Thyme 101 – The Basics

Thyme is one of those herbs that we usually have in our dried herb/spice collection. When you do a little digging about thyme, you’ll learn that there’s SO much more to it than just flavoring chicken or beans. Its uses range from flavoring foods, to a sore throat remedy, to an insect repellent! Read on to learn about this ancient herb!


Thyme 101 – The Basics

About Thyme
Thyme is a perennial herb in the mint family. It has a delicate appearance, with tiny leaves growing outward from a long stem. The leaves are small and long, with a green-grayish color on top and a lighter shade underneath. It has a strong aroma and flavor. There are about 60 different varieties of thyme, with French thyme (the common variety), lemon thyme, orange thyme, and silver thyme being the most common types. Thyme is used around the world in many food dishes and cuisines. It has a sharp grassy and woody flavor with floral notes, and like the song, it pairs well with parsley, sage and rosemary.

Thyme has been used since ancient times for culinary, aromatic, and medicinal uses. Ancient Egyptians included thyme in their embalming process when preparing deceased pharaohs for the afterlife. Ancient Greeks burned thyme as incense in temples. In medieval times, a sprig of thyme was given to knights as a sign of bravery. Thyme oil has been used as an antiseptic since the 1500’s.

Nutrition and Health Benefits of Thyme
Although we only consume small amounts of this herb in food, thyme is an excellent source of Vitamin C, a very good source of Vitamin A, and a good source of iron, manganese, copper and fiber.

Thyme has been used since antiquity for its medicinal and antiseptic properties. The main active ingredient is thymol and has been included in an array of personal hygiene and home sanitizing products. Thymol has been found to protect the fats in cell membranes and other cellular structures. It has been included in pesticides targeting bacteria, viruses and some animal pests like rats and mice. Thyme has been found to contain a number of flavonoids that increase its antioxidant activity. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods (, this brings thyme high on the list of foods providing antioxidant protection.

Thyme has been used in aromatherapy to provide relief from respiratory ailments and to stimulate the immune and circulatory systems.

The oils in thyme have been found to have antimicrobial activity against a number of bacteria and fungi, including Staphalococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli and Shigella sonnei.

Very diluted essential oil of thyme has been used to treat skin and mouth infections. Note that thyme essential oil should always be very diluted, never ingested, nor used to treat children or pregnant women.

How to Select Thyme
Dried thyme is available in the spice section of most grocery stores. Most chefs recommend buying fresh thyme for its bright flavor and ease of use. Many grocery stores now carry fresh thyme in the produce department. Opt for sprigs with a vibrant color, free of dark spots and yellowing.

How to Store Thyme
Store fresh thyme in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel within a plastic bag. It should keep for about 10 to 14 days. If it develops an “off” smell or appearance, or becomes soft, your thyme has spoiled. Discard it.

Dried thyme should be kept in an airtight container in a dry, dark place. It will keep well for about six months. If you notice your dried thyme has little aroma, especially when the leaves are crushed in your hand or with a mortar and pestle, it’s time to replace it.

How to Freeze Fresh Thyme
Fresh thyme can be frozen. First wash, trim and chop the thyme. Allow it to dry thoroughly, then place it in a freezer bag. Or, you could place your washed, trimmed and chopped thyme into ice cube trays. Add a small amount of water and freeze. When the cubes are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag. For best quality, use frozen thyme within 4 to 6 months. However, it will be safe to consume long beyond that time frame.

Dried vs Fresh Thyme
The flavor of fresh and dried thyme are about the same. However, the dried herb needs some time to be rehydrated for the flavor to be released, so add it early during cooking. Fresh thyme can be added early during cooking or toward the end. The longer it cooks, the more flavor will be released. Many chefs use whole sprigs of fresh thyme and remove the sprigs before the food is served. The stems won’t break down during cooking, so removing the sprigs is necessary. However, the fresh leaves may also be removed from the stems and used in fresh or cooked foods.

