Preserving Your Thyme Harvest

Thymus vulgaris

The History of Thyme

During the Middle Ages knights wore scarves with Thyme embroidered on them for inspiration and courage during jousting bouts. It was common folk lore that drinking tea made of Thyme would allow you to see fairies! Courtrooms were purified with Thyme to guard against "Jail Fever" and other diseases of the day, such as the Plague.

The Egyptians used Thyme as both medicine and the essential oil was used in the embalming process.

The Greeks considered the herb to be sacred, burning it in their temples to purify the air. Baths with Thyme were used during purification rituals. The Thyme honey from Mount Humettus has been prized throughout the world.

The Romans burned it in interior spaces to purify the air from the odors of disease and to guard against The Plague.

In Wales it was planted on graves and sprigs were carried by the Oddfellows, a secret British society, during funerals.

Old Folk Lore says that planting Thyme in your garden will coax fairies out of their hiding places so that you can get a glimpse at the illusive creatures!

Culinary Uses of Thyme

Thyme is an essential herb in Creole, Cajun, Greek and French cuisine and is a main ingredient in the classic herb combination known as "bouquet garni". Due to its antiseptic properties, it has been used in sausages, meat loaves, and sauces and stuffings for poultry. It mixes well with sea food ingredients in chowders, sauces and gumbos and a wide variety of vegetables. Thyme is used as a digestive aid, helping break down fatty foods, another reason it is used with sausages and meats.

Medicinal Uses of Thyme

Used since the Middle Ages to protect against disease, modern research has show that the natural ingredient, Thymol, has antibacterial qualities, which indeed are affective against diseases. Thyme tea is the traditional remedy for sore throats, broncitis, coughs and intestinal disorders.

DO NOT USE ANY OF THE PLANT FOR TEA OR THE ESSENTIAL OIL OF THYME DURING PREGNANCY. NEVER TAKE THE ESSENTIAL OIL INTERNALLY AS IT IS TOXIC IN SMALL AMOUNTS.

A tea made from the whole plant has a low enough dose to be safe, but never drink more than one cup at a time! Alternative oils are much safer to use.

The crushed leaves make an excellent topical dressing for bug bites and bee stings.

The essential oil is found in tooth paste in a percentage of 0.1% or less to aid in the control of bacteria, helping with gum disease and infection.

Aromatherpy Uses of Thyme

The essential oil is used mainly to strengthen the body against invading organism by boosting white corpuscle production, stimulating circulation and helping to raise low blood pressure. making it effective in treating depressed, lethargic individuals. It is used to increase the appetite of sick or recovering patients and is said to revive the mind and body.

The oil is a stronger antiseptic than many commercial products and is used in soaps for doctors and surgeons to sanitize their hands for surgery.

This essential oil should never be used without proper supervision.

Harvesting Thyme

Since Thyme is evergreen in most zones, it can be harvested throughout the season in small quantities to use fresh.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Garden Shears

Collection basket of some sort

METHOD:

1. Clip the young, green leaves in the early morning after the dew has dried off of the leaves, leaving the hard woody stems to generate more growth. This will encourage branching, for a bushier, well formed plant.

2. Alternate in various locations around the crown, leaving leaves and woody stems to help feed the plant. This will assure a full crop for drying in the late Fall.

Preserving Your Thyme Harvest

Drying Thyme

Traditional Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Garden or Kitchen shears

Basket or other container suitable for Thyme sprigs

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Rubber Bands

Clothes Drying Rack, Dry attic or porch

Small Brown Paper Bags (optional)

METHOD:

1. Gather your Thyme harvest in the morning hours after the sun has dried away the dew of the night.

2. Gather the sprigs into small, loose bundles and secure the stems with rubber bands to assure that the bundles stay together as they dry. Be careful to alternate the branches to allow for good air filtration between the leaves.

3. If using brown paper bags, cover each bundle with the bags that have slits cut into the sides to allow for adequate air flow around the herbs. The paper bags keep dust off of the Thyme as it dries and the sunlight from bleaching out the color. Care must be taken to make sure that enough air flows through the bag to keep the Thyme from molding. Check occasionally to make sure, and, if need be either cut more holes in the bags or remove them. Sometimes the moisture builds up inside the bag, especially if the sun hits it, allowing fungus and mildew to form. Discard any molded leaves or bunches.

