The deliciously pungent scent of thyme conjures up hearty winter cooking. So many stews and braises, stocks, soups and poultry stuffings rely on this classic herb to give them their X-factor.
Just as flavoursome in fresh or dried form, it’s one of the traditional herbs that go into the French Herbes de Provence mixture. It has other uses, too – fresh lemon thyme can be added to salads, and for a succulent sandwich filling, chicken breast, thyme and mayo is hard to beat.
How you grow it
Thyme is a compact ground-covering plant, around 20–30cm tall, which looks just as good in ornamental gardens as it does in productive ones. It makes a pretty pathway edging, with its dainty leaves and small pink or white flowers in late spring and summer. To flourish, it needs full sun and well-drained soil – in its native habitat in southern Europe it thrives in quite poor sandy or gravelly soils. If your garden soil is clay, plant it in a pot instead and place it in a sunny spot within easy reach of the kitchen. Plants don’t require a lot of feeding – a sprinkle of organic fertiliser each spring is about all that’s needed.
You can divide up established clumps of thyme in spring to yield extra plants for sharing, or replanting elsewhere around the garden.
When to harvest it
Trim thyme plants regularly with scissors, to keep the plants nice and bushy. You can harvest it all year in most parts of Australia, except for the very coldest climates where it dies back during winter. In the latter situation, pot one up in autumn and keep it on a sunny kitchen windowsill.
Thyme is a very easy herb to dry, so if you have an oversupply during the warm months of the year, cut some bunches (ideally before the flowers form), tie with string and hang them upside down in a shed or garage until the leaves are fully dried. You can store these bunches in airtight containers, or strip the leaves from the stalks and store them in jars.
Other thymes for you to know
Garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the most common variety, but there are several others that are worth growing for their subtle variations in flavour and appearance.
Lemon scented thyme (Thymus citriodorus) has a lemony scent and flavour. It’s great in salads or with fish dishes.
‘Silver Posie’ thyme has silver-edged leaves, with a similar flavour to the common form.
Caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona) has a strong scent, which is comparable to caraway.
‘Pink Chintz’ thyme (Thymus serpyllum) is so named for its massed display of bright pink flowers in summer.