Can thyme be eaten when flowering?

Thyme is a popular herb used for cooking and also has some medicinal properties. It can be eaten fresh or dried. Thyme produces small flowers at the ends of its stems during the summer months. This often leads gardeners to wonder – can thyme be eaten when flowering or is it best to pick just the leaves?

Quick Answer

Yes, thyme can be eaten when flowering. The flowers have the same aromatic thyme flavor as the leaves. Both the flowers and leaves are edible.

Do the Flowers Change the Taste?

Eating thyme flowers does not significantly change the taste compared to eating just the leaves. The flowers have a concentration of the oils that give thyme its characteristic flavor and aroma. They taste nearly identical to the leaves.

Some people claim the flowers are slightly milder or sweeter, but the difference is subtle. The flowers can be used in any recipe that calls for thyme leaves. The only exception is that flower clusters may be a bit too large and unwieldy for some dishes.

Are the Flowers Safe to Eat?

Thyme flowers are completely edible and safe to eat. No part of the thyme plant is toxic. The flowers have the same healthful properties as the leaves.

In fact, thyme flowers may be healthier than the leaves in some respects. The flowers contain a higher concentration of volatile oils like thymol, carvacrol, and linalool. These oils give thyme its antiseptic and antioxidant properties.

Using Thyme Flowers

Most recipes specifying fresh thyme mean for you to use the leaves. But the flowers can be used in exactly the same way. Here are some ways to eat thyme flowers:

  • Add whole flower clusters to dishes for visual interest and flavor.
  • Remove the flowers from their stems and sprinkle the petals into salads, dressings, and anywhere else you want a burst of flavor.
  • Skewer a flower or place a small cluster on top of meat, vegetables, or anything you want to garnish.
  • Infuse the flowers in vinegar, oil, honey, or butter to add flavor.
  • Dry or freeze the flowers to preserve them.
  • Use the flowers fresh or dried to make herbal thyme tea.

When to Harvest Thyme Flowers

The best time to harvest thyme flowers for eating is just after they have fully opened but before they start to fade and dry out. This is usually mid to late summer. Pinch off flower clusters right above the first set of leaves.

Harvest thyme flowers in the morning after any dew has evaporated but before the hottest part of the day sets in. The concentration of aromatic oils is highest in early morning.

Benefits of Eating Thyme Flowers

Like the leaves, thyme flowers provide some health benefits when eaten. Here are a few of the top benefits:

  • Antioxidants: Thyme flowers contain flavonoid antioxidants including apigenin, naringenin, luteolin, and thymonin.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Thymol in thyme flowers reduces inflammation throughout the body.
  • Antimicrobial: Thyme flowers have antibacterial and antifungal properties to support immune health.
  • Anticancer: Certain compounds in thyme may help prevent DNA damage that can lead to cancerous cell growth.

Nutrition Facts

Thyme flowers are packed with vitamins, minerals, and protective plant compounds. Here is the nutrition breakdown for a 100 gram serving of fresh thyme flowers:

Nutrient Amount
Water 67 g
Protein 6 g
Carbs 15 g
Fiber 12 g
Fat 4 g
Vitamin A 425 mcg (47% DV)
Vitamin C 160 mg (177% DV)
Vitamin B6 0.5 mg (25% DV)
Calcium 405 mg (30% DV)
Iron 17.5 mg (98% DV)
Potassium 690 mg (21% DV)

DV = Daily Value

Thyme flowers provide vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium. They are low in fat and calories.

Risks of Eating Thyme Flowers

There are no known risks or side effects associated with eating thyme flowers. Some potential considerations include:

  • Allergies: Those with sensitivities to the herb should avoid thyme flowers.
  • Pregnancy: Thyme tea made from the flowers is not recommended in large amounts for pregnant women as it can act as a uterine stimulant.
  • Drug interactions: Thyme may increase the effects of certain medications. Talk to your doctor if taking any medication.

Outside of the above precautions, thyme flowers are completely safe to eat. In fact, they may be safer than thyme leaves due to their higher concentration of beneficial compounds like thymol.

How Do They Taste?

