How do you preserve fresh thyme?

Thyme is a versatile herb that adds flavor to many savory dishes. Fresh thyme has a more vibrant, aromatic flavor than dried thyme. While fresh thyme is readily available in the summer months, it can be challenging to find high-quality fresh thyme during the colder winter season. Preserving fresh thyme allows you to enjoy its flavor year-round. There are several methods for preserving fresh thyme to lock in its flavor, aroma, and health benefits.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about preserving fresh thyme:

What are the best ways to preserve fresh thyme?

The best ways to preserve fresh thyme are drying, freezing, and storing in oil or vinegar.

How long does preserved thyme last?

Properly stored, dried thyme will last 6-12 months. Frozen thyme retains its flavor for about 6 months. Thyme stored in oil or vinegar will last 3-6 months in the refrigerator.

How do you dry fresh thyme?

To dry fresh thyme, rinse and pat dry the stems. Hang upside down or place on a baking sheet and allow to dry completely out of sunlight. Once crispy dry, you can crumble and store in an airtight container.

Can you freeze fresh thyme?

Yes, fresh thyme freezes very well. Rinse, pat dry, and place leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze solid, then transfer to airtight bags or containers.

What’s the best oil for storing thyme?

The best oils for storing fresh thyme are extra virgin olive oil and vegetable oil. Avoid butter or margarine as they can go rancid.

Drying Thyme

Drying is one of the easiest ways to preserve fresh thyme for long-term use. Dried thyme maintains its flavor profile very well. The drying process removes moisture from the thyme leaves, inhibiting bacteria growth that leads to spoilage. With proper storage, dried thyme will retain its potency and flavor for 6 to 12 months.

Here is how to dry fresh thyme:

  1. Rinse the thyme under cool water and gently pat dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Make sure no moisture remains on the leaves and stems.
  2. Separate the stems from the leaves. It’s easier to dry just the leaves which have the highest concentration of flavorful oils.
  3. Lay the thyme leaves out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Make sure the leaves are not overcrowded or overlapping, as this slows the drying process.
  4. Place the baking sheet in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight. Some good places are an oven turned off but with the light on, an attic, or near a heating vent. The optimal temperature is between 95-100°F.
  5. Allow the thyme leaves to dry completely until they are brittle and crumble easily between your fingers. Drying times range from 7-14 days.
  6. Check on the thyme periodically and gently turn the leaves over for even drying. You can also place the leaves in a food dehydrator to expedite drying.
  7. Once fully dried, crumble the leaves and transfer to an airtight container like a glass jar or resealable plastic bag. Label with the name and date.
  8. Store the dried thyme in a cool, dark place and use within 6-12 months for the best flavor.

Dried thyme has an concentrated, earthy flavor. Use it just as you would fresh thyme, but reduce the amount, starting with half. Dried thyme works very well in hearty stews, marinades, pasta sauces, herbed bread, and Mediterranean dishes.

Freezing Thyme

Freezing is another reliable way to preserve fresh thyme for future use in cooking. The cold temperature of the freezer suspends the bacteria growth that causes thyme to spoil. Frozen thyme maintains its flavor, color, and nutrient content very well. Properly frozen thyme keeps its quality and potency for about 6 months.

Follow these simple steps for freezing thyme:

  1. Start with fresh thyme sprigs. Rinse under cool water and pat very dry with a paper towel.
  2. Pick the tiny leaves off the woody stems. The tender leaves pack best for freezing.
  3. Spread the leaves out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the freezer until completely frozen, about 1-2 hours.
  4. Transfer the frozen thyme leaves to a resealable plastic freezer bag or airtight freezer container. Squeeze out excess air and seal.
  5. Label with the name and freeze-by date, and return to the freezer.
  6. Frozen thyme leaves will last 6 months in the freezer before losing flavor and aroma.

To use frozen thyme, simply remove the desired amount from the freezer container. Allow to thaw at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before using. Use immediately after thawing for peak flavor. Cook thawed thyme just as you would use fresh thyme.

Storing in Oil

Thyme can also be preserved by storing in oil. The oil helps prevent spoilage by limiting air exposure. This method keeps the bright color and robust flavor of fresh thyme for 3-6 months when properly stored in the refrigerator.

