Cultivation of Thyme in India and its market

Thyme is not a popular crop in India. Apart from the fact that it has limitations in where it can be grown, the market is not wide open for thyme as a spice in India. A popular spice in European cuisine, thyme is not a spice used in Indian foods and cuisine. Used as dressing in soups and meat, thyme is considered an exotic spice in India with uses only in a few European cuisines prepared in restaurants. Unfortunately, the import of thyme from European countries is plentiful and dilutes the Indian market with their produce competing with local thyme production. 

Thyme is used as a herb in food and also oil is extracted for various uses. Thyme is known for its medicinal value and is known to be a good herbal supplement for eye health, liver health, and kidney and also acts as a blood purifier. In India though, it is rarely used for its medicinal properties. The thyme cultivated in India is more for personal use and on a very small scale. Thyme is not commercially cultivated at all and the market is hard to find. 

In India Thyme is cultivated in the Himalayan foothills and the Nilgiris. The herb is sold online and offline, packed and fresh. Unfortunately, fresh herbs have a short lifespan and most thyme is dried to fit transportation needs. Fresh thyme can be seen only in a few areas where cultivation is possible. There are a few farmers who have tried to cultivate thyme near Bangalore with little success. Other than that, most cultivation happens in the Nilgiris and the Himalayan region

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There are a few sellers on Indiamart who have a bit of success too. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to find out how many sales happen. The price for thyme ranges from 150 rs to 1500 rs, depending on the quality. Thyme which is cultivated and not wild is known to have higher oil content (up to 2.5%) and fetch a good price as compared to wild thyme which has an oil content of only 0.5%

Thyme Cultivation Tips for Indian Farmers 

When cultivating Thyme, You need to keep in mind a few things that are key to success. First of all, Start small. One patch of thyme should be enough for you to start and get a feel of the market. You will find difficulty selling the produce fresh. You will know how much people buy and if people buy at all. You will get to know people who are willing to purchase the product and for what purpose. You can also make corrections if the variety of thyme you are cultivating is not what is required for the buyer. Starting small also means a lesser loss. Taking a risk with a large plantation of thyme is not recommended.

  • Climate for  Cultivation: Thyme grows best in colder regions but not where there are frost conditions. There has been the cultivation of thyme in warmer areas and far from the Nilgiris. People have had success in cultivating thyme in Bangalore and Mumbai but mostly indoors. Commercial cultivation requires cooler weather and soil which is well drained
  • Ideal Soil for  Cultivation: Thyme REquires Light Fertile soil which is calcareous for better oil content. Heavy soil with poor water drainage will result in lower oil content and the plants may dry up soon. The soil in hilly areas where water usually drains very fast is ideal for the growth of thyme.
  • Varieties of  Thyme: there are 6 varieties of thyme commonly known of which 3 are cultivated for their oils or culinary uses. Wild thyme, lemon thyme, and Common thyme are the 3 varieties that are widely cultivated for the use of its oil and culinary needs. The other three are used for gardens and decorative wall arrangements. Creepy thyme, woolly thyme, and Elfin thyme grow up to 2-3 inches and are rarely used for culinary purposes. Its commercial value to is limited.
  • Propagation: Thyme is propagated from seed or separation. They can also be propagated from cuttings. When propagating from seeds, ensure that the seeds are soaked in anti-fungal powder for at least an hour. Sowing should be done on purpose soil without waterlogging. They should also be left in an area which is not to be disturbed. The plant babies are usually very small for weeks before you can move them to the farm area or the open. Propagation is best done during the month of march and April
  • Season: Thyme is a perennial crop and there is no particular season for thyme. The flowering happens once a year and usually during spring. The harvesting is done based on the plant’s growth and branches are usually cut to propagate or harvest leaves when they are ready. 
  • Land Preparation: The soil should be loose and well-draining adding compost or manure is not mandatory. Thyme is usually cultivated on a small scale in India and thus is planted in plots as opposed to rows. Planting thyme in gardens is commonly practiced as it adds aesthetics and can be trained to look beautiful while also used for culinary purposes.
  • Planting, Spacing, and Density: Plants should be 35-40 centimeters apart. The plants usually do grow busy and can be harvested to maintain the shape and beauty of the plant once in a while. Transplant when the plants are 3-4 inches tall. Irrigate immediately and regularly after planting.
  • Intercropping: It’s not common to intercrop other crops with thyme but on the other hand, thyme can be intercropped with a range of vegetables, usually carrots, and beetroots. Cabbages, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and broccoli. 
  • Irrigation: Thyme loves moist soil but does not like wet feet. Irrigate sparingly and ensure that there is no water logging. Let one inch of the soil dry before irrigating again.
  • Fertilizers: Since most cultivators use thyme for their use, they are rarely fertilized with chemicals. The best way to fertilize thyme is organic. Panchagavya, Compost, Vermicompost, Cow manure, Azospirillum, and Phosphobacteria are commonly used to fertilize thyme naturally. 
  • Pests & Diseases: Grown in the wild, these plants are rarely attacked by any pests or diseases. They are sometimes attacked by pests from neighboring crops but, by themselves, rarely attract any pests or diseases.
  • Training and Pruning: there is no training and pruning required for thyme. If you prune, it’s because you are harvesting. Training is required only when you are growing thyme in your garden for aesthetic purposes.
  • Harvesting: The plants are ready for harvest 5 months from planting on the farm. The stem’s ends are cut at 15 centimeters long and dried in the shade or a dryer immediately. Once dried, they are packed in airtight containers to prevent loss of flavor. An average of 500-1000 kg dry thyme can be harvested per acre.
  • Post Harvest: Fresh thyme is rarely available in the market except for places where they are cultivated. For commercial purposes, thyme is available in dry form. Once harvested, the thyme leaves are dried and stored in air-tight containers before being transported to various locations. 
  • Yield: The average yield of dry Thyme leaves per acre could range from 500 to 1000 KG. 
  • Area of cultivation: The best area for cultivation is in the Nilgiris and the foothills of Himalayas. Other areas can cultivate thyme in closed units or shade but it’s questionable if the crop is profitable with controlled farming. 
  • Market information: thyme is not a commercially feasible crop. The price, though it ranges from 150 rs to 1500 rs, the market is not open to the idea of a new spice. A lot of uses medicinally are available for the product and a few farmers are taking risks to cultivate thyme. Unfortunately, very few farmers have found success in thyme as a monocrop.

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