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THE HERBAL CORNER - "Thyme"
(Thymus vulgaris)
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Widely known as a seasoning for meat, fish, and other dishes, THYME is also a medicinal herb derived from the leaves and flowering tops of a low-lying, perennial evergreen plant of the mint family. Thyme is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, where more than 100 species have been identified, but it is now cultivated in temperate areas worldwide. Also known as garden or French Thyme, the plant is also the source for a mildly mood-enhancing essential oil that is less expensive and more readily available than essential oil of rose. Thyme is a multi-purpose herb that is often used for its fragrance, flavor, or medicinal properties in mouthwashes, decongestants, potpourris and sachets, liqueurs, and other products.

In ancient Egypt, Thyme oil was used for embalming, and the herb has long been appreciated for its ability to preserve meat. Thyme was a popular herbal remedy of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, principally for headache, digestive problems, and respiratory complaints. As an antiseptic it was strewn about or worn on clothes to ward off everything from plague to lice. In addition to its medicinal use, Thyme has also long been a favorite mood-enhancing herb. The Romans used it to treat melancholy; other herbalists have also favored it for nervous conditions and insomnia. The influential 17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper claimed Thyme is not only a "noble strengthener of the lungs" but also "helps to revive and strengthen both body and mind." The Scots and others drank wild Thyme tea for courage. The French appreciated Thyme as a liver protector. In the late 19th century, Thyme was used to disinfect sick rooms as well as to promote recovery of convalescing patients. Thyme has also traditionally been used to repel insects, prevent nightmares, kill intestinal worms, disinfect wounds, and alleviate diarrhea in children.

Thyme remains a popular remedy for sore throats, laryngitis, and dry coughs. Herbalists also recommend it for other respiratory ailments such as pertussis (whooping cough) and bronchitis. Steam inhalation of the essential oil may relieve symptoms of asthma. Thyme is a potential digestive aid. Aromatherapists often recommend the essential oil for persons suffering from mental stress, premenstrual tension, fatigue, and low spirits. The oil is anti-microbial and can be diluted and used topically for infections. Thyme may also help to prevent or treat headache, urinary infections, and menstrual cramps.

Recent findings. In a randomized, double-blind trial using 86 subjects, researchers tested the effectiveness of a traditional aromatherapy treatment for the hair-loss condition alopecia areata. Some 44 percent of the subjects who massaged a carrier oil containing Thyme and three other essential oils into their scalp showed improvement after seven months compared to only 15 percent of the control group. Researchers who investigated the anti-microbial properties of 21 essential oils against five important food-borne pathogens, including E. coli, noted that Thyme was among the top three at inhibiting the bacteria. Japanese researchers isolated a flavonoid and a phenolic compound from Thyme, both of which were shown to be effective antioxidants.

Thyme contains tannins, flavonoids, bitter compounds, resin, and saponins. Its most therapeutic compound, however, is its essential oil. Among the primary components of the oil are the phenols thymol and carvacrol. Thymol has been shown to kill bacteria, fungi, and yeasts. Thymol, carvacrol, and the saponins have expectorant properties that help to relieve bronchitis and lung conditions. Thymol and carvacrol can also relax smooth muscles, thereby aiding digestion, easing menstrual cramps, and alleviating respiratory conditions. Thyme's astringent tannins may help relieve diarrhea; its bitters can stimulate digestion.

Thyme is available as a liquid extract and an essential oil. It is sometimes combined with natural substances such as propolis. It is often included in formulas for cold and flu, headache, and respiratory ailments. Thyme has a long history of safe use as an herb and cooking spice. The essential oil is much more potent than the herb and is generally not taken orally. High doses of Thyme may induce uterine contractions and thus should be avoided during pregnancy. Because Thyme may affect thyroid function it is best avoided by those with a thyroid condition. The authors of a 1996 study noted that there are no cases described in the medical literature of systemic allergic reactions due to Thyme.

Please note: the information contained herein has been compiled from various sources. The above statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. We make no claims, either expressed or implied, that any treatments mentioned in this newsletter will cure disease, replace prescription medication, or supersede sound medical advice.

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