they love showing others how to cook easy recipes.

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