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Thyme is a Mediterranean herb with dietary, medicinal, and ornamental uses. The flowers, leaves, and oil of thyme have been used to treat a range of symptoms and complaints.
The most common variety is Thymus vulgaris. A wide range of thyme products is available for purchase online.
This article looks at the medicinal uses and nutrition of thyme, as well as the history of its rise to popularity.
Fast facts on thyme
- Thyme is thought to have antibacterial, insecticidal, and possibly antifungal properties.
- People used thyme throughout history for embalming and to protect from the Black Death.
- Forms of thyme include fresh and dried herbs and essential oil.
Thymol is one of a naturally occurring class of compounds known as biocides.
These are substances that can destroy harmful organisms, such as infectious bacteria.
Used alongside other biocides, such as carvacrol, thyme has strong antimicrobial properties.
Killing the tiger mosquito
The tiger mosquito is native to tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia.
A team at Chungbuk National University in South Korea reported that a combination of thymol, alpha-terpinene, and carvacrol was effective in killing off tiger mosquito larvae.
High blood pressure
Researchers at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, found that an aqueous extract obtained from wild thyme reduced blood pressure in tests on rats.
Rats respond to hypertension in a similar way to people, so the findings might have implications for humans.
More tests are required for the data to prove significant, however.
Foodborne bacterial infections
A team at the Center for Studies of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Portugal, studied the antimicrobial activity of essential oils extracted from a range of aromatic plants, including thyme oil.
They reported that thyme oil, even at low concentrations, showed potential as a natural preservative of food products against several common foodborne bacteria that cause human illness.
A Polish study tested thyme oil and lavender oil, and they that observed that thyme oil was effective against resistant strains of Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia and Pseudomonas bacteria.
Researchers in Turkey looked at the effect of wild thyme on breast cancer activity, and specifically how it affected apoptosis, or cell death, and gene-related events in breast cancer cells.
They found that wild thyme caused cell death in breast cancer cells.
The fungus Candida albicans (C. albicans) is a common cause of yeast infections in the mouth and vagina, a recurring condition called “thrush.”
Researchers at the University of Turin, Italy, found that essential oil of thyme significantly enhanced the destruction of the C. albicans fungus in the human body.
Prolonging the stability of cooking oils
Lipid oxidation is a serious problem during food processing and storage. It can cause food to lose quality, stability, safety, and nutritional value.
Scientists from Warsaw, Poland, examined whether thyme extract might prolong the stability of sunflower oil at different temperatures.
Common skin problems
Skin problems are common worldwide. In some countries, herbal preparations are important medicines.
A team at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, carried out a study to assess the therapeutic benefits of a 10 percent chamomile extract cream and a 3 percent thyme essential oil antifungal cream for eczema-like lesions.
They noted that full healing occurred in 66.5 percent of people treated with a fungal cream containing thyme essential oil, compared with 28.5 percent of those using a placebo.
Results for the chamomile cream were similar to those for the placebo.
The researchers conclude:
“A 3 percent thyme essential oil cream could represent a relatively economical and easily available opportunity to treat and heal mild to moderate cases of fungal infections.”
However, they recommend further research.
Scientists from Leeds, England, tested the effects of myrrh, marigold, and thyme tinctures on Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), the bacterium that causes acne. They found that thyme might be effective in treating acne.
Its antibacterial effect proved stronger than that of standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in most acne creams and washes.
Benzoyl peroxide also causes a burning sensation and irritation on the skin, which means that a thyme tincture might be a solution to acne that leads to fewer unwanted effects.
The ancient Egyptians used thyme as an embalming fluid. In ancient Greece, they used thyme as an incense in temples and added it to bathwater.
The Romans used thyme as a flavoring for cheese and alcoholic beverages. They are also supposedly offered it as a cure people for who were melancholic or shy. The Roman army introduced thyme to the British Isles when they conquered the land.
Hippocrates, who lived around 460 BCE to 370 BCE and is known today as “the father of Western medicine,” recommended thyme for respiratory diseases and conditions. People grew thyme in gardens and gathered it in the countryside.
When the Black Death took hold of Europe in the 1340s, people would wear posies of thyme for protection.
Scientific research does not support this specific use but has shown thyme to have a range of medicinal properties that modern people can put to beneficial use.
People can use the fresh leaves of thyme in teas and in cooking and sometimes place them between layers of linen to protect the fabric from insects.
Thyme’s essential oil, usually referred to as “oil of thyme,” contains between 20 percent and 60 percent thymol.
Manufacturers extract oil of thyme for a range of uses, including scenting soaps and as an ingredient in deodorant.
People have used oil of thyme as both an antiseptic and an insect repellent. Thymol is a common meat preservative, and olive farmers often combine thymol into the oil that preserves olives in the Mediterranean.
Unlike the fresh leaves, a person cannot consume essential oils by mouth or apply it directly to the skin. Dilute oil of thyme in a carrier oil, such as olive oil.
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The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies thyme essential oils as “generally recognized as safe for their intended use.”
However, anyone planning to make a significant change to treatment for a health condition should first discuss this with a physician.
How do I include more thyme in the diet?
Adding more thyme to your diet is easy because of its versatility. Sprinkle fresh leaves on your cooked eggs, poultry, meat, and seafood.
Try adding fresh thyme to your salads and sprinkling it on soups and pasta. You can even stuff animal proteins with thyme before cooking and infuse water or beverages with it.
For superior flavor, choose fresh thyme over any dried products.Natalie Butler, R.D., L.D. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.