Thyme flowers taste very similar to the leaves with the same distinctive minty, lemony, and clove flavor. The taste is concentrated in the tiny petals which pack a flavor punch when eaten raw or cooked.

The flowers tend to be more mild and subtle than the leaves. The stems and flower buds also have good flavor. The whole flower cluster can be eaten or the tiny petals can be separated from the stems.

Thyme flowers pair well with classic thyme flavor combinations. Their taste complements tomatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, meat, fish, eggs, beans, and cheeses like mozzarella or feta.

Substituting Thyme Flowers for Leaves

In most recipes, thyme flowers can directly replace thyme leaves. Use the same amount called for in the recipe. The only difference may be that clusters of whole flowers are larger than individual leaves.

For dishes where appearance is important, you may want to pluck the tiny petals from the flowers instead of using whole flower heads. The pretty purple petals will add nice pops of color.

Dried thyme flowers can also be substituted for dried leaves. Crumble the dried flowers the same way you would dried leaves.

Storing Thyme Flowers

To extend their shelf life, thyme flowers can be stored in a few different ways. Here are some options:

  • Refrigerate: Place flower clusters or separated petals in an airtight container or plastic bag. They will keep for up to 1 week.
  • Freeze: Spread flowers in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer to an airtight freezer bag or container. Frozen thyme flowers will keep for 6-12 months.
  • Dry: Dehydrate thyme flowers in a dehydrator or low oven until completely dried. Store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight. Dried flowers will keep for 1-2 years.
  • Preserve: Place fresh flowers in vinegar, oil, honey, alcohol, or salt to preserve. Refrigerate infused products.

Freezing Thyme Flowers

Freezing is an easy way to save your harvested thyme flowers for many months. Follow these steps:

  1. Pick thyme flower clusters in the morning after dew has dried.
  2. Gently rinse and pat dry with paper towels if needed.
  3. Spread flowers in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  4. Place in the freezer until completely frozen, about 1-2 hours.
  5. Transfer frozen flowers directly to freezer bags or containers.
  6. Press out excess air and seal.
  7. Label with the date and return to the freezer.

Frozen thyme flowers will retain their flavor for 6-12 months. They can be used straight from frozen or thawed before use in any recipe requiring fresh thyme.

Drying Thyme Flowers

Air drying is a simple and effective way to preserve fresh thyme flowers for long-term use. Here is how to dry thyme flowers at home:

  1. Pick thyme flowers in the morning after any dew has evaporated.
  2. Gently rinse and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels or a salad spinner if needed.
  3. Separate the tiny petals from the stems and flower buds if desired. Leave whole flowers intact for a different look.
  4. Spread petals or flowers evenly in a single thin layer on a mesh dehydrator rack or baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Dehydrate at 95°F to 115°F until completely dry and brittle, 4 to 6 hours.
  6. Check flowers periodically, stirring around or rotating trays as needed for even drying.
  7. Cool dried flowers completely. Transfer to an airtight container like a mason jar out of direct sunlight.

Store properly dried thyme flowers in a cool, dark place. They will retain their aroma and flavor for up to 2 years.

Preserving in Oil

Infusing thyme flowers in oil is a simple way to impart flavor. Oils like olive, grapeseed, or avocado work well. Here are some tips:

  • Use fresh thyme flowers within a few hours of harvesting.
  • Gently wash and thoroughly dry flowers if needed.
  • Place flower clusters or separated petals into a clean jar and cover completely with oil.
  • Infuse for 2-3 weeks out of direct sunlight, shaking jar periodically.
  • Strain oil through a cheesecloth into a bottle or fresh jar.
  • Refrigerate infused oil and use within 1-2 months.

Thyme flower oil has endless uses for dressings, marinades, drizzles, or general cooking. It adds wonderful thyme flavor to dishes.


Thyme flowers are a tasty edible treat from the garden. They offer the same delightful flavor as thyme leaves and can be used in all the same ways. Enjoy thyme flowers fresh, dried, frozen, or infused into oil. Their unique flavor and nutrition make them a wonderful addition to any dish.

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