Common thyme is a member of the plant family Lamiaceae (Labiateae). There are many varieties of thyme. Common thyme is derived from wild thyme. It is native to, and grows extensively in, the area around, the Mediterranean. The plant is low-growing and shrub-like with small white or pale blue/purple flowers and has aromatic leaves. It also grows in other European countries and in North Africa, and it is popular in many countries as a culinary herb.
The herb has been used therapeutically since ancient times. The Greeks burnt it to fumigate buildings against infectious disease. It was also a symbol of courage to the ancient Greeks. The ancient Egyptians used thyme in the process of embalming. The Romans used it to flavor cheese.
In herbal medicine, thyme is used in combination with other herbs for the treatment of various gastric and respiratory ailments and for fever.
Thyme Essential Oil
Two different oils are produced from the herb. The first is red thyme oil, which is obtained by steam distillation from the leaves and flowers of the plant. The second, white thyme oil, is produced after a second distillation process has been carried out. Red thyme oil, as its name suggests, is brownish red in color. It has a strong, spicy, warm smell. White thyme oil is very pale yellow in color and smells sweeter and less pungent than red thyme oil. Red thyme oil is much stronger and more of an irritant than white thyme oil; the latter, therefore, is safer to use.
Thyme oil is used extensively in the pharmaceutical industry, in the manufacture of antiseptic mouthwashes, toothpastes, throat lozenges, disinfectants, etc. The cosmetics industry uses it as a fragrance ingredient in soaps, shampoos and bath products.
Thyme essential oil is a powerful antiseptic and germicide. It also has a stimulating effect on the nervous system. It can, however, irritate the skin and should only be used well diluted. In bathing, a dilution of only 1 per cent is recommended.
Thyme oil can be used to treat respiratory infections such as colds, influenza and bronchitis, either in steam inhalation or in massage. It also has beneficial effects on the respiratory system if used in a vaporizer. It is an expectorant so also helps relieve spasmodic coughing. An added benefit of thyme oil is its immunostimulant properties, which help the body to fight off infection. Used in a vaporizer, diffuser or room spray with other antiseptic oils it will help to disinfect the atmosphere in a sick-room.
Thyme essential oil can be used to treat a variety of infections of the genito-urinary tract, including cystitis and urethritis.
Used in massage in particular, thyme oil can bring relief from the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism and will also combat the stiffness and aches that are associated with overexertion and sports-related muscle strain. It also benefits the circulatory system with its stimulating effects and can combat low blood pressure.
Provided that it is well diluted, thyme oil can be used in skin care for a variety of purposes. It can benefit oily skin and acne and has been shown to be effective against lice and scabies.
The effects of thyme oil on the nervous system are stimulating: combating mental fatigue, nervous debility and symptoms of stress such as headaches.
Suitable Methods of Use
Use with care. Dilute well. Do not use on broken or sensitive skin.
Warning: Not suitable for children, epileptics or those who are prone to high blood pressure. Avoid the use of thyme oil in pregnancy.