Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Thyme-Thymus Vulgaris, Thymus Serpyllum, Thymus Herba-Barona, Thymus Mastichina, Thymus Capitatus, Thymus X Citriodorus, etc.
Also known as: Garden thyme, Mother of Thyme, Tomillo, Herba Thymi, Whooping Cough herb, Thymain, Thymolium
Parts used: aerial parts
Meridians/Organs affected: liver, lungs, stomach, skin, oral, circulatory, structural, digestive
Properties: astringent, expectorant, antifungal, anthelmintic, aromatic, antiseptic, carminative, antispasmodic, nervine sedative, antioxidant, diaphoretic, antibacterial, tonic, emmenogogue, vulnerary, stimulant (the oil), parasiticide, diuretic, antitussive, antiviral, antibiotic
Thyme is an herb known to most people, especially those who work in the culinary industry. There are close to 400 species of thyme with the Thymus Vulgaris chemotype being the most used for medicine and as a culinary herb. Most thymes, however, are considered medicinal (even the creeping varieties) except those that are cultivated as ornamentals.
Thyme is a small shrub, rarely getting over 8-12 inches in height (the erect variety) with numerous stems with soft lance like gray-green leaves and flowers that appear at the axils and are white to pink to purple in color. The flowers bloom from May to September and are very aromatic. Thyme is native to the Mediterranean but can now be found the world over.
This herb has very old beginnings. It was said to have been used by the Sumerians as far back as 3500 B.C. The Egyptians referred to it as 'tham' and it was one of the main plants used by them for embalming and preserving bodies. Hippocrates (Greek physician: considered to be the "Father of Medicine") used thyme quite a lot; in fact, it was part of approximately 400 different remedies he used. Burned as incense on the altars of Greek gods it also was frequently rubbed on meats as a way to preserve them before refrigeration was invented. And as a side note, according to Greek mythology, thyme comes from the tears of Helen of Troy.
In medieval times, sprigs of thyme were given to knights for their courageous feats. (The word thyme comes from one of two words in Greek: 'thymos' which means 'perfume' or 'to fumigate' and/or 'thymus' which means 'courage'). Women during these times would embroider handkerchiefs with sprigs of thyme and give them to men going into battle to give them strength and courage. The French Republicans would use sprigs of thyme around the doors to let the loyal Republicans know of a secret meeting. On the opposite side of the spectrum-in ancient Assyria, thyme was associated with death and a thyme drink was often imbibed in in order to commune with the recently departed. The souls of the dead were said to rest in beds of thyme flowers. In England, bringing thyme to someone's house was said to bring serious illness or impending death to the family within. Some people have even said that they have smelt thyme in supposed haunted locations.
The Romans often used thyme both as a culinary and medicinal herb. Virgil, a Roman poet and beekeeper, thought very highly of honey made from thyme. He said that thyme, "...yieldeth most and best honni and therefore in old time was accounted chief..." Thyme based honey can still be purchased today in some specialty Greek stores in the usa. Young sheep in the Mediterranean were grazed on fields of thyme which was said to enhance the flavor of lamb. It is even believed that thyme was one of the four herbs upon which Mary laid the Christ child in the manger. As such, it has been included in Christmas crèches all over the world and is a common plant found in churches and monasteries.
Mrs. M. Grieve, an early 20th century herbalist, wrote a lot about thyme. She said it was used quite a lot during WWI as an antiseptic on the battlefield. It was also used as a local anesthetic, deodorant, mouthwash and germicide. The tea was used for coughs, colds, as a gargle for sore throats and gum infections (including thrush), and for chest infections. The tea also is said to help relieve gas and aid with fevers and menstrual issues. Thyme is specific for asthma, whooping cough, stomach weaknesses and when taken just before bed, it is said to help tremendously with nightmares. (This is something that should be considered for those with PTSD). Pliny used it for epilepsy, headaches, and as an antidote for snake bites. Hildegarde of Bingen used thyme extensively to assist with paralysis, plague, leprosy, and body lice. Lemery (17th century French physician) said it.."fortifies the brain and stimulates digestion."
The British Herbal Pharmacopeia has thyme listed as a remedy for tonsillitis, asthma, diarrhea, gastritis, dyspepsia, laryngitis and bronchitis. It was used by many European physicians to expel intestinal parasites (it seems to work very well for this purpose, especially for hook worms and ascarids, small intestinal round worms). It will also kill mosquito larvae.
Thyme has been used in baths to ease rheumatic pain, arthritis and sore muscles. An ointment of thyme is used even today for shingles. The oil of thyme also helps to dispel some symptoms of chronic fatigue, sluggishness and exhaustion. It also helps reduce fluid retention and increase circulation (useful for low blood pressure). As thyme is a powerful antifungal agent it also is used for athlete's foot and jock itch. Thyme reduces inflammation and works well for many skin disorders including acne, eczema, psoriasis and other forms of dermatitis. It has been found to lower cholesterol levels as well.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about thyme is that is it used in ALOT of commercial products such as: Vicks Vaporub, feminine hygiene products, PMC Douche powder, Auro Ear Drops, antifungal creams and lotions and in Listerine mouthwash to name just a few.
As helpful as thyme is it also can be toxic in large quantities. Toxicity causes nausea, headache, dizziness, gastric pains, vomiting, convulsions, cardiac and respiratory collapse, and coma. This herb should be used for small spurts of time and in small dosages. Pregnant women should avoid using it as it does stimulate menstruation. Also, when using thyme essential oil for children, make sure to use the White thyme essential oil only as the Red Thyme essential oil is too caustic for them.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your benefit. Please use them as you deem necessary. Stay happy and healthy!