Thyme isn’t just one of the most popular culinary herbs today — it also has a long, long history of use as a medicinal healer and protector. Back in the Roman era, it was consumed to prevent poisoning and put in baths to stop the effects of poisoning once it already happened. In the days before refrigeration and food safety laws, including it in recipes gave you at least some protection against spoiled meat and food-borne illness. Prior to modern antibiotics coming on the scene, thyme oil was used to medicate bandages.
You might not even realize that you have used this herb medicinally in your life before — thymol, thyme’s most active ingredient, is used in Listerine mouthwash and Vicks VapoRub because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. The fact that these classic, although not very natural, products choose to use thymol as a key ingredient speaks to the undeniable medicinal benefits of this versatile herb.
Read on to learn about this awesome herb that is super easy to incorporate into your daily life for a wide range of health-boosting effects.
6 Health Benefits of Thyme
In general, thyme is excellent at supporting the immune and respiratory systems as well as the digestive, nervous and other body systems. It’s a serious powerhouse when it comes to staying healthy. Check out some of the top ways this herb can help improve your health.
1. Fights Sore Throats
Thyme oil is one of the strongest, natural antimicrobials, making it a serious weapon against sore throats. Its carvacrol content is a major reason why it’s one of the top essential oils for sore throat relief. (1)
One recent study conducted by the Medical and Sanitary Microbiology Department at Medical University of Lodz in Poland tested thyme oil’s response to 120 different strains of bacteria isolated from patients with infections of the oral cavity, respiratory tract and genitourinary tract. The results of the experiments showed that the oil from the thyme plant exhibited extremely strong activity against all of the clinical strains. It even demonstrated a good efficacy against antibiotic-resistant strains. (2) Next time you have a sore throat, make sure to add this herb to your soup and have some soothing and germ-killing thyme tea!
2. Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
The ingestion of thyme has been shown to produce antihypertensive activity, which makes it a great herbal choice for anyone suffering from high blood pressure symptoms. A recent animal study found that the extract was able to significantly reduce the heart rate of subjects with high blood pressure. The extract was also shown to reduce cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL levels while increasing HDL cholesterol levels. (3) Instead of overdoing it on salt, try adding more beneficial herbs like thyme to your daily meals.
3. Prevents Food Poisoning
Thyme has the ability not only to prevent food contamination, but to decontaminate previously contaminated foods as well. In several studies published in Food Microbiology, researchers found that the herb’s essential oil was able to decontaminate lettuce inoculated with Shigella, an infectious organism that causes diarrhea and can lead to major intestinal damage. Washing produce in a solution containing just 1 percent of the oil decreased the number of Shigella bacteria below the point of detection. (4)
By adding it to your next meal, you can actually decrease your likelihood of a food-borne illness. Try adding fresh thyme to your next homemade salad to make those raw greens even healthier and safer to consume!
4. Boosts Your Mood
The carvacrol found in this medicinal herb has been studied and shown to have some very positive mood-boosting effects. Research published in 2013 showed that when carvacrol was administered for seven consecutive days to animals, it was able to increase both dopamine and serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Dopamine and serotonin are two key neurotransmitters when it comes to your mood.
The data from this study suggests that carvacrol is a brain-active molecule that clearly influences brain activity through the modulation of neurotransmitters. If thyme is regularly ingested in low concentrations, this study suggests that it might improve feelings of well-being. (5)
5. May Fight Cancer
The properties in this herb have been shown to fight against tumors and cancer. More specifically, carvacrol is a major component of the essential oil that displays antitumor properties, making this beneficial plant a potential cancer-fighting food.
One recent study out of China and published in Anti-Cancer Drugs found that carvacrol inhibited the proliferation and migration of the two colon cancer cell lines. Overall, research shows that carvacrol has therapeutic potential for both the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. (6)
6. Naturally Remedies Bronchitis
Thyme has been used for centuries for the treatment of coughs and bronchitis. A study conducted by the Practice for Internal Medicine and Pneumology in Germany used an oral treatment that was a combination of thyme and ivy. The group treated with this combination had a 50 percent reduction in coughing fits that was achieved two days earlier than the placebo group. In addition, the group treated with the this combination had no more adverse events than the placebo group and no serious adverse events at all. (7)
Thyme Nutrition & Plant Origin
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an herb that belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). The plant is a relative of the oregano genus Origanum. It’s currently cultivated throughout the world, and the leaves are commonly dried and used as culinary seasoning. Bees are attracted to thyme flowers, and the thyme honey of Sicily has been famous for hundreds of years. This herb comes in dozens of varieties, but French thyme is most common.
The principal component of the essential oil is thymol, which gives it its antiseptic properties. For this reason, thyme oil is commonly used in mouthwashes and toothpastes. It effectively kills germs and infections in the mouth and protects the teeth from plaque and decay. Thymol also kills fungi and is commercially added to hand sanitizers and antifungal creams.