4. Hang upside down in a warm, dry place such as an attic or porch until the leaves are brittle to the touch, approximately 2 weeks.

5. Gather the dried bundles and place on a sheet of wax paper.

6. Crumble the dried leaves and separate out all of the tough stems onto the wax paper.

7. Store in an air tight container in the pantry for use in cooking.

STORAGE:

These air tight jars can be stored in a dry, dark place such as your pantry or cupboard, or even your freezer, with proper care.

USES:

Dried Thyme can be used in sauces, gravies, meat dishes, gumbos, chowders,dressings and all other recipes that require fresh Thyme.

DRIED SEEDS: Clip the seed heads from the mature Thyme plant as soon as you notice that the flower heads starting to set seeds. Seeds usually mature rather quickly, so act soon. Gather the clipped seed heads into loose bundles and secure with a rubber band. Cover the seed pod bundles with paper bags and hang upside down in an airy, dry place to dry. The seed should separate from the seed heads within a few weeks. Shake the dried pod bags to loosen any other seeds and pour onto a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. Remove the stems and any other debris to separate the seeds and pour into a small spice container for planting in the Spring!

Quick Drying Method

Thyme can be dried in the oven at the lowest temperature, or, if you have a gas stove with a pilot light, spread out on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper in a single layer.

Special Note: If using cookie sheets to dry the herbs, place the herbs to be dried on parchment paper to avoid direct contact with the metal trays. Metal contact darkens the color of the herb being dried, causing the Basil to loose its bright green color.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or good chopping knife

Chopping board or block

Parchment Paper

Cookie Sheet

Oven

1. Wash and gently spin dry the fresh Thyme sprigs.

2. Pick out the discolored leaves and woody stems.

3. Preheat your oven to lowest temperature setting.

4. Strip the leaves form the woody stems and drop onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

5. Place in oven on top rack for 2 to 4 hours or until the Thyme crumbles easily between your fingers. Drying times may vary according climate conditions and relative humidity.

6. Gather up the parchment paper into a funnel and place smallest end over the mouth of a clean, completely dry jar and seal tightly.

STORAGE: Place jar in a dry, dark place such as your kitchen cabinet, pantry or even your freezer.

Freezing Thyme

Ice Cube Method

The traditional method of freezing Thyme is to chop the herb up fine and suspend the chopped herbs in a little water before freezing.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean absorbent kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or chopping knife and chopping board

Ice Cube trays

Measuring spoons

INGREDIENTS:

Chopped Thyme or whole thyme leaves

Fresh tap water

1. Pick through the fresh Thyme removing damaged leaves and tough stems and rinse. Gently spin dry or pat dry between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

2. Chop up or strip the leaves off of the stems of the Thyme, removing tough stems, and place a teaspoon or two into each compartment of the ice cube trays.

3. Top off with water and freeze in the freezer.

STORAGE: Once the ice cubes have frozen, remove the herbed cubes and store in an air tight freezer bag or jar in your freezer.

USES: These Thyme ice cubes can be used in sauces and soups. To use the herb as fresh in salad dressings or dishes with little liquid content, place the cube in a glass of room temperature water until melted and strain through a sieve to remove the Thyme from the water. Add to the recipe as required.

Vacuum Sealer Method

This method allows for great color, texture and flavor retention by keeping the sprigs whole and air tight. I feel it is the best way to store pungent herbs such as Sage.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Vacuum sealer with appropriate bag material

Salad Spinner or clean absorbent kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or paring knife

METHOD:

1. Wash and gently spin dry or blot with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Snip or cut off tough woody stems and discolored or damaged leaves.

3. Make a bag from the roll material large enough to hold the sprigs of Thyme and allow space between the herb and the final seal and seal one end.

4. Label bag with contents and date sealed.

5. Place herb sprigs into the bag.

6. Place bag end into the sealer and vacuum seal.

7. Place in the freezer flat. After the bags have frozen solid, they can be stored upright, taking up little space in the freezer.

Thyme Vinegar

Cold Method

This method uses the bottle that the vinegar is purchased in, so be sure to buy a high quality vinegar with an attractive glass bottle.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

1 bottle of good quality apple cider or wine vinegar

Small bowl

3 or 4 sprigs of fresh Thyme, washed and patted dry

1 clove garlic, optional

3 or 4 pepper corns, optional

METHOD:

1. Pour a small amount (approximately 1/2 cup) of the vinegar into a small clean bowl to reserve for later use after the herb sprigs have been added.

