Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Photo © Steven Foster
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) in the mint family (Lamiaceae) is an evergreen subshrub native to the Mediterranean and cultivated throughout Europe and the United States.1 It grows to 1 1�feet in height, has gray-green, hairy stems, and small white to lavender flowers. Thyme oil is produced by steam distillation of the dried or partially dried leaves and flowering tops.1
History and Traditional Use
In classical Rome, thyme was added to cheeses and alcoholic beverages for its aromatic flavor.2 The name thyme may have come from the Greek word meaning courage; thyme was thought to possess courage and strength and women often gave a sprig of thyme to their favorite knight.3 Seventh century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper notes that thyme was useful for whooping cough, shortness of breath, stomach pains, and gout.2 He also suggested that a thyme ointment could be used to abolish abscesses and warts. Thyme oil was an ingredient in an herbal cigarette which was smoked to relieve an upset stomach, headache, or fatigue.2 Thyme essence was used in perfumes and embalming oils.3 Both fresh and dried thyme was used to destroy intestinal worms, to prevent spasms, to relieve intestinal gas, and as an expectorant and sedative.1
Modern Medicinal Use
Thyme is approved by the German Commission E for symptoms of bronchitis and whooping cough, and for the treatment of upper respiratory tract inflammations.4 It has also been used to improve digestion5 and to treat stomatitis (an inflammation of the mouth) and bad breath.6 Thyme oil has been used for the treatment of bedwetting in children.7
Modern Consumer Use
Thyme is a commonly used culinary herb. Thyme oil is used in antiseptic mouthwashes, cough drops and liniments, either for its flavor or its healing properties.1 Thymol, one of the primary active chemical constituents of thyme is used similarly, as well as in dental formulas and antifungal preparations for the skin. Thyme oil is used in creams, detergents, lotions, perfumes, soaps and toothpastes. Thyme is used in many food products, including baked goods, condiments, processed vegetables, and soups.1
1 Leung AY., Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley-Interscience; 1996.
2 Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
3 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications; 1979.
4 Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, editors. Klein S, Rister RS, translators. The Complete German Commission E Monographs3�herapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998.
5 Stecher PG, ed. The Merck Index: An Encyclopedia of Chemicals and Drugs, 8nd ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck and Co., Inc; 1968. Cited in Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
6 ESCOP. "Thymi herba." Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy; 1997. Cited in Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
7 Barnes J, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2002.
Disclaimer: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.