Did you know that in the folk song, Scarborough Fair, each aromatic herb named is actually representing a medieval virtue? Thyme represents courage, which gives us a fair glimpse into the ancient history of this magnificent herb.1
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has actually been linked by many linguists to the Greek word for courage “Thymos” and it has long been associated with courage and bravery.2
Roman soldiers would exchange sprigs of fresh thyme before they headed into battle. Both Greeks and Romans burned the herb to arouse courage in themselves and others. In the Middle Ages, it continued to be gifted to soldiers for courage though others believed, like the Egyptians before them, that thyme would also help their passage into the next life. The Romans also believed it could be a protectant against poison.
But the plant has also been recognized for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. During the black death of the 1340s, many used the herb to both ward off and treat the plague.3 The Victorians, in the 19th Century, may have believed that a fresh thyme patch meant fairies had danced in the night, but they were still pretty clued in – Victorian nurses bathed bandages in a thyme dilution, even without a clear understanding of antiseptics.4,5
So is there any scientific backing to these ancient beliefs? Read on to find out.
The Health Benefits of Thyme
1. It’s a Powerful Antimicrobial
Though it was never fully understood in centuries gone by, one of the chemical compounds found in thyme, thymol, really is a powerful antiseptic. So the act of soaking bandages in thyme water was a smart move.
Today we can find thymol in our mouthwash, hand sanitizers, and acne medications and as an essential oil.
It continues to show a strong antibacterial property against many forms of bacteria including some antibiotic-resistant strains.6
Furthermore, studies have indicated that thyme oil can, for example, stop the growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a potentially deadly infection to those with weakened immunity) and Candida albicans (also known as thrush).7 Pure thymol extract is also a powerful broad-range antifungal, able to provide long-lasting suppression against a variety of household molds.8
2. It Can Prevent Food Poisoning
It appears the Romans were onto something when they believed that this herb could protect them from being poisoned. Though the actual “poison” that thyme is believed to be effective against is the microbial variety that gets into our food.
In one study, thyme essential oil was able to “decontaminate” lettuce that was harboring an organism that causes diarrhea and intestinal distress. Researchers found that at just 1% dilution, the oil could drop infections caused by this organism below the detection level.9
Another study tested the more concentrated thymol against Salmonella ser. Typhimurium (which was until recently the most common form of food poisoning). This type of Salmonella can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and nausea, and can be fatal in those with weakened immune systems.
Thymol was able to adequately disrupt the membrane integrity of the bacteria and was deemed a potent alternative to some current synthetic drugs.
3. It Can Fight Infections of the Chest, Nose, and Throat
Thyme oil can be used as a natural cold remedy as an expectorant, an antispasmodic, and as an antibacterial agent for strep throat and sinus infections.
A study used a combination of ivy and thyme leaf extracts to treat the symptoms of acute bronchitis and found that symptoms responded faster to the thyme-ivy combination than the placebo group, with a 50 percent reduction in coughing fits, achieved two days earlier than the placebo.10
Against the dreaded Group A Streptococci bacteria – that can cause such common infections like strep throat – another component of thyme oil, carvacrol, showed an ability to kill an antibiotic-resistant strain of this Streptococci. Carvacrol is a potent component found in both thyme and oregano oil. Though it was not determined whether it was able to do this alone or if it actually enhanced the usually resistant-antibiotic.11
Also, a thyme honey nasal spray has also proven effective in chronic sinus infections.
4. It has Anti-Tumor Properties
Aside from helping defeat strep throat, carvacrol may also help to halt the growth of tumors.
A Chinese study looked at the effects of carvacrol on colon tumor cells and determined that cell invasion was indeed suppressed by carvacrol. Carvacrol also brought tumor cell cycles to a stop and ultimately caused tumor cell death.12
5. It Can Ward Off Pests
Believe it or not, thymol was introduced as a pesticide in the US in 1964 for use as a repellent against domestic animals! The great thing is that it’s registered by both the EPA and FDA as a functional pesticide that is also considered to be GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).
The EPA believes that the use of thymol in pesticide products does “not result in unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment” which means it’s a great alternative to chemical products around the home. It is registered with the EPA to control birds, squirrels, beavers, rats, mice, and deer.13
Thyme To Get Planting
Thyme grows easily in well-drained soil, either in a garden or in a pot. The aromatic leaf is favored by the French for it’s floral, warm and slightly minty taste (it actually belongs to the mint family) and is popularly paired with tomatoes, beans, seafood, chicken and red meat. It’s also one of the chief ingredients in the French spice mix, Herbs de Provence. In Mediterranean cuisine, it’s paired beautifully with lamb or goats cheese.
You can even use thyme to make a relaxing tea.
This tea can be a powerful healing drink for sore throats and illness and all you need do is infuse the fresh leaves in hot water.
Allow steeping for 15-20 minutes and strain before serving. You can also add a little honey or lemon as well.
Like many of the herbs we talk about, thyme not only provides superb health benefits but is a wonderful way to flavor your food without adding salt or sugar, further supporting your weight loss goals. Plus, you have the added benefits of both thymol and carvacrol, two incredibly potent medicinal compounds.
At The End of Thyme
Thyme can be found at your local nursery in varying and colorful varieties, including French, lemon, wild, and even red thyme.
So, don’t you think it’s thyme to get that herb garden planted?
Learn More About Herbs and Spices:
The Interesting Difference Between Herbs and Spices
Oregano for Cold Relief (plus More Useful Health Benefits!)
Pumpkin Spice: Fall’s Healthiest Seasoning (recipe included)
2.Lee, Paul.A; There is a Garden in the Mind: A Memoir of Alan Chadwick and the Organic Movement in California