Here are tips for preserving fresh thyme in oil:

  • Wash the thyme sprigs and pat very dry with paper towels.
  • Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil like grapeseed or sunflower oil. Do not use butter or margarine as they can go rancid.
  • Pack the thyme sprigs upright into a sterilized glass jar, filling about 3/4 full. Completely cover with the oil.
  • Store the jar of thyme in oil in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Use within 3 months for absolute best quality.
  • Add a fresh sprig to the jar each time you open it to replenish the flavor.
  • Discard if you see any signs of mold or spoilage.

The oil infuses with the thyme flavor over time and can be used for cooking. Thyme preserved in oil makes a nice gift, too. Be sure to refrigerate and clearly label the jar.

Storing in Vinegar

Vinegar is acidic enough to help extend the shelf life of fresh thyme for preserving. White wine vinegar or cider vinegar work best. The vinegar method keeps thyme for 3-6 months when properly stored in the refrigerator.

Follow these steps for preserving fresh thyme in vinegar:

  1. Wash fresh thyme sprigs and dry thoroughly with a paper towel.
  2. Heat up white wine vinegar or cider vinegar until just before a simmer. Pour into a sterilized jar.
  3. Pack whole thyme sprigs into the jar with the warm vinegar. Make sure the thyme is completely submerged.
  4. Allow to cool to room temperature, then screw on the lid and refrigerate.
  5. The vinegar will take on thyme flavor over the weeks and can be used for cooking. Add a fresh sprig each time you open to jar to refresh.
  6. Store thyme vinegar for 3-6 months in the refrigerator before discarding.

Thyme-infused vinegar has a bright, herbal flavor that makes an excellent addition to salad dressings, marinades, sautéed vegetables, and more. The vinegar helps lock in the flavor and color of the fresh thyme.

Other Tips for Preserving Thyme

Here are some other helpful tips for getting the most out of your preserved fresh thyme:

  • Always start with fresh thyme. Discard any bruised or damaged leaves or woody stems.
  • Rinse thyme gently under cool water. Pat very dry before preserving.
  • Work quickly and preserve thyme right after purchasing for best flavor.
  • When drying, check frequently and remove any moisture on the leaves to prevent mold growth.
  • When freezing, use high quality freezer bags or containers to prevent freezer burn.
  • Store preserved thyme properly in the refrigerator or freezer to get the full storage time.
  • Label everything with the name and date so you know how long it’s been stored.
  • Look for any signs of spoilage like mold, off smells or colors before using.
  • Enjoy your preserved thyme to add flavor to soups, meats, stews, dressings, and more!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you preserve thyme in salt?

Yes, fresh thyme can be preserved by packing in salt. This creates a dried, concentrated product similar to herbs de Provence. Layer fresh thyme sprigs in a jar and cover completely with salt. Store in a cool, dark place for 1-2 months maximum. Rinse salt off before using.

What is the best way to store fresh thyme short term?

For short term storage under 1-2 weeks, keep fresh thyme stored in the refrigerator. Place the thyme sprigs in a cup of water like flowers, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Change the water every 2-3 days.

Can you freeze thyme in butter or oil?

It is not recommended to freeze fresh herbs directly in butter or oil. The frozen fats can coat the leaves and negatively impact flavor. Instead, freeze leaves on a baking sheet before transferring to a bag.

What are some uses for preserved thyme?

Preserved dried, frozen, or oil-packed thyme can be used in most recipes that call for fresh thyme. Commonly used in roasted vegetables, meat rubs, soups, stews, tomato sauce, bread, egg dishes, vinaigrettes, and marinades.

Does preserved thyme have the same health benefits as fresh?

Yes, preserved thyme retains many of the same healthful compounds found in fresh thyme. This includes antioxidants like rosmarinic acid, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. The drying and freezing process helps lock these in.


Preserving fresh thyme is simple and allows you to enjoy its year-round benefits. Drying, freezing, and storing in oil or vinegar are easy, flavor-locking methods. Properly preserved thyme maintains its taste, aroma, color, and nutritional value for months of enjoyment in your favorite recipes. With proper storage conditions, you can keep preserved thyme on-hand for whenever that craving for its woodsy, slightly minty flavor strikes.

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