For quite a while I have wanted to grow a selection of fresh herbs in my kitchen. I have managed to set up that works wonderfully growing my most used herbs but now I’m running into questions about how to use them, particularly herbs like thyme that have small leaves and woody or fibrous stems.

I prefer to include the herbs into whatever I’m cooking rather than use a bouquet garni. But picking individual leaves from a plant such as thyme is incredibly work intensive and not really worth the time involved. Is there a more efficient way to harvest these sorts of leaves?

This question has been linked to a similar question, which is fine, but I believe that Stephie’s answer here is more complete & helpful than any given for the linked question about oregano.


2 Answers 2


There are two ways to deal with herbs like thyme.

First, you can strip the leaves by pinching the stem with two or three fingers and pulling up towards the tips. Nails can be helpful, too. That should dislodge pretty much all leaves and when some of the tips tear off as well, it’ll be the soft bits that can be used just like the leaves.
For some herbs, you can also tear in the opposite direction, e.g. for savory.

Second, if you are planning to cook the leaves anyway, note that they will detach from the stems during cooking. After a while, you can simply fish out the woody stems and discard them. You will end up with the whole individual leaves, which is great for thyme, but may be a bit large for rosemary - I don’t worry too much about that in most of my dishes and if it is an issue, choose the first option.

  • I'm sure I could make a comic video for youtube, watching my efforts to chop the leaves off fresh rosemary rather than dump the whole stalk in ;) One day, I'll get round to buying a re-usable bouquet garni bag
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 8:29

You could make a Bouquet Garni


bouquet garni


You can tie the woody herbs together with a piece of string then find them and fish them out when you are done. I usually make a sack of cheesecloth with the herbs inside. It seems to me like some could wiggle loose from the string or fall apart but they are not getting out of the bag.

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