Thymus vulgaris

Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Thymus
Species: Thymus vulgaris

Synonyms and Common names: Common thyme, Garden thyme, Rubbed thyme, French thyme.

Description and Habitat: Thyme is a perennial low aromatic shrub with much-branched woody stems forming dense tufts from which arise tiny, paired opposite leaves on short stalks, each with two-minute leaflets at the base.

The leaves are 6-8mm long, the underside covered with fine hairs. The flowers are arranged in whorls in the axils of the upper leaves and are of a typical labiate appearance, pink to blue in colour.

The plant is indigenous to Mediterranean regions and southern Europe but is widely cultivated throughout the world, where it thrives in temperate climates, particularly on waste ground.

The herb can grow for ten years and upwards, but after a time will get very woody.   It is better to replace the plant when this happens as oils in young herbs tend to be better.

Harvesting: The flowering branches are collected between June and August and the leaves stripped off.  Dry the leaves before chopping up, store in airtight jars in a dark dry place.

Parts used: Leaves and flowering tops, essential oil.

Constituents: Oil of Thyme is the important commercial product obtained by distillation of the fresh leaves and flowering tops of Thyme vulgaris. Its chief constituents are from 20 to 25 per cent of the phenols Thymol and Carvacrol, rising in rare cases to 42 per cent.

The phenols are the principal constituents of Thyme oil, Thymol being the most valuable for medicinal purposes, but Carvacrol, an isomeric phenol, preponderate in some oils. Cymene and Pinene are present in the oil, as well as a little Menthone.

Actions: Carminative, digestive tonic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, relaxing expectorant, astringent, anthelmintic, antitussive, secretomotor effect (refers to the capacity of a structure (often a nerve) to induce a gland to secrete a substance)

Indications: Dyspepsia, chronic gastritis, bronchitis, pertussis, asthma, diarrhoea in children, enuresis in children; as a gargle for laryngitis and tonsillitis. Specifically indicated in pertussis and bronchitis.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: The volatile oil of Thyme exerts a calming influence on smooth muscle. It is a useful carminative in dyspepsia, and the high tannin content helps to relieve diarrhoea.

Thymol is twenty times more antiseptic than phenol, but unlike the latter, it does not have an irritant effect on the mucosa and may safely be taken internally.  t is active against a variety of intestinal infections and infestations, particularly hookworm and ascarids (worms, usually in children), and can significantly change the bacterial populations of the gut, actions enhanced by the poor absorption of thymol into the bloodstream. The oil has been shown to be effective against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, fungi, and yeasts such as Candida albicans.  Rosmarinic acid has an anti-inflammatory action. Thyme' bitter component stimulates the appetite, aids a sluggish digestion and improves liver function.

The small proportion of thymol that is absorbed into the bloodstream carries the antiseptic effect to the lungs and kidneys where it is excreted from the body in the urine and on the breath. Thyme is therefore of use in the treatment of bronchial, pulmonary and urinary infections. It has an expectorant action, increasing the production of a fluid mucus to ensure a productive cough. The carvacrol stimulates the mucous membranes into secretory activity, while the saponins are reflex-stimulating expectorants. Thyme has a specific use in asthma and coughs with a nervous component, and thyme oil may be added to a base oil and used as a rub for chest infections, or included in a steam inhalation for asthma.

Thyme is an effective topical anti-fungal treatment and can be used as a mouthwash and gargle against oral Candida.   It may also be used as a gargle in laryngitis and tonsillitis.   Thyme can also be used externally as a lotion for infected wounds or applied to insect bites stings. The tannins provide an appreciable local astringent effect.  Thymol is believed to stimulate the immune system.

Contraindications: Excessive internal use of thyme can lead to symptoms of poisoning and to over-stimulation of the thyroid gland. Therapeutic doses of Thyme and thyme oil should be avoided during pregnancy because the herb is a uterine stimulant. As thyme oil can irritate the mucous membranes, it should always be well diluted.

Preparation and Dosage: An Infusion made by infusing the herb in water can be used for cough and bronchitis.