2. Place the fresh Thyme sprigs in the bottle of vinegar.

3. Top off to fill the bottle with the reserved vinegar and seal tightly.

4. Place the bottle on a sunny window sill for two weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to mix the flavors of the herbs.

5. Soak off the manufacturer label and relabel with a decorative label.

STORAGE: These herbed vinegars are quite attractive and can be stored on the counter top, pantry or kitchen cupboard.

USES: This flavored vinegar is great in marinades for meat and poultry, in salad dressings and many other recipes requiring vinegar.

Hot Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Small Bowl

Wooden Spoon

Fresh Thyme Sprigs

Chopping knife and chopping board

Large clean wide mouth jar with tight fitting lid

Sheet of plastic wrap

Medium stainless steel or enamel sauce pan

Good quality apple cider or wine vinegar

Cheese cloth

Funnel

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of apple cider or wine vinegar

1 cup of chopped or stripped Thyme leaves

METHOD:

1. Place the chopped leaves in the bowl and gently crush with a wooden spoon. Because the Thyme leaves are so small, they can be left whole. Grab the top of the sprig and gently run your fingers down the stem, removing the small leaves. cut the top off of the stem and add to the stripped leaves.

2. Heat one cup of the vinegar until warm, but do not boil.

3. Pour hot vinegar over the crushed Thyme in the bowl and stir to mix well.

4. Crush the Thyme a little more to release the herb oils.

5. Leave to cool.

6. When cooled, add the remaining cup of vinegar and pour into a large jar and cap tightly.

7. Place on a sunny window sill and shake every day or so to distribute the flavors for two weeks.

8. Store as is or pour through a double layer of cheese cloth into a funnel over a clean decorative bottle.

9. Add a few fresh sprigs of Thyme into the bottle for decoration and identification purposes.

10. Label and store in the pantry, cupboard or counter top.

Thyme Infused Oil

Cold Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or clean kitchen towels

Medium bowl

Wooden spoon

Large wide mouth jar

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Fresh Thyme sprigs

1/4 or 1/2 dry measuring cups

2 cup liquid measuring cup

Cheese cloth

Funnel

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of Thyme leaves

2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

METHOD:

1. Pick the freshest herbs, wash and gently spin dry or blot between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

2. Place the Thyme leaves in the bowl and crush slightly with the back of the wooden spoon to release plant flavors.

3. Pour half (1 cup) of the oil over the bruised leaves.

4. Stir and crush again slightly to release more of the plant oils.

5. Add remaining cup of oil and stir well to blend.

6. Pour into the large mouth jar and cap tightly.

7. Set on a sunny window sill for two weeks, shaking gently every day or so to mix the flavors.

8. Strain oil slowly through a double layer of cheese cloth set into a large funnel in the opening of a clean decorative bottle and cap tightly.

9. Add a few fresh sprigs of Thyme for decoration and identification purposes and label.

STORE: Keep the flavored oils out of direct sunlight after the seeping process in a kitchen cupboard or pantry. Oils tend to go rancid if left in the sun too long. The shelf life of flavored oils is approximately six months.

Hot Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Medium kitchen bowl

Wooden Spoon

Medium stainless steel or enamel sauce pan

2 cup or larger liquid measuring cup

1/4 or 1/2 cup dry measuring cup

Large wide mouth jar

Cheese cloth

Funnel

Decorative bottle

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh chopped Thyme

2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

METHOD:

1. Wash herbs and spin dry or pat between two kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Pick out tough stems and damaged or discolored leaves.

3. Trim and chop the Thyme and measure 1/3 to 1/2 cup, depending on the intensity of the flavor desired.

4. Place chopped Thyme into the bowl and crush slightly with the wooden spoon.

5. Pour one cup of the oil into the sauce pan and heat, but do not boil.

6. Pour heated oil over the crushed Thyme in the bowl and stir with the wooden spoon to mix well.

7. Slowly add remaining oil into the bowl and stir to mix.

8. Once cooled, place in the large mouth jar and seal tightly.

9. Place jar on sunny window sill for two weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to blend the flavors.

10. Slowly pour the liquid a little at a time into a funnel lined with a double layer of cheese cloth set on the top of a clean decorative bottle and cap tightly.

11. Add a few fresh sprigs for decoration and identification and label, including the date.

USES: Flavored oils can be used in almost every recipe that uses oil, from meat, poultry or fish marinades, sautes, sauces, herb flavored mayonnaise, and salad dressings.

STORAGE: These oils will store up to six months in a dark cupboard or pantry.

Thyme Savory Butter

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Small Kitchen Bowl

Chopping Board

Kitchen Shears or Good Chopping Knife OR Food Processor

Wooden Spoon or Spatula

Set of Measuring Spoons

Wax or Parchment paper

Ice cube trays or small muffin tins

INGREDIENTS:

1 Stick (8 Tablespoons or 1/4 Pound) of Sweet butter, softened

1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of chopped Thyme

METHOD:

1. Set the stick of butter out on the counter to warm up and soften.

2. Wash and spin dry to remove as much moisture as possible from the Thyme, picking through the leaves to remove woody stems and damaged, discolored leaves.

BY HAND:

3. Strip the tiny leaves off of the tough stems by grabbing the top of the thyme sprig and gently running your fore finger and thumb down the stem, removing the leaves from the branch. Snip off the top of the sprig that you were holding and add to the leaves you just stripped. Finely chop with the chopping knife.

4. In a small bowl, combine the soft butter and the chopped Thyme with a wooden spoon until well blended.

IN FOOD PROCESSOR:

3. Place 3 to 5 sprigs of Thyme into the bowl of the processor and pulse several times to chop fine, scraping the bowl down with the wooden spoon or spatula between each pulse to assure even chopping.

4. Add the softened butter to the processor bowl and pulse, again, scraping the sides of the bowl between each pulse to mix ingredients well.

5. Divide the butter by Tablespoons into the ice trays (for cube shaped butter patties) or small muffin tins (for round butter patties) and freeze in the freezer.

6. Once frozen, remove the butter patties from the trays or tins and store in an air-tight container such as a freezer bag or glass jar in the freezer.

NOTE: You can also remove the butter from the bowl onto a sheet of wax paper, and, as it starts to set up, gently roll it into a roll with the help of the paper. Once the roll has formed, add another layer of wax paper and twist the ends to seal tightly. Place the roll on the freezer shelf to freeze. To serve, these rolls can be unwrapped and sliced into discs for serving with savory toasts, over mashed or baked potatoes or new potatoes and a variety of other applications requiring butter.

Thyme honey

Honey is perhaps one of the best natural preservative ever discovered, having remarkable shelf life, and was even found in tombs in Egypt, still viable!

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid

Salad Spinner or Two Clean Kitchen Towels

Kitchen Shears or Chopping Board and Good Chopping Knife

Sheet of Wax or Parchment Paper

Bamboo Skewer

INGREDIENTS:

Fresh, Clear Honey

Whole Leaf or Chopped Thyme

METHOD:

1. Fill the glass jar half way to the top with fresh honey.

2. Place either the chopped (4 Tablespoons or so, depending on the size of the jar you are using) or whole leaf Thyme (5 to 6 Tablespoons) into the jar, packing loosely, using the bamboo skewer to make sure the leaves are dispersed evenly throughout the honey. To impart more flavor sooner, gently crush the leaves before adding to the honey.

3. Top off the herb infused honey with more honey to fill the jar. Some people warm the honey first, to quicken the flavor absorption, but, be careful to only warm the honey, never bring it to a boil.

4. Tighten the lid onto the jar and label.

STORAGE:

Because Honey has a way of crystallizing, it is best to keep the jars out of direct light, in a dark cupboard or pantry. If the honey does crystallize, fill a small cooking pot with 2 inches or so of water and place the jar of honey in the center. Gently warm up the water over medium heat on your stove to heat up the honey, stirring occasionally to disperse the honey crystals until all of the honey is smooth again. Do not bring to a boil. Overheating the honey will break down some of the properties of the honey! This is the reason I do not recommend using your microwave oven to warm up the honey. If you choose to do this, however, please be aware that the temperature will quickly boil the honey if you do not control the heat by heating for 10 seconds or so at a time and removing the jar each time to stir the contents and check on the interior temperature. Stirring also disperses the crystallized honey into warmer honey, melting it quicker.