Thyme (Thymus vulgares)
Also known as:
Common thyme, Garden thyme, Rubbed thyme, French thyme, Creeping Thyme, Mountain Thyme
Thyme is well known to most people as a culinary herb, but like most culinary herbs, it’s also a medicinal herb. Culinary herbs came to be used in cooking both for their flavor and for their medicinal properties. Often, how and when culinary herbs are used is a reflection of their medicinal value.
Thyme is a low growing evergreen shrub that’s native to the Mediterranean. A member of the mint family, thyme’s sometimes woody stems are covered with small, gray-green to green leaves. It has small, two-lipped flowers that range in color from pale pink to purple. The entire plant is aromatic with a balsam-like scent.
There are over a hundred varieties of thyme. The most common are garden thyme and lemon thyme, but you can also find varieties like orange thyme, ginger thyme and coconut thyme. The different varieties can be so close in appearance it can be hard to tell them apart.
There is some confusion as to how thyme got its name. It could come from the Greek thymos meaning “to fumigate”. The Greeks burned thyme as a disinfectant. Or it could come from the Greek word thumus, which means “courage”. Thyme has historically been associated with courage. Roman soldiers bathed in thyme tea before battle to gain vigor, strength and courage. Later, thyme and a bee, signifying courage and bravery, adorned the scarves given to medieval knights by their ladies in England.
The Greeks may have given thyme it’s name, but they weren’t the first to use it. The Sumerians used thyme as an antiseptic. The Egyptians used it as part of the mummification process.
Thyme is well known for its benefits to the lungs and respiratory tract. The tea can help strengthen the respiratory tract, and fight any lingering infections. It will open and cleanse the bronchial tubes. It’s an expectorant, and a decongestant for the chest. A potent antiseptic, thyme tea will clean your respiratory tract of fungal, bacterial, microbial, and viral infections. You will feel the benefits in your head, throat, windpipe, bronchial tubes, and lungs.
Turn to thyme tea for an infection (including a urinary tract infection), septic condition, or to aid recovery from a disease. As a powerful antiseptic herb, it’s antiviral, antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibiotic.
Thyme is also a great antiseptic for all kinds of skin infections, including infected cuts and scrapes. Use it for parasitic skin problems, and for infections that are resistant to synthetic antibiotics. When applied topically, it increases blood flow to the area and purges the infection. Soak a cotton ball or clean cloth in thyme tea and hold against the affected areas. For athlete’s foot, soak your feet in thyme tea. Be sure the tea covers your ankles to treat hardened ankle areas. Use about a tablespoon of thyme to a quart of water. After steeping, add the warm tea to a bucket of water. You can treat fingernail fungus the same way. Use a teaspoon of thyme to a cup or two of water. Treat once a month if you have routine manicures to prevent infection.
We’ve been talking about thyme tea, because that’s the best way to use thyme. Adding it to food helps, and during cold and flu season you may want to eat more foods containing thyme, but you can more easily take in medicinal doses with tea. Pour one cup of boiling water over one to two teaspoons of thyme leaves. Cover the thyme while it steeps. Let it steep for at least 20 minutes. For a one, two, three punch, add lemon juice and honey.
Aromatherapy is another good way to benefit from thyme. Boil the herb in a pot, uncovered, and let the antiseptic steam purify the air. Try inhaling the steam from the pot directly, or use a steam tent. Finally, you can use the essential oil in candles, or a diffuser, or add it to boiling water.
Thyme essential oils have many of the same properties as the leaf; however, the essential can be toxic and should never be taken internally unless under the supervision of a professional.
Women who are pregnant should avoid drinking thyme tea. Small amounts of thyme used in cooking are considered to be safe. Thyme should not be taken in medicinal doses if you have a duodenal ulcer or if you have thyroid disease.