Written by Endeavour College of Natural Health | Saturday, 3 December 2022
Thyme has long held its position as a culinary staple around the world, however, its range of use spans far beyond the kitchen. Other than being the seasoning of choice for roast chicken and potatoes, our herb of the month can be infused in honey, burnt as incense, utilised as a natural insect repellent, and used in embalming practices. Wait, what? Oh sorry, that was the Ancient Egyptians…
A study conducted in 2014 discovered that there were over 400 species of this fascinating herb (Borugă et al., 2014), so there’s really no thyme to waste! Let’s dive right in…
Botanical name: Thymus vulgaris Common name: Common Thyme Medicinal parts used: LeavesFamily: Lamiaceae (mint family)
Thyme is extremely high in antioxidants, with some studies suggesting it has the potential to protect against oxidative damage that may contribute to chronic diseases of ageing. This special herb is used in culinary, medicinal, and ornamental ways. The essential oil alone is used commercially in the manufacture of soaps, cosmetics, mouthwash, toothpaste, and chewing gum – powerful antibacterial properties, coming through!
The origin of native thyme in Australia dates back centuries when it was used medicinally by Indigenous Australians. Today, it’s more common to find thyme in the kitchen for cooking and making herbal teas.
Moving further across the pond, thyme has long been considered an important edible plant. Native to the Mediterranean, it has been studied for centuries for its unique importance in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries. Are there any ancient history buffs in the audience? If so, you may be familiar with Pliny the Elder. The first recorded evidence for the medical use of thyme dates back to the first century AD in The Natural History (the single largest surviving work to have survived from the Roman Empire) by Pliny the Elder and De materia medica (the primary historical resource about medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient civilisations) by Pedanius Dioscorides (Hanrahan, C and T. G. Odle, 2005).
Beyond that, have you ever wondered how herbs gained their names? In this case, it all started with a bath… Apparently, Roman soldiers would bathe in thyme to help them feel courageous, and this was how its name came about – the Greek word ‘thymos’ means courage or strength.
Thyme oils were used by dentists to treat oral abscesses and inflammation. In Egyptian culture, thyme was used to preserve the dead from decaying. They bathed their dead in thyme oil or placed a thyme leaf into their coffins prior to burial.
Thyme has long been known for its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties. It also disrupts microbial biofilms, the colonies that form as bacteria grow – a nod towards its popularity in the beauty and hygiene commercial industries.
Medicinally, it can be employed to lower blood pressure, fight acne, boost immunity, and as a mood booster. Thyme essential oil is commonly used for therapeutic purposes because it contains carvacrol, which has been shown to boost dopamine and serotonin (the mood-boosting hormones, which you can read more about here).
Due to its antibacterial powers, thyme is also used as a disinfectant and preventative ingredient for bacterial infections. Ever heard of thymol? Found in thyme essential oil, it’s a key ingredient in pesticides that target bacteria, viruses, rats, mice, and other animal pests (Escobar et al., 2020).
We just mentioned that thyme contains carvacrol and thymol – two volatile/essential oils. These two oils have antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory actions, which is why our herb of the month is also handy to have around if you’ve got a cough or respiratory tract infection.
Thyme ticks quite a few boxes in terms of nutrients and health benefits! This humble herb is packed with vitamins A, C and B alongside minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. In honour of being thorough, it also contains dietary fibre.
One gram of thyme contains 2.8 calories, 0.1 grams of fat, 0.1 grams of protein and 0.6 grams of carbohydrate.
If you want to grow your own thyme at home, grab a pen and paper – it’s time to take some notes! Thyme thrives in hot and sunny conditions, but make sure the soil is well drained. Some of the benefits of growing your own are that it can survive in a variety of conditions, including drought. On top of that, thyme is easy to propagate so you can easily grow your herb family if you can’t get enough.
When it comes to usable forms of thyme, the leaves, flowers, and oil are the most common. It pairs well with savoury dishes like roasted meat (especially chicken), fish, vegetables (spotlight on potatoes), and savoury baking. You’ll also find it's used to add flavour to soup stocks and broths, due to its distinctive flavour and aromatic properties. While we’re on the topic of cooking, we’ve got a few thyme-friendly recipes in our pocket:
Borugă, O., Mişcă, C., Goleţ, I., Gruia, A., & Horhat, F. (2014). Thymus vulgaris essential oil: chemical composition and antimicrobial activity. J Med Life, 7(3), 56-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4391421/pdf/SIJMedLife-07-56.pdf
Escobar, A., Pérez, M., Romanelli, G., & Blustein, G. (2020, December). Thymol bioactivity: A review focusing on practical applications. Arabian Journal of Chemistry, 13(22), 9243-9269. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878535220304561
Hammoudi Halat, D., Krayem, M., Khaled, S., & Younes, S. (2022). A Focused Insight into Thyme: Biological, Chemical, and Therapeutic Properties of an Indigenous Mediterranean Herb. Nutrients, 14(10), 2104. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14102104
Hanrahan, C., and T. G. Odle. (2005). Thyme. In J. L. Longe (ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Farmington Hills, Mich: Thomson/Gale. ISBN 0787693960.
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Endeavour College of Natural Health
Endeavour College of Natural Health is Australia's largest Higher Education provider of natural medicine courses.
The College is known as the centre of excellence for natural medicine and is respected for its internationally recognised academic teams and high calibre graduates. Endeavour offers Bachelor of Health Science degrees in Naturopathy, Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine, Acupuncture Therapies and Chinese Medicine, Undergraduate Certificates, a Diploma of Health Science and massage courses.