Thyme, a popular, sprawling, ground-cover herb, is a delightful addition to any home garden, as its sweet odor and tiny carpet of white to lavender flowers bring a delicate texture to the garden landscape. Thyme has great insect repelling properties and is known to enhance the flavor of nearby vegetables. In its proper climate, the benefits of thyme can be reaped all year round. Thyme also does extremely well in containers indoors, making this fresh herb easy to harvest while cooking up a storm.
The French Thyme variety features narrow, greyish-green leaves with a sweeter flavor than English Thyme but is also less hardy. The obvious choice for French cooking, this plant grows wild in the French countryside as a perennial shrub, with pinkish purple flowers emerging in mid to late spring which draw in pollinators and beneficial bugs. Plant will reach about 12″ tall and spread to 12–18″ wide. It is well-adapted to a dry, Mediterranean climate. Also sometimes called Summer Thyme.
Seed Depth: 1/8–1/16″
Space Between Plants: 12–16″
Space Between Rows: 12″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–70°F
Days for Germination: 16–18
Sow Indoors: 8 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks after average last frost when temperatures are warm.
Vegetative: Thyme can be propagated via stem cuttings, root division, or layering.
Originates from the Mediterranean and thus enjoys warm dry conditions with healthy soils. Thyme thrives as a perennial in USDA Zones 5–9 . That said, thyme can be grown very easily indoors almost anywhere as long as light and water requirements are being met.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Grows well under compact or standard fluorescent lamps. Provide up to 12 hours of light daily.
Soil: Prefers well-drained sandy or loamy soils. A slightly alkaline pH, just above 7.0, will keep plants healthy and nourished. Thyme has a small and delicate but elaborate root system. Because of this, rot is common. To avoid, implement extra drainage measures, such as adding limestone rocks below the roots. This root system also allows thyme to grow in small, more compact areas, so try it out as a border plant or ground cover in between stepping stones.
Soilless: Container plants will grow well in a soilless mix containing well-rotted manure, vermiculite, and perlite.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires low levels of water. Water 1–2 times a week. Thyme, like most herbs, enjoys drying out between waterings; check soil and do not water if already wet.
Nutrients: Requires moderate levels of nutrients. You can fertilize monthly to keep soil full of valuable nutrients.
Foliar: Some studies have shown that a foliar application of vermicompost tea is particularly effective in helping encourage growth in thyme plants.
Pruning: Trimming thyme regularly, or as you need it for cooking, stimulates new growth.
Mulching: Lightly mulch around plants when temperatures drop for added protection. In preparation for frost, top plants with straw or pine needles.
Companions: Grows well with sage and plants in the nightshade and cabbage families. Thyme makes a great companion to almost any vegetable or herb. It protects against insects and can even improve the flavor of neighboring veggies.
Harvest: You can harvest stems from your thyme plants as needed. Just clip off the top 1/2 to 1/3 of the stem, which will promote branching from a node below your cutting point. To harvest for drying, take clippings in early fall, tie together, and hang upside down in a dark area with good air flow. Flowers can also be harvested and ingested—although it should be noted that when thyme flowers, the flavor of the leaves is reduced.
Storage: Use fresh thyme within a week of harvesting. Thyme can be dried out and stored in an air tight container in a dark cabinet for long-term storage. The seeds collected from thyme can last up to 3 years.
Fun Fact: Thyme was used in the embalming process of the ancient Egyptians. Maybe it helped with the smell!
Preserve: After drying, pick leaves from stem and store in an air tight container. Thyme can be frozen whole or in ice cube trays filled with water or oil. You can also preserve in oil.
Prepare: As a staple, you can add fresh thyme to almost any dish. Use thyme when slow-cooking soups or stews and strong vegetables such as cabbage. Thyme can even be infused in boiling water for a delightful tea. Because the leaves are so small, there is no need to chop them up: just throw them right in!
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, B-6, and C, iron, and manganese. Also a good source of fiber.
Medicinal: Distillation of the plant will give several essential oils, such as thymol, which possesses antiseptic and antifungal properties and is also high in anti-oxidants. Traditional uses for this herb include at a treatment for asthma and respiratory ailments, depression, insomnia, anemia, and colic.
Warnings: Always read directions when using essential oils, as they are usually quite concentrated. Pregnant or nursing women should consult with a doctor before consuming the thyme plant in high amounts (more than what you would cook with) because it can affect hormones and menstruation.
Make this French Lentil Soup with Fresh Thyme to bring a French flavor to your kitchen.