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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.

These include diarrhea, stomach ache, arthritis, and sore throat.

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.

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Thyme has a range of powerful medicinal effects.

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.

One study from 2010 suggests that thymol can reduce bacterial resistance to common drugs, including penicillin.

Killing the tiger mosquito

The tiger mosquito is native to tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia.

Since the 1990s, it has spread around the world, carrying West Nile virus, Yellow fever, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever.

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.

Colon cancer

A study carried out in Lisbon, Portugal, found that extracts of mastic thyme might protect people from colon cancers.

Breast cancer

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.

Yeast infection

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.

They suggest that thyme might be a potent antioxidant for stabilizing sunflower oil.

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.

Acne

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.