Phytomedicine in my Kitchen - Thyme

Thymos may derive from the Greek word “thymon”, meaning courage. Roman soldiers would bath in Thyme-water to give themselves vigour. Scottish highlanders drank Thyme tea for strength, courage and to prevent nightmares. The Egyptians used Thyme as part of the embalming process.

There are over 150 varieties of Thyme and, much like Mint, Thyme loves to cross pollinate. However, a phytotherapist will choose to use Thymus vulgaris for medicinal purposes. Colloquially it has been called “mother of thyme”, perhaps because of its use in menstrual disorders. It is also known as “cooking thyme” and it retains most of its flavor and smell when dried. Sheep and goats in Greece were encouraged to graze on banks of wild thyme to make their meat tastier. Dried flowers are kept in linen cupboards to rid them of insects.

The phytotherapeutic actions of Thyme include; antiseptic, tonic, expectorant, antifungal, antiparasitic and antioxidant. These actions assist with respiratory infection, cough, asthma, fungal infections, parasites, gastritis, H. pylori and convalescence.

Constituents of Thyme

The most well-researched constituent in Thyme is called Thymol. Thymol is highly antifungal and expels worms. The combination of Thymol and Carvacrol demonstrated fungitoxic activity towards Cryptococcus neoformans in vitro. The fungicidal activity may be due to degeneration of the fungal hyphae. Thymol also stimulates white blood cells. Carvacrol acts as an anxiolytic by increasing dopamine. Thymol acts as an analgesic because of its activity on α-2 adrenergic receptors in nerve cells.

Dried Thyme was found to be spasmolytic within the smooth muscle of the GUT. The relaxing effect of Bradykinin was also increased during the use of Thyme. The essential oil relaxes the trachea. These effects may due to the inhibition of calcium ion flux. In the stomach, both aqueous and ethanolic preparations of Thyme were found to inhibit H. pylori.

Aerial parts are used in deep chest infections that produce yellow sputum and uncontrollable coughing or wheezing. A syrup can be made from Thyme and is excellent for children.

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) claimed about Thyme “…neither is there a better remedy growing for that disease in children which they commonly call whooping cough”.

Thyme and Aging

In the 1990’s, research in Scotland suggested that Thyme supports the body’s normal function and counters the effects of aging by helping to maintain higher levels of essential fatty acids within the brain. Recent research (Youdim and Deans, 2000) has found that the proportion of 22: 6n−3* in brain phospholipids, which declined with age in control rats, was significantly higher in rats given either Thymol or Thyme oil. Furthermore, Thymol and Thyme oil increases antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase and overall antioxidant status.

*(Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. In physiological literature, it is given the name 22:6(n-3).)

How to use Thyme

In my practice I add Thyme to blends that address fungal infections, wet coughs, sinusitis, asthma, hay fever and gut issues.

The tea is carminative for colic, dyspepsia and diarrhea. Make an infusion with 3-12g of the aerial parts in 200ml boiled water. Keep the mouth of the cup closed so that you don’t lose the essential oils due to evapouration. Strain after 15 minutes. You can drink this 3 times a day, or more in acute cases.

The oil is rubefacient and counter-irritant in rheumatism and neuralgic pain. It can also be rubbed onto the chest during an infection. You can make an oil by adding 10 drops to 20ml sunflower oil.


Avoid therapeutic doses and Thyme oil during pregnancy. Thyme may be used during breastfeeding. Thyme oil should not be placed near the mouth or nose of infants.

Look out this month for interesting kitchen recipes and home remedies that use Thyme.


Youdim, K. and Deans, S. (2000). Effect of thyme oil and thymol dietary supplementation on the antioxidant status and fatty acid composition of the ageing rat brain. British Journal of Nutrition, 83(1), pp.87-93.

This article was written for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose the reader.

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