Thyme

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Thymus vulgaris (L)

 

Synonyms and Common names: Common thyme, Garden thyme, Rubbed thyme, French thyme

Order: Labiatae

Description: Thymus is a perennial low aromatic shrub with much-branched woody stems forming dense tufts from which arise tiny, paired opposite leaves on short stalks, each with two minute leaflets at the base. The leaves are 6-8mm long, the underside covered with fine hairs. The flowers are arranged in whorls in the axils of the upper leaves, and are of a typical labiate appearance, pink to lilac in colour. The plant is indigenous to Mediterranean regions and southern Europe, but is widely cultivated throughout the world, where it thrives in temperate climates, particularly on waste ground.

Parts used: Leaves and flowering tops, essential oil

Collection: The flowering branches are collected between June and August and the leaves stripped off.

Constituents: Over 1% volatile oil (including thymol, carvacrol, cymol, linalol, pinene and borneol), caffeic and rosmarinic acid, up to 10% tannins, bitter principle, gum, resin, flavonoids, triterpenoid saponins.

Actions: Carminative, digestive tonic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, relaxing expectorant, astringent, anthelmintic, antitussive, secretomotor effect

Indications: Dyspepsia, chronic gastritis, bronchitis, pertussis, asthma, diarrhoea in children, enuresis in children; as a gargle for laryngitis and tonsillitis. Specifically indicated in pertussis and bronchitis.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: The volatile oil of Thymus exerts a calming influence on smooth muscle. It is a useful carminative in dyspepsia, and the high tannin content helps to relieve diarrhoea. Thymol is twenty times more antiseptic than phenol, but unlike the latter, it does not have an irritant effect on the mucosa and may safely be taken internally. It is active against a variety of intestinal infections and infestations, particularly hookworm and ascarids, and can significantly change the bacterial populations of the gut, actions enhanced by the poor absorption of thymol into the bloodstream. The oil has been shown to be effective against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, fungi, and yeasts such as Candida albicans. Rosmarinic acid has an anti-inflammatory action. Thymus' bitter component stimulates the appetite, aids a sluggish digestion and improves liver function.  

The small proportion of thymol that is absorbed into the bloodstream carries the antiseptic effect to the lungs and kidneys where it is excreted from the body in the urine and on the breath. Thymus is therefore of use in the treatment of bronchial, pulmonary and urinary infections. It has an expectorant action, increasing the production of a fluid mucus to ensure a productive cough. The carvacrol stimulates the mucous membranes into secretory activity, while the saponins are  reflex-stimulating expectorants. Thymus has a specific use in asthma and coughs with a nervous component, and thyme oil may be added to a base oil and used as a rub for chest infections, or included in a steam inhalation for asthma.

Thymus is an effective topical anti-fungal treatment and can be used as a mouthwash and gargle against oral Candida. It may also be used as a gargle in laryngitis and tonsillitis. Thymus can also be used externally as a lotion for infected wounds, or applied to insect bites stings. The tannins provide an appreciable local astringent effect.Thymol is believed to stimulate the immune system. 

Combinations: Thymus will combine well with Lobelia and Ephedra in asthma, and with Prunus and Drosera, or Prunus, Urginea and Marrubium for whooping cough. The essential oil may be combined with lavender oil in a base oil as a rub for rheumatic pain or strained muscles.

Caution: Excessive internal use of thyme can lead to symptoms of poisoning and to over-stimulation of the thyroid gland. Therapeutic doses of Thymus and thyme oil should be avoided during pregnancy because the herb is a uterine stimulant. As thyme oil can irritate the mucous membranes, it should always be well diluted.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Regulatory Status: GSL Schedule 1

Dried herb: 1-4g or by infusion

Liquid Extract: 0.6-4ml

Tincture: 1:5 in 45% alcohol, 2-6ml

Elixir of Thyme BPC (1949) 4-8ml

Additional Comments: The Romans used thyme to impart an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs, and in ancient Athens, thyme honey was prized. The herb was mentioned in the Capitularies of Charlemagne, where detailed instructions regarding the plants to be grown in monastery gardens. According to Culpeper, thyme is 'a noble strengthener of the lungs, ... nor is there a better remedy growing for whooping cough. It purgeth the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath..... An ointment made of it takes away hot swellings and warts, helps the sciatica and dullness of sight and takes away any pains and hardness of the spleen; it is excellent for those that are troubled with the gout and the herb taken anyway inwardly is of great comfort to the stomach'.

Thymol is a popular ingredient of mouthwashes and toothpastes and is one of the components of several herbal liniments used to relieve arthritic and muscular pain. It can also be used to kill mosquito larvae.

 

Bibliography

Bartram, T. 1995 Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine, 1st edn., Grace Publishers, Bournemouth.

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Chevallier, A. 1996 The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, London.

ESCOP Monograph, 1996 Thymi folium, European Scientific Committee on Phytotherapy

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Hyperhealth 1996 Natural Health and Nutrition Databank, v.96.1 CD-ROM, ŠIn-Tele-Health

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London (First published in 1991 as Out of the Earth, Arkana)

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.

Newall, C.A., Anderson, L.A., & Phillipson, J.D. 1996 Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals, The Pharmaceutical Press, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Prihoda, A. 1989 The Healing Powers of Nature, Octopus, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ŠPurple Sage Botanicals