Name: Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)


Common names: Garden Thyme, Common Thyme, Creeping Thyme, French Thyme

Range: Native to the Mediterranean and cultivated extensively throughout the world.

Parts Used: Leaf, fresh or dried

Preparations: Essential oil, tea, tincture, cosmetics, dental products


Thyme is a low-growing perennial that makes an excellent addition to the culinary herb garden as well as an attractive groundcover in hard-to-grow places. In fact, thyme can withstand a fair amount of foot traffic and will readily fill in spaces between patio bricks and walkways. Depending on the specific species, thyme imparts flavors that range from lemon to nutmeg and caraway to clove in similarity. The herb is traditionally used in Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Cajun, and French cuisines. The latter incorporate thyme into herbes de Provence and bouquet garnis as a flavoring for soups, stews, salads, and various condiments. It also pairs exceptionally well with garlic, basil, and numerous vegetables, lamb, chicken, eggs, and cheese and rice dishes. Greek gourmets flavor honey with thyme, and the herb lends its delicate flavor to Benedictine liqueur.

Thyme likely received its genus name from the Greeks, but it is uncertain what the actual meaning was intended to convey. Some linguists and herbalists believe that it was named for the Greek equivalent of "courage" due to its invigorating properties. Others contend that it's name means "to fumigate," referring to the herb's ability to ward off insects. Along this line, it’s interesting to note that the Egyptians included thyme in their embalming preparations.

During the Middle Ages, women of nobility would bestow knights with a sprig of thyme to honor their chivalrous and courageous natures. Thyme was also kept under pillows to ward off nightmares and spread over coffins to ensure safe passage into the afterlife. To the ancient Greeks, thyme was a symbol of elegance and social grace. In France, thyme became an icon of the Republican movement.

Medicinally, thyme has held a long place in history as a remedy for a variety of ailments. It was once used as a vermifuge to expel intestinal parasites, particularly hookworm. The Greeks treated nervous conditions with thyme. In Medieval Europe, thyme was used to ward off plagues. The essential oil was a standard antiseptic in first-aid kits carried on the battlefields of World War I. A tea brewed from the fresh or dried leaves is excellent to ease bronchitis and other respiratory ailments since the herb boasts antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Due to its antiseptic action, thyme is also an ingredient in some soaps and aftershave lotions. The oil of thyme is also the main ingredient in the popular mouthwash, Listerine.

Constituents: Thymol, borneol, caffeic acid, limonene, rosmarinic acid, p-coumaric acid, and several nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, tryptophan, and alpha-linolenic acid.

Cautions/Contraindications: The essential oil should not be taken internally. Otherwise, individuals with a history of thyroid disease or duodenal ulcers should avoid consuming large quantities of this herb.

Disclaimer: This information has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.