Thyme contains another bacteria fighter known as carvacrol and also has a variety of flavonoids, including apigenin, naringenin, luteolin and thymonin. These flavonoids increase the herb’s antioxidant capacity.
One ounce of fresh thyme (28 grams) contains about: (9)
- 28 calories
- 6.8 grams carbohydrates
- 1.6 grams protein
- 0.5 gram fat
- 3.9 grams fiber
- 44.8 milligrams vitamin C (75 percent DV)
- 1,330 IU vitamin A (27 percent DV)
- 4.9 milligrams iron (27 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram manganese (24 percent DV)
- 113 milligrams calcium (11 percent DV)
- 44.8 milligrams magnesium (11 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (8 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (8 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (5 percent DV)
- 171 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
Thyme vs. Oregano
Thyme is a cousin of another common, versatile herb, oregano. While there are some similarities between the two, there are also a few differences. Here’s how these two spices stack up:
- Has more vitamin A and vitamin C
- Commonly taken by mouth for bronchitis, whooping cough, sore throat, colic, arthritis, upset stomach, stomach pain (gastritis), diarrhea, bedwetting, intestinal gas (flatulence), parasitic worm infections and skin disorders
- Natural diuretic
- Appetite stimulant
- Has more potassium, iron and calcium
- Used for respiratory tract disorders, such as coughs, asthma, croup and bronchitis.
- Also used for GI disorders, such as heartburn and bloating
- Treats menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis, UTIs, headaches and heart conditions
- Contain thymol and carvacrol, both of which have been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria
- Potent antioxidants
History of Thyme
Long ago, the Egyptians cleverly used thyme for embalming. It made a perfect embalming agent since its high thymol content kills off bacteria and fungus.
Back in ancient times, it was associated with courage, bravery and strength. Roman soldiers exchanged sprigs of the herb as a sign of respect. Both Greeks and Romans burned bundles of thyme to purify their homes and temples. They also commonly used it medicinally in their bathwater.
In the European Middle Ages, the herb was nestled under pillows to encourage restful sleep. It was also placed on coffins during funerals because it was believed that this would assure passage into the next life.
Thyme is also one of the herbs used in the classic and aromatic Benedictine liqueur developed in 19th century France.
How to Use Thyme
This herb is easily and readily available both fresh and dried year-round. Fresh thyme is more flavorful, but it’s also less convenient. If you purchase it fresh, it can last a week or two in the refrigerator. Dried thyme should be stored in a cool, dark place and ideally used within six months.
The dried version can be substituted for the fresh kind in most recipes. One teaspoon of dried leaves is equivalent to one tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme.
This herb can be consumed in a variety of ways. The most common is as a fresh or dried herb in any culinary creation. For medicinal purposes, it can be purchased in the form of a tea, tincture, supplement or essential oil.
When it comes to using it in your kitchen and daily life, dried or fresh thyme makes such a healthy and tasty addition to chicken, fish, beef, lamb, vegetables (especially green beans, eggplant, carrots and zucchini), cheese (especially goat cheese), pasta dishes, soups, stocks, sauces, dressings and marinades for starters. The options are really endless. If you like the taste, you can add it to just about any dish you like.
If you’re looking for a way to get started with using this herb at home, try my recipe for Grilled Honey Glazed Salmon or Roasted Red Pepper Sauce with Chicken. The salmon recipe uses fresh thyme while the chicken recipe uses dried. I recommend trying both recipes and seeing the difference between using the two types.
You can also use the following recipes and homemade medicines that incorporate this beneficial, versatile herb:
- Homemade Hormone Balance Serum
- Potato Leek Soup Recipe
- Fennel Apple Soup Recipe
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Pecans Recipe
Thyme is considered safe when consumed in normal food amounts. When taken in larger quantities for medicinal purposes, it’s possibly safe for short durations of time — however, it can possibly cause digestive issues when taken in large amounts.
For pregnant or nursing women, it’s best to consume this herb in normal food amounts, not medicinal quantities. It’s not a common food allergen, but if you’re allergic to oregano or other Lamiaceae species then you might also be allergic to thyme.
For women who have hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, uterine fibroids or endometriosis, it might act like estrogen in the body. Avoid it if you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen.
When used in large amounts, this spice might possibly slow blood clotting, so be especially careful if you have any clotting disorders and/or are currently taking blood thinners. For the same reason, it’s best not to take it two weeks before surgery.
Final Thoughts on Thyme
Thyme is a seriously impressive plant when it comes to its use in the kitchen as a tasty and extremely healthy fresh or dried her, and it’s packed with disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants. It can even decrease your risk of food poisoning!
It also has a long history and proven track record as a natural medicine that can fight off bacteria, lower blood pressure, improve your immune system, boost your mood and has even been shown to fight some types of cancer.
The easiest way to make this common herb a part of your daily life is to make sure you keep some dried thyme on hand at all times so you can add it to your meals quickly and easily. You should also opt for fresh thyme when you think of it for an an even more powerful punch of flavor and aroma!