What Part of the Thyme Plant Do You Eat?

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Thyme leaves and flowers have many culinary uses.
Thyme leaves and flowers have many culinary uses. (Image: James And James/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Thyme is a small-leaved, fragrant herb in the Thymus plant family, which contains 150 species. Thyme is used in many recipes from soups to meat, and it’s a favorite ingredient in Italy. All aerial portions of the plant are edible.

Identification

Common thyme, or Thymus vulgaris, is a small perennial plant, growing no taller than 8 inches. When it is mature, the stems become woody and have tiny leaves that are grayish-green. Pink to lilac flowers are tiny and appear in summer. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible. You can use the stems, but they might be a bit woody to eat.

Growing Thyme

Thyme is a bit difficult to grow from its tiny seeds, so purchase a small bedding plant. Thyme needs all-day sun and soil that drains quickly. This herb is well suited to growing in a pot, either outdoors or inside your house. Although it is a perennial, it can become woody within three or four years; you might want to replace it with a new plant at that time.

Culinary Uses

The website Italiana states that the subtle taste of thyme leaves and flowers is best suited for use with mild meats such as pork, veal, chicken or turkey. It works especially well in dishes that do not require long cooking times or high temperatures. Lemon thyme is a stronger tasting thyme and is a good addition to dishes containing fish.

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