Thyme is a fragrant culinary herb with longstanding traditional use as a calming remedy for respiratory and digestive systems. Thyme oil provides a modest contribution to the effect of the whole herb.
To support digestion
Most of us are familiar with the flavour of thyme in cooking. To be reminded of this take a leaf of fresh of dried thyme and chew it. The strong sharp hit of the essential oil, especially the thymol and carvacrol constituents is immediately apparent, an almost chemical antiseptic sensation, reminding us that fresh thyme is a great antiseptic for inflamed gums, mouth and sore throat. The flavour otherwise is rather bitter and there is a noticeable astringency (linked to the high tannin levels). The familiar thyme flavour is actually a lingering aftertaste.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of thyme’s key qualities below to learn more:
Distilling these traditional characteristics we can see that thyme has quite a powerful presence, though overall effect is relaxing, with significant extra support for digestion.
Thyme comes into its own as a remedy for coughs and tightness in the chest. It is a first choice to calm the dry irritating cough of children, and for any cough associated with airway tightness or wheezing. It is even worth trying to relieve ongoing symptoms of asthma.
It may also help with more productive coughs where there is infection in the lungs. Old herbals used to recommend thyme to “purge phlegm” and it was said to “causeth easy expectorations of tough phlegm“.
This is also of course a familiar culinary herb originally used to help digestion as well as flavouring food. It can be relied upon to settle upset digestion in various forms: dyspepsia, colic and irritable bowel in particular.
It is likely to support a healthy microbiome too and can be used as part of a prebiotic/probiotic regime to correct gut dysbiosis problems.
In its most immediate effect the fresh herb makes a great refreshing and antiseptic mouth cleanser if chewed.
The essential oil of thyme is the major influence in the antispasmodic action of the herb, seen in relaxing airway spasm and nervous coughing, and as a carminative effect in the digestive tract. The oil’s most notable constituents are thymol and carvacrol which are both notably antiseptic. In the form of the whole herb this effect is most likely to contribute to probiotic benefits in the gut, and locally in the mouth, rather than being seen as a substitute antibiotic. The oil as a whole does however contribute to the expectorant action of the herb, helping to clear the passages as it is expelled through the airways.
As well as the immediate reflex hit from the taste buds of the strong essential oil content, the bitters in thyme stimulate digestive activity, while the tannins provide an appreciable local astringent effect.
Thymol in thyme oil is 20 times more powerful than the standard antiseptic phenol (the active ingredient of Dettol). Fortunately we should not drink thyme oil!
Thyme herb is very safe. The oil is a powerful extract of the herb and should not be used internally.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are