Herbs on the Windowsill: Thyme

Thyme is versatile and healing.

By FamilyTime


This is part of our occasional series on growing herbs indoors. If you have a south- or east-facing window, you will have good luck growing a number of herbs all year long.

Earth, Water, and Light
Thyme likes sunshine. When it grows outdoors, it does best with four or more hours of direct, hot sun. But it does very well indoors, as well, as long as it gets good light, which means a south-facing window. Barring that, try an east-facing window for the morning sun. Grow lights will help, too.

When it’s outdoors, thyme grows fast and furiously and some varieties reach impressive heights. Those used most often for cooking remain under a foot high but can still make a statement in the garden. In a pot, thyme does not grow as quickly or as robustly, but it does very well.

Thyme likes a roomy pot filled with a sterile, large grained potting mix or perlite combined with humus and potting soil. The loose soil means the herb will drain well. Straight potting soil is too compact and heavy for good drainage.

Even on a full south-facing windowsill, the light will never be as strong as it is outdoors and so don’t expect the herb to do as well as it does outdoors. But thyme is a hardy plant and will do very well when kept trimmed and in good light.

This lower light and cooler climate of a kitchen windowsill during the winter mean the herb needs less water than normal. And because thyme is native to dry climates, it does not require a lot of water.

Water the thyme only when the soil feels dry. Poke your finger about half an inch into the dirt. If it's dry, give the plant a good soaking, pouring in enough water so that it drains into the dish holding the pot. While it’s not a good idea to go too long between watering, thyme does not do well with frequent or too much watering.

Culinary Uses
Common thyme (also called garden thyme), lemon thyme, golden lemon thyme, and English or broadleaf thyme are used most often for cooking. Other varieties are decorative.

Because thyme is part of the mint family, its natural oils are powerful. For cooking, strip the leaves from the stems and use them sparingly. You can always add more.

Thyme is great with lamb, chicken, and pork. It’s commonly used to flavor stews, soups, and stuffings, and when you use a light hand, enhances vinaigrettes.

Thyme has healing powers, as well. Its primary oil, called thymol, is considered an antiseptic and as such is found in natural salves. Some people think thyme relieves both respiratory and intestinal problems, even as it stimulates the appetite.

In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Shakespeare wrote about “…a bank whereon the wild thyme blows.” With a little care, the home cook can grow thyme on her windowsill. You don't even need a bank!