How to Prepare Thyme
A spring of fresh thyme can simply be rinsed and then tossed into food that you’re cooking. Whether dried or fresh, thyme can be added to cooked foods at any stage of cooking. It’s important to note that the longer it is cooked, the more flavor it will release.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Thyme
* When converting fresh thyme to dried (or vice versa), use 3 parts fresh thyme for 1 part dried thyme.

*If a recipe calls for fresh or dried thyme and you don’t have any available, fresh or dried rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram or dried basil (not fresh) may be substituted. Their flavors are similar to that of thyme and blend well with thyme.

* When poaching fish, place sprigs of fresh thyme on the fish and in the water for added flavor.

* The flavor of thyme blends well with beans, especially kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans.

* Thyme blends well with eggs in omelets or when scrambled.

* The flavor of thyme blends well with tomatoes, so add some to tomato sauce or your favorite tomato dish.

* Make your own insect repellant by mixing 4 drops of thyme essential oil with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, or 4 drops of thyme essential oil with 2 ounces of water.

* Suffering from a cough or bronchitis? Make a soothing thyme tea by infusing three sprigs of thyme in 1-1/2 cups of boiling water. Allow it to steep for 5 to 15 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Add a slice of ginger, a slice of lemon and a bit of honey, if desired. When it cools down, you could also add some sliced apples or peaches for a refreshing fruit beverage.

* For a sore throat, make a soothing gargle that fights bacteria by boiling thyme in water, then allow it to cool. Gargle three times a day. Researchers have found throat infections usually disappears in 2 to 5 days.

* For a refreshing beverage, make thyme-infused water. Place two whole bunches of thyme sprigs in 4 to 8 cups of filtered water (1 or 2 quarts) in a covered container or jar. Allow it to sit overnight at room temperature. In the morning, remove the thyme and add lemon and/or honey as desired. Sip throughout the day.

Other Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Thyme
Basil, bay leaf, garlic, lovage, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, savory, sumac

Foods That Go Well with Thyme
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beans (in general), beef, chicken, eggs, fish, lamb, peas, pork, sesame seeds, tofu, venison

Vegetables: Beets, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, carrots, chard, eggplant, fennel, greens (salad), leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spinach, squash (summer and winter), tomatoes, winter (root) vegetables, zucchini

Fruits: Apples, citrus (esp. lemon), pears

Grains and Grain Products: Corn, polenta, quinoa

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (esp. blue, cheddar, fresh, goat, and ricotta)

Other Foods: Oil (esp. olive)

Thyme has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e. biscotti, biscuits, cookies), Bouquets garnis (usually parsley, thyme and bay leaf), bread pudding, breads, Caribbean cuisine, Cajun cuisine, casseroles, chowders, Creole cuisine, egg dishes, European cuisines, French cuisine, gratins, Green cuisine, gumbos, herbes de Provence, Italian cuisine, Jamaican cuisine, marinades, Mediterranean cuisines, Middle Eastern cuisines, pasta dishes, salad dressings, salads (i.e. pasta), sauces (i.e. barbecue, cheese, cream, pasta, red wine, tomato), soups, stews, stocks, and stuffings

Suggested Flavor Combos Using Thyme
Combine thyme with any of the following combinations…
Garlic + lemon + olive oil
Goat cheese + olive oil
Onions + spinach
sesame seeds + sumac

Recipe Links
Grilled Salmon with Thyme and Lemon

Our 35 Best Thyme-Infused Recipes

Roasted Potatoes with Lemon, Rosemary, and Thyme (vegan)

Thyme and White Bean Pot Pies

Thyme-Infused Vegetables

Vegan Mushroom and Thyme Soup

Dijon, Thyme, and Pine Nut Broccoli

Garlic and Thyme Pan Seared Mushrooms

Oven Roasted Potatoes and Carrots with Thyme


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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