By Rev. Dr. Lisa R. Waltz, ND, DD
This very aromatic herb is not only good for your favorite recipes, but has a range of healing abilities as well.
Thyme, Latin name Thymus vulgaris, has been cultivated for centuries for culinary and healing uses. Thyme comes from the Mediterranean area originally, and has been adapted to many different climates around the world. It first came to North America with the first colonists, being used primarily as a food preservative and for medicine at that time. It has been identified as another of the ingredients used in mummification in ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks considered it a symbol of style, elegance and courage, and they used it as an incense to cleanse holy areas. It is believed that its common name came from the Greek word "thumus", which means "courage", or from the Greek word "thymos" meaning "to perfume". It has been identified in writings over 3000 years old. Thymus serpyllum, or wild thyme, is often used interchangeably with T. vulgaris, as their properties are nearly identical.
Medicinal Uses of Thyme Thyme is a powerful antiseptic. It is used in cases of anemia, bronchial ailments, and intestinal problems. It is used as an antiseptic against tooth decay, and destroys fungal infections as in athlete's foot and skin parasites such as crabs and lice. It is good for colic, flatulence, sore throats, and colds, as well as a digestive aid and a hangover remedy. Infusions of thyme are said to be good for headaches, and has been shown to be beneficial for coughs related to colds and flu as well as whooping cough, as the active constituents are known to loosen and expel mucous. Thyme infusion is also soothing and healing for skin irritations, muscle spasms, and fungal infections. This plant contains a constituent that is helpful for preventing blood clots.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy to boost the mind, spirit, and body. The vapor from the essential oil is used to treat respiratory infection. Taken internally oil of thyme is known to be poisonous in amounts of a teaspoon, as it is very strong. It may be too strong for many people externally as well, so caution is advised. Thyme oil or infusion can be added to the bath to aid rheumatism and bronchial difficulties. Thyme is a good plant for bees, providing them with nutritious pollen, and imparting a delicious flavor to their honey. Its clusters of purple flowers attract bees readily. The dried flowers and leaves of thyme are said to protect cloth from insects. Burning thyme also repels insects. Oil of thyme diluted and used externally as a deodorant and antiseptic can prevent mildew. An ointment made with thyme is said to be good for warts. Culpepper writes that it is useful to help the new mother expel the afterbirth, and that an ointment made of the leaves is useful for treating warts, as well as easing the discomfort of gout, and killing worms internally. The plant's actions are considered to be disinfectant, antiseptic, anodyne, anti-inflammatory, rubefacient, antitussive, apertif, carminative, demulcent, depurative, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, fungicide, nervine, pectoral, sedative, stimulant, and vermifuge.
There are no known contraindications at this time, although some people are very sensitive to the essential oil, so patch tests are appropriate.
Spiritual Uses of Thyme
Thyme is burnt to cleanse spiritual rooms and spaces, as well as to bring good health and courage to the home. Thyme placed in a sleeping pillow repels nightmares. In medieval times, thyme was believed to bring courage to the bearer, so women often made gifts for their knights and warriors that included thyme leaves, or embroidered thyme leaves onto scarves to be worn in battle. Shakespeare refers to the herb being used in the beds of fairies. It was one of the chief ingredients in ritual altar fires, particularly by the Greeks, to purify sacrifices to the gods. Thyme was also used in funeral rites, being used as incense as well as to place on the coffin, where it was believed that the departed lived in the flowers. It was believed to assure the passage into the next life.
Culinary Uses of Thyme
Thyme is often used in bouquet-garni, which is small sprigs of fresh herbs tied together and simmered in various dishes. Since it is an herb that helps the body to digest fatty foods, it is often used as an ingredient in those kinds of dishes. It is especially tasty with meat, poultry, and game. It has a strong taste, so you may want to use it sparingly in most dishes.
Other Uses of Thyme
The fragrant dried leaves are often used in potpourris and in closet sachets to repel insects.
Thyme is a bushy perennial that loves warm, sunny areas, and is found throughout North America. It commonly grows to 15 inches tall, and makes an excellent ground cover on dry slopes. There are many different varieties, ranging from sub-shrub size to a creeping ground cover. Trim it back after flowering to prevent it from becoming woody, and prune more frequently in summer, during its most vigorous growing period. The flowers range from purple to lilac to white. It prefers well-drained, slightly alkaline soils. Thyme can be sown from seed, or propagated from stem cuttings. It may be killed if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, so if this is a possibility in your area, you will want to either protect it over winter, or bring some indoors to grow on a sunny windowsill. Thyme leaves can be dried easily, and it freezes well.
The Herbal Encyclopedia - A Practical Guide to the Many Uses of Herbs by Rev. Dr. Lisa Waltz; available in electronic form from EarthNow.org
_A Modern Herba_l by Mrs. M. Grieve
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The Herb Society of America Encyclopedia of Herbs By D. Brown, 1995.
HerbalGram 23 (summer, 1990), M. Blumenthal
Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
Heinerman's Encyclopedia of Healing Herbs and Spices by John Heinerman
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevalier
The Green Pharmacy by Dr. James A. Duke
About the AuthorI am a nationally certified Naturopathic Doctor, certified by the American Naturopathic Medical Certification & Accreditation Board of Washington, DC., and a member of the ANMA (American Naturopathic Medical Association). I work towards teaching people preventative natural medicine and proper nutrition, while treating what ails them - an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure, especially in today's world. I have been working with medicinal herbs for over 16 years. I own and operate the Natural Wellness Center, a clinic for everyone, free of discrimination.