If you could only have one little fresh potted herb growing on your kitchen window sill, the choice would have to be versatile, right? Lemon thyme is the herb you want. It suits sweet and savory dishes, sits adorably in a bright window, and favors your hands and the air with its fresh, citrus scent when crushed or brushed.
Growing Lemon Thyme in the Garden
Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is a member of the mint family. It’s a hybrid of thymus vulgaris, the garden variety of thyme that most are familiar with, originating in the Mediterranean.
Thyme is hardy to zone 5 and needs full sun. When planted in the right climate, this perennial develops woody stems with evergreen leaves. Tolerant to dry conditions, it is ideal as a rock garden specimen; creeping thyme does particularly well in a garden path between stepping stones.
Lemon Thyme is bushier in nature than many thyme varieties with pretty lilac flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer.
Image via: Seedville USA on Etsy.
Thyme can be grown from seed in the garden but it can take between 2 to 4 weeks to germinate. For guaranteed results, it is easier to start seeds indoors then transplant outside once the weather has warmed.
Once established, thyme doesn’t like to sit in soggy soil. There are many varieties of thyme, some that creep or trail, some that are sage green, variegated, or golden, and all have a wonderful aroma. Of these, lemon thyme smells the most like citrus.
Once your lemon thyme plant is established, you can harvest sprigs of it at any time of the year. Unlike some perennials, the plant won’t die back after flowering. However, you’ll promote more growth by pinching off sprigs, especially the flowering stems.
All parts of the plant are edible, although the woody stems of a mature plant are not palatable. The essential oil is strongest in the flowering sprigs, and it is recommended to harvest thyme leaves just before the plant flowers.
Benefits of Lemon Thyme
Thyme is a good addition to any garden. It repels insects, making it ideal as a companion plant to vulnerable specimens. You can even repel insects inside your home by spraying a solution of homemade thyme tea – ideal around the beds and children’s rooms and anywhere you don’t want to spray toxic insecticides.
However, thyme does not repel one very beneficial insect – bees. Honey bees find its pink or lavender flowers attractive, honey that includes thyme pollen is unique and tastes delicious.
Cooking with Lemon Thyme
Using lemon thyme in the kitchen is easy, and gives a fresh pick-me-up to many dishes or just a simple snack. Sprinkle fresh leaves on a cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwich, and put a sprig of lemon thyme in your iced tea or hot fruit teas. Add it to green salads for the fresh zing of citrus minus the sour.
You can add it to many savory or sweet recipes, but lemon thyme is perhaps most appreciated in the simplest treatments, such as sliced home-grown tomatoes, fresh from the garden, topped with chopped, fresh lemon thyme.
To harvest the leaves, pinch off a sprig just above a few leaves – new stems will grow from that point. Slide the sprig through your fingers, pulling the leaves off as you do so.
Crush the leaves between your fingers before adding to food to release maximum flavor and fragrance. Chop the leaves more finely, if you like. The scent is a powerful mood pick-me-up, too – you might find yourself plucking a leaf just to enjoy the scent of lemon thyme. It’s also handy for clearing away traces of garlic left on your fingers after chopping it.
It’s About Thyme!
In a perfect world, you don’t have to choose just one type of potted herb, but let’s face it. Who has room for an entire herb garden on the kitchen window? In the real world, if you can choose only one herb, lemon thyme is the perfect choice.