Immediately familiar to us in a culinary sense, the tiny pungent leaves and sprigs belonging to the thyme plant are an essential ingredient in French cuisine.
Kiwis will recognize thyme in the traditional mixed herbs of a Sunday roast’s stuffing alongside sage and marjoram. Avid cooks know it as a component in ‘bouquet garni’ partnered with parsley, marjoram and bay or in ‘herbes de Provence’ with savoury, marjoram, rosemary, oregano and lavender.
But through the ages thyme has also been a useful herb for supporting, respiratory, skin and digestive system health.
Coughs, Colds and Flu – Antimicrobial and Anti-inflammatory
A traditional herbal application for sore throats, coughs and congestion, thyme in a steam bath, herbal tea, syrup or essential oil based rub is an ‘age old’ treatment and preventative for respiratory infection. This is because thyme is packed with volatile oils, like thymol, cineole, borneol, geraniol, carvacol, and terpines as well as beneficial flavanoids and saponins.
Just bruising a few leaves and smelling this plant gives you an indication of its powerful active ingredients. Thyme has both antibacterial and carminative actions. It is a useful herb during times of cough, cold and flu and was even traditionally used to treat whooping cough.
Thyme is also thought to be helpful for menstrual cramps, (possibly reducing prostaglandins responsble for menstrual cramping).
Thyme is thought to aid digestion and help eliminate parasites. It was also traditionally used for colic.
Oral health and gum inflammation may benefit from a gargle with thyme. The oil is also thought to relax and sooth muscles topically. The essential oil has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. Diluted and applied topically, it can calm the inflammation of a mosquito bite, sooth itching and protect from infection.
In aromatherapy, thyme oil is thought to be useful for improving alertness, brain cognition and enhancing mood.
Thyme is also a useful herb to keep in a linen cupboard to help deter bugs and moths naturally.
Uses Beyond the Kitchen – chest rub, infusion, syrup, mouthwash, gargle, lotion
Actions – antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, astringent, antimicrobial, diuretic,
Avoid – therapeutic doses during pregnancy
Throughout the Ages
Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) is indigenous to the Mediterranean, growing wild particularly on rocky ground. As early as 2750 BC ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets record a suggestion for dried thyme, pulverized with pears, figs and water to make a thick paste for use as a poultice.
The herb was also used by ancient Egyptians as an ingredient in the oil used during embalming. The ancient Greeks and Romans used thyme as a perfume in baths and to purify rooms. During the middle ages, people often carried a posy packed with thyme sprigs to ward off diseases like the ‘black death’.
As one of the most aromatic herbs in the garden, thyme is generally beneficial to most neighbouring plants. However it can be particularly helpful if planted alongside cabbages to help ward off the white cabbage butterfly.
Thyme is also thought to grow well beside lavender and roses.