Botanical and Common Names
- Family Labiatae
- Thymus vulgaris (Thyme, Common thyme, Garden thyme, Tomillo [Spanish], Tohmiyoxihutil [Nahuatl])
- Thymus serpyllum (Wild Thyme, Mother of Thyme, Serpyllum, Shepherd’s Thyme)
- Do not use during pregnancy, externally or internally, as it is a uterine stimulant. There is little problem with normal cooking amounts.
- Thyme oil can irritate mucous membranes so must be well diluted.
Thyme is native to the western Mediterranean and southern Italian regions, while the wild thyme is indigenous to southern Europe. It is now cultivated worldwide, preferring light, chalky soils. The plant is an aromatic perennial shrub of the mint family, growing to about sixteen inches in height and producing woody stems, small leaves, and pink flowers. Wild thyme is a tuft-forming evergreen herb, growing to a height of only three inches. It has square stems, small aromatic oval leaves, and spikes of bright mauve flowers. Garden thyme is the cultivated form of the wild thyme. There are many related species with each having a different volatile oil content. The aerial parts are harvested before and during flowering.
It is known as “mother thyme” because of its traditional use for women’s disorders.
Thyme’s fragrance has inspired poets from Virgil to Kipling; and it is particularly strong on the warm, sunny hillsides of the Mediterranean.
To the Greeks, thyme denoted elegance; and, after bathing, they would include the oil in their massage.
Its botanical designation may have been derived from the Greek word thymon, meaning “courage” as many of their traditions relate to this virtue.
Wild thyme received its botanical name from the plant’s serpentlike appearance. Pliny recommended it as an antidote for snakebites and other poisonous creatures and for headaches. The Romans burned the plant in a belief that the fumes would repel scorpions.
Roman soldiers bathed in thyme waters to give themselves vigor.
During the Middle Ages, European ladies embroidered a sprig of thyme on tokens for their knights-errant.
A soup recipe from 1663 recorded the use of the herb, as well as in a beer to overcome shyness.
Scottish highlanders drank tea made from wild thyme for strength and courage and to prevent nightmares.
Its powerful antiseptic and preservative qualities were well-known to the Egyptians, who used it for embalming. It was also used to preserve anatomical and herbarium specimens and to protect paper from mold.
Sprigs were included in judges’ posies and clasped by nobility to protect themselves from disease and odour.
Thyme is the first herb listed in the Holy Herb Charm recited by those with herbal cunning during the Middle Ages, and it is a feature in a recipe from 1600 that “enabled one to see the Fairies”.
The English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), praised thyme as a strengthener of the lungs and prescribed it for children who had whooping cough. He also used it for internal bleeding and vomiting.
The 18th century Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, used the plant to treat headaches and hangovers.
In an Aztec Herbal of 1552, a plant identified as thyme was included in an elaborate remedy for nursing mothers whose breasts failed to produce a necessary supply of milk.
By the 18th century, thyme’s antiseptic properties were known; and its oil, thymol, was extracted and made available.
It was widely used as an antiseptic during WWI; but, when shortages of thymol developed, it was gradually replaced by other antiseptics. Thymol remains a key ingredient in the mouthwash, Listerine.
In the late 19th century, thyme was used as a disinfectant in sickrooms and to speed the recovery of patients.
- heals wounds
- increases blood flow to an area (topically)
- soothes coughs
- uterine stimulant
(b) Wild Thyme
- actions similar to those of Garden thyme, but less potent than the essential oil.
- volatile oil (varying amounts of thymol, carvacrol, methylchavicol, cineol, borneol, and others)
- bitter principle
- flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin)
(b) Wild Thyme
- volatile oil (thymol, carvacrol, linalool)
- caffeic acid
Aerial parts, essential oil (garden thyme only), flowering tops (wild thyme)
Thymol has antiseptic properties effective against many organisms.
Thymol, carvacrol, and the saponins act as expectorants to loosen and thin phlegm thus relieving upper respiratory and sinus congestion.
Thymol and carvacrol help relax smooth muscles, thereby helping to relieve menstrual cramps or indigestion.
The tannins have astringent properties that relieve mild diarrhea.
When applied to the skin, thymol causes blood to rush to the site, creating a sense of warmth and relief from the pain and inflammation of arthritis, sprains, muscle aches, and possibly tension headaches.
Researchers have also demonstrated that the essential oils are effective in killing E. coli and certain other bacteria responsible for food poisoning.
Infusions are used for chest infections, stomach chills, or irritable bowel.
A tincture is used for diarrhea or as an expectorant in chest infections.
A gargle from the infusion or diluted tincture is mused for sore throats.
A douche is made from the infusions to treat vaginal yeast infections.
A syrup is made from infusion for coughs and lung infections.
A chest rub from the essential oil is used for chest infections.
Essential oil is applied to insect bites, including scabies, and infected wounds or added to the bathwater for weakness and arthritic conditions.
Massage oil from the essential oil and combined with lavender oil makes an effective treatment for rheumatic pains or strained muscles.
The wild thyme is similar in action to the garden thyme, but slightly more stimulating and effective in preventing spasms.
Its antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties are used to treat all manner of infections including coughs, colds, sore throats, tonsillitis, flu, chest infections, and gastroenteritis. It also enhances immunity and helps the body fight against infection.
Its expectorant action, combined with its antispasmodic effect, is excellent for moving phlegm out of the chest easing tight, irritating, and hacking coughs.
Its antispasmodic effect is also helpful in releasing tension during irritable bowel syndrome and spastic colon.
Its astringent action, along with its antiseptic powers, makes it worth using to treat diarrhea and bowel infections and to re-establish a normal flora in the bowel, especially after antibiotics.
Thyme is a particularly good remedy for those suffering from poor circulation, and when used externally, makes a good liniment for arthritis or muscle pain. It can also be applied to cuts, abrasions, and infections.
The volatile oils and the flavonoids are known to relieve muscle spasms, as well as having a marked effect on aging by supporting the body’s normal funtion and countering its ageing effects.
Thyme is prescribed with other herbs for asthma, especially in children, and may also be helpful with hay fever.
In Costa Rica, it is used to expel intestinal worms, to treat warts, diarrhea, toothache, whooping cough, scabies, and flatulence. It is also considered as a powerful lung strengthener.
Used in aromatherapy, thyme is a remedy for PMS, stress, fatigue, and mild depression.