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Thyme or Thymus vulgaris is an aromatic herb which is rich in thymol and carvacrol. The components of thyme have antibiotic, balsamic, expectorant, diuretic and tranquilizer properties, among many other benefits for the skin when applied as oil.
In this article, we explain what thyme is and its main benefits and uses. We also see some contraindications and side effects of consuming this herb in large amounts.
Thyme is a genus of hundreds of species of perennial herbs and subshrubs from the Lamiaceae family. Thymus vulgaris —garden thyme— and Thymus serpyllum —wild thyme— are the best-known types of this plant.
The thyme plant is native to southern Europe and the western Mediterranean. There are also other species in some areas of North Africa, Greenland, and Asia.
This plant is grown widely. It is used as a culinary herb, and for therapeutic and ornamental use. The root is fibrous and woody and the erect, thin plant stems up to 38 cm in height.
The wild variety —Thymus serpyllum— tends to grow in heaths, meadows and dry-stone mountain areas in temperate and sunny regions. It produces long, low, extensive and serpentine stems that give meaning to its scientific name —serpyllum.
This herb has small, narrow, greenish-grey leaves that grow in opposite pairs. Its flowers can be white, pink, blue or purple depending on the species and variety. They are small and tubular and grow in groups up to 15.2 cm long.
This aromatic plant attracts bees, which when pollinated usually produce a type of honey with a unique thyme flavor. It also repels whiteflies.
Dried thyme should be stored in dark glass containers, hermetically sealed and labeled. It can also be frozen for later use.
Thyme has been known since ancient times for its magical, culinary and medicinal properties. Tradition has it that taking thyme tea on the eve of summer make fairies dance.
In Ancient Egypt, this aromatic plant was used in embalming to counteract the bad smell of corpses. For years it was also believed that putting thyme in the coffins of the deceased would help them get safe to the hereafter.
In Greece, it was used in thermal baths, as well as in temples for good smell. It also has been used as a purifying method to clean places and objects of negative auras.
Finally, thyme oil was used in wartime surgical dressings to treat battle wounds.
Thyme tea can be used to treat headaches, especially when it is only on one side of the head. The effect is enhanced with lemon balm and lime blossom.
To prepare the infusion, it is important to let it rest for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the effect we want. It also helps the digestion process after copious meals and can be used as a syrup.
Thyme is an effective remedy for diseases of the respiratory, digestive and genitourinary systems. This herb relaxes bronchial muscles, helping to soothe dry coughs. It also has a natural calming effect that helps prevent fatigue or general malaise and helps to fall asleep.
Warm tea can relieve colics and flatulence, promote sweating, and protect against food poisoning. It also relieves menstrual cramps and diarrhea.
When boiled, we can add honey to sweeten it and we will have a remedy for coughing spasms and also to treat colds. The tea can also be used to gargle in cases of a sore throat.
Adding boiled thyme leaves and flowers to the tub when taking a bad helps stimulate circulation and relieve joint pain. It also prevents hair loss when rinsed and massaged with this fluid.
Thyme essential oil contains thymol, which is also present in many antiseptics, mouthwashes, toothpaste, and syrups. It also has a potent antibacterial and antifungal effect.
This herb is also used as a stimulant of cerebral circulation, anemia treatment, for eye inflammations such as styes, genital infections treatment or even as a mosquito repellent.
Thyme has an antioxidant effect and when taken as a tea it also has digestive benefits. It is very rich in phytochemicals including tannins, essential oils, terpenes, flavonoids, and saponins.
It also has high amounts of amino acids such as cysteine, valine, glycine, and isoleucine, as well as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, cobalt, and aluminum.
Thanks to these components, this plant is very appreciated in phytotherapy. Specifically, these are the most important benefits for our body:
Dry thyme and essential oil are very potent. The essential oil contains a crystalline phenol known as thymol, an antibiotic and disinfectant that could improve the immune system and fight infections.
The aromatic and medicinal power of the essential oil varies depending on the species. It acts quickly and effectively against bacteria. It also promotes dental and gingival health and relieves toothaches.
Ointments made with thyme help disinfect cuts, wounds, and also help treat the fungi that cause athlete's foot.
As a massage oil, this aromatic plant can alleviate the pain suffered in rheumatism, gout, and sciatica. Also rubbing this lotion on the chest will help dissolve the inflammation of the mucous membrane of the upper respiratory tract and thus help colds recovery.
High does of thyme may act as a uterine stimulant and is therefore not recommended for pregnant women or who are trying to get pregnant, people with ulcers or heart problems. Also, excessive use of the essential oil is considered toxic.
Ingestion of thyme oil can cause gastrointestinal problems, including symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Other adverse toxic effects may include headaches, mental confusion, muscle weakness, and dizziness. It also slows heart rate and breathing and lowers body temperature.
If applied externally and undiluted, thyme can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. That is why it is very important to dissolve it in water or vegetable oils, such as almond or sunflower oil, before applying it to minimize toxicity. Because of its high thymol content, it can cause hyperthyroidism or intoxication by irritating the digestive system.
If we follow a specialist's recommendations, it does not have to entail any type of risk for health, nor have side effects.
Hanrahan, C., & Odle, T. G. (2005). Thyme. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine (2nd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 2015-2018). Detroit: Gale.