Medicinally, thyme is used for respiratory infections in the form of a tincture, a syrup or by steam inhalation.   Because it is antiseptic, thyme boiled in water and cooled is very effective against inflammation of the throat when gargled 3 times a day. The inflammation will normally disappear in 2 - 5 days. Other skin infections and wounds can be dripped with thyme that has been boiled in water and cooled.

Additional Comments & Folklore: Thyme is a powerful antiseptic for both internal and external use; it is also employed as a deodorant and local anaesthetic.  It is extensively used to medicate gauze and wool for surgical dressings.   It resembles carbolic acid in its action, but is less irritant to wounds, while its germicidal action is greater. It is therefore preferable as a dressing and during recent years has been one of the most extensively used antiseptics.

The Romans used thyme to impart an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs, and in ancient Athens, thyme honey was prized.

The herb was mentioned in the Capitularies of Charlemagne (A capitulary was a series of legislative or administrative acts) where detailed instructions regarding the plants to be grown in monastery gardens.

According to Culpeper:

thyme is a noble strengthener of the lungs, ... nor is there a better remedy growing for whooping cough. It purgeth the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath..... An ointment made of it takes away hot swellings and warts, helps sciatica and dullness of sight and takes away any pains and hardness of the spleen; it is excellent for those that are troubled with gout and the herb taken anyway inwardly is of great comfort to the stomach”.

Thyme is a popular ingredient of mouthwashes and toothpaste and is one of the components of several herbal liniments used to relieve arthritic and muscular pain. It can also be used to kill mosquito larvae.

In this country, Thyme is principally in a request for culinary requirements, for its use in flavouring stuffing’s, sauces, pickles, stews, soups, jugged hare, etc.
Thyme is also a preservative of meat.

Thyme's recorded history comes to us principally from the Mediterranean cultures, from the writings of the Greeks and Romans.  It was used in cultures dating back over three thousand years and has been documented as a native plant throughout the Mediterranean, and in such unexpected regions of the world as the Alps, Iceland, and Russia.

It is one of history's oldest horticultural crops, grown for specific purposes. It is still grown for many of those same purposes today. Yet, with all that has changed with time, Thyme, as with many other herbs, has changed little, outlasting the designs of many who would try to improve upon its nature. Not native to Europe, thyme became an introduced crop in the New World, making the voyage for the simple purpose of keeping fats from turning rancid.

A great deal of thyme history and folklore centres around Biblical and saintly references. “Our Lady’s bed-straw”, the manger where Mary gave birth to the infant Jesus, was said to have included thyme, woodroof, and groundsel. Thyme and rosemary were used on St. Agnes’ Eve with this verse:

“St. Agnes that’s to lovers kind,
Come, ease the troubles of my mind.”

Thyme was a key ingredient of a favourite vision-inducing love potion. On St. Luke’s Day, October 18th, young girls were to do the following:

“Take marigold flowers, a sprig of
marjoram, thyme, and a little wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them
to powder, then sift it through a fine piece of lawn; simmer these with
a small quantity of virgin honey, in white vinegar, over a slow fire;
with this anoint your stomach, breasts, and lips, lying down, and repeat
these words thrice:–
‘St Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,
In dream let me my true love see!’
This said, hasten to sleep and in the soft slumbers of night’s repose,

the very man whom you shall marry shall appear before you.”

In Ancient Greece, thyme was used as incense in the temples.

The word thyme means “to make a burnt offering” and comes from the Greek Language.

In Ancient Rome, soldiers took baths containing thyme to give them courage before going into battle.

An old superstition proclaims that the souls of the dead lived in the thyme flowers. Thyme was brought into the room where there was a corpse.

It was said that thyme kept the evil spirits away and helped purify the air.

During the middle ages, knights would often receive a scarf with a thyme branch embroidered on it from their beloved maiden. This was supposed to bring them luck and give courage during combat.

In France, people were recommended to eat thyme to help fight the plague during the Dark Ages. Thyme branches were also thrown into the fire to help cleanse the air.

Thyme was one of the herbs in the “Four Thieves Vinegar” which was a secret recipe some thieves used to protect themselves from the plague when robbing the sick or dead. The other three herbs were Rosemary, Lavender and Sage.