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Just a Matter of Thyme

Updated on September 21, 2011

The word thyme comes from the Greek, Thymon, meaning spirit or smoke. There is much folklore, superstition and properties attributed to this herb. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed thyme could bestow courage and revitalize vigor. Ladies would embroider a sprig of thyme with a hovering bee on their scarves in the middle Ages and give them to their knight of choice before doing battle.

Ancient Sumerians used it as an antiseptic and the Egyptians used it their mummification process. Some folklore reaches back into biblical times. For instance, the manger where Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus was said to have been lined with thyme, woodroof and groundsel. And some believed if sprigs of thyme were placed on coffins, spirits of the dead would live in their flowers or be assured passage into the afterlife.

Danish and German tales tell of fairies being found in patches of wild thyme and thyme oil could make them visible to the user.

All folklore and superstition aside there are many uses for this plant, Thymus Vulgaris. For example, the Romans grew thyme extensively for bee culture as it produced the best tasting honey. There is believed to be about 100 species of thyme and is one of the most popular herbs. It is a native of the Mediterranean region and cultivated extensively in Europe and the United States.

However, if this perennial, a close relative of the mint family, could do everything it has been claimed to do, it would be classified as a miracle cure. Some of the things it has been claimed to treat or cure are:

· Psoriasis and eczema

· Sore throat

· Cough

· Tuberculosis

· Athlete’s foot

· Gastrointestinal problems

· Respiratory ailments

· Laryngitis

· Headaches

· Sores

· Aching muscles

· Aids memory and concentration

· Depression

· Rheumatism

· Sciatica

· Arthritis

· Gout

It is also helpful in treating cellulite,anorexia, obesity and edema.

Today, thymol, an antiseptic found in the oil, is an active ingredient in many mouthwashes and can also be found in some alcohol free hand cleaners. And before modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used in medicating bandages. The disinfecting properties of thyme is said to be up to 12 times as strong as carbolic acid. These oils have also been found to possess antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.

Today, Asia is the largest producer of thyme, but most imports come from Spain. Although the French variety is more highly valued, the small annual yield makes it harder to come by.

In recent studies some surprising facts have come to light. The vapors of thyme oil have been shown to suppress mold in damp buildings and also acts as an effective mosquito repellent. One study involving the antimicrobial properties of 21 plant essential oils, thyme oil proved to be the most effective against Salmonella and E. coli. However, it should be noted here pure oil should not be taken internally. It can interrupt normal function of heart, lungs and thyroid.

Today, thyme is most recognized in culinary circles as a cooking ingredient. It is a fragrant, small-leafed, woody-stemmed culinary herb often used to flavor meats, fish, poultry, soups and stews. Note that thyme, like bay leaves are slow to release their flavor so it should be added early in the cooking process. It can also be used to flavor egg dishes, casseroles, pizza cheeses and liquor.

There are many varieties of thyme, but the two mainly used in cooking are common thyme and lemon thyme. Both have sweet, mildly pungent flavors. Lemon thyme has more of a citrus flavor.

A final word of