Thursday, September 8, 2011

Herb of the Week - Lemon Thyme

One of my favorite herbs second only to Lemon Verbena is Thyme, especially lemon thyme.  Thyme is an herb that grows well in Illinois and sometimes depending on winter and spring conditions grows exceptionally well.  This was a good year for Thyme.  The winter had a high amount of moisture (you do remember that snow right?) and not a lot of extremely cold days.  In fact this was the first winter of recent memory where we did not have those bone chilling cold days with the terrible wind Chicagoland is famous for and I did not miss it.  The fact was my herbs loved it.  Before the heat wave it looked like this was going to be a summer of record harvests and good quality herbs.  However, after a perfect spring harvest I had to forgo a summer harvest due to the extreme heat.  But our rain was good, so once the weather cooled the herbs burst forth with amazing growth.  I have now been harvesting daily and getting nice scents

Thyme has many varieties that generally fall into two categories the low growing ground cover type called creeping thyme (Thymus praecox)  and the upright mounding varieties called bush thyme (Thymus vulgaris).  My two favorite thyme plants (although I must admit I grow 17 different varieties from coconut to Wedgwood) are Common Thyme and Lemon thyme (Thymus xcitridorus.) These are both bushy mounding thymes.

Silver variegated Thyme
Yellow variegated Thyme
Lemon thyme comes in several varieties with differing habits and most years I grow at least three different ones because I find the weather conditions generally favor at least one giving me the spectacular lemon flavor I am looking for.  Makes me wish for scratch and sniff computer screen because this stuff is great.  This year the variegated lemon thyme did best.  I have two types a yellow variegated and a white variegated, known as silver.  The yellow variegated plant I have had for several years it is the variety ‘Doone Valley.’  As you can see it is slowly reverting to an all green color which is typical of this variety.  But even the green is a lemony bright green which makes this a fun herb to use in salads and as garnish.  It is nicely hardy and I even transplanted to take indoors last year.  The white is a new plant for me this year.  The variety is “Hi Ho Silver.”  It is different from my former silver thyme called ‘Silver Queen.’  This one seems to be keeping its silver better than the silvers I’ve had in the past. 

To Grow

Thymes can grow both in containers and in the ground.  Those with a low growing habit make a great addition to your path and walking areas.  They will thrive in a hot dry spot which makes them great for edging plants.  My original thyme bed was two feet wide along the front edge of the 22 foot garden.  The edge drained down into the yard so it was the driest part of the garden and the thyme plants did well there.  Now I grow them in any spot where other things tend not to thrive, so you will find them tucked into the ends of rows or along the side of a path in my production garden.  Thyme hates heavy rainfall.  The splashing covers the leaves with dirt and the damp soil mixed with their tight tiny leaves can result in mold.  So if you live where rain is frequent, place your thyme in a pot so you get good drainage.  They do love a strawberry pot too!

Soils for thyme can be nutrient poor and well-drained with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.  If you fertilize them you will get bushy growth at first, but then the get lanky and die out in the center.  They do need good air circulation which why edge planting really helps, then they can only be shaded and the air blocked on only one side.  Some people say you can fertilize thyme grown in a container once a month with a weak compost solution of fish emulsion, but I never do until I bring them in for the winter.

They require little maintenance so you just sit back and enjoy them as they grow.  The root system is shallow so a good layer of mulch and chopped leaves will prevent frost heaving during the winter.  Because in Illinois that raking dry wind on super cold days can be desiccate leaves and kill plants I pray for a layer of snow to cover them in winter, but just in case I do rake leaves over them after the first frost for added protection.

Propagate by root division and layering.  They grow so slow from seed that unless you start them inside early in winter, they will be so small when transplanted that they never amount to anything until well into the fall.
To Use

Thyme has a robust and some feel intense flavor.  It is very herby and there is no doubt you are it.  Fresh thyme can be sharp with strong earth tones.  Dried is it has a deeper richer flavor.  Always use less dried, most rules say ½ that of fresh, I do 1/3.  The great thing is you do not have to chop it much.  Just strip the leaves of the fresh stems and stir in.  I store my thyme on stems and roll the stems on a paper towel to separate and crumble the leaves while removing the stems.  Most thymes have a strong stem so you do not want to chop that up, but using a full sprig in a soup or broth is great.

You can use thyme on the stem as a stuffing inside a roasting chicken or turkey or use them underneath as a bed when roasting pork or potatoes.  The robust flavor makes any thyme an excellent companion for beef, lamb, pork and even game meats like venison and elk.  They lemon and lime varieties are good with fruits.  It is a basic in Mediterranean cooking and part of a traditional Bouquet Garni.


I have so many recipes that use thyme, as it is a household favorite that it was hard to choose what to include here, so look in the next few days for a couple more I found while searching out these examples.

Lemon Herb Pesto

For summer time, Pesto is a great food to try because you can eat it hot or cold, make it in a hurry and use as a topping not only on pasta but on grilled chicken and seafood.  I adapted this recipe from the herb shop that originally inspired me the Herbal Harvest of Geneva, IL!

3 T. olive oil
2 T. lemon vinegar
2 large cloves garlic
1 cup washed and dried lemon basil
¼ cup lemon thyme
½ tsp. ground pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Place oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs and pepper into a blender or food processor in order listed.  Blend until thoroughly chopped and smooth.  Pout into a small bowl and stir in cheese.  Serve over hot or cold pasta (linguini, fettuccini or a bow tie are perfect.)  Or you can spread it on chicken breast or fish filets and grill before serving over pasta and steamed vegetables for a quick easy meal.

Thyme Jelly

1 Tbls. fresh lemon thyme
½ cup boiling water
1 ½ cup unsweetened grape juice
3 cups honey
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin

Make an infusion (tea) of thyme and water.  Let steep 5 minutes or more.  Strain.  In large sauce pan combine juice, honey, and infusion liquid and bring to boil.  Add pectin, stirring at all times.  Heat until mixture reaches a hard boil.  Boil hard for 30 seconds and give a sheet test.  Once it passes the sheet test remove instantly from heat. Pour into sterilized jars with a sprig of fresh thyme in each, seal.

Sheet test –
Dip a metal spoon into the boiling syrup.  As the boiling mixture nears the jellying point, it will drop from the side of the spoon in two (2) drops, (not a stream).  The jelly is finished and should be removed from the burner.

Lemon Steak

1 sirloin steak (about 2 ½ lbs.
½ cup lemon juice
2 T. olive or canola oil
1 Tbls. grated lemon peel
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. celery seed
½ tsp. lemon or common thyme, crumbled
½ tsp basil, crumbled
½ tsp. Basil, crumbled
½ tsp. paper
¼ tsp. salt

Place steak in a glass baking dish.  Prick both sides with a fork.  In a small bowl combine lemon juice, oil, lemon peel, garlic and herbs, salt pepper and celery seed.  Whisk together.  Pour over steak and turn to coat both sides with marinade.  Cover and refrigerator 24 hours, turning several times.

About 30 minutes before cooking, remove dish form the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Reheat broiler.  Place steak o broiler rack in pan, reserving the marinade.  Broil 3 inches form heat source, about 12 minutes on each side for medium rare, basting with reserved marinade several times.  Discard any remaining marinade once cooking is completed.

Serves 4 to 6 depending on serving size.

Warm Goat Cheese and Tomato Herb Salad

I developed this one from a recipe in the Herb Companion magazine back in the 1990s.

½ small head of butter lettuce
2 ripe garden tomatoes
6 to 8 sprigs (total) of thyme and lemon thyme and maybe some summer savory
¼ pound goat cheese

Flan leaves of butter lettuce into a circle on two salad plates.  Slice tomatoes crosswise and center on the lettuce overlapping the slices to forma decorative wheel.  Place whole fresh herb laves or sprigs onto tog the tomatoes. Divide goat cheese into two thick slices and warm briefly in medium temperature oven or microwave until cheese softens and begins to melt, but still holds its shape.  With spatula lift cheese from baking sheet and place in center of each circle of tomatoes.  Decorate with additional herb sprigs.

Crispy Potatoes

2 ½ lbs. potatoes, thinly sliced
3 Tbls. olive or canola oil
3 Tbls. butter, melted
2 Tbls. parsley, chopped
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. thyme, crumbled
1/8 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Arrange potatoes in 13 x 9 inch baking dish or a jelly roll pan.  In a small bowl combine remaining ingredients.  Spread over potatoes. Cover and bake 30 min. Then remove cover and allow potatoes to crisp for 5 to 7 minutes.

Colorful Vegetable Casserole
3 cups cauliflowerets
3 cups sliced carrots
3 cups broccoli florets
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup finely chopped onion
3 Tbls. prepared horseradish
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
½ tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbls. butter or margarine, melted
1/8 tsp. paprika

Place cauliflower and carrots in a large saucepan; add a small amount of water.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Add broccoli; cook 4 to 6 minutes longer or until vegetables are crisp-tender.  Drain.  Combine mayonnaise, salt and pepper; add vegetables and mix will.  Pour into greased 2 quart baking dish.  Combine bread crumbs, thyme, butter and paprika; sprinkle over vegetables.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through.  Makes 12 to 14 servings (and freezes well.)


  1. I absolutely love all your recipes and am going to be trying lots of them, I am going to start with the vegetable medley and the Warm goat cheese and tomato herb salad. Thanks for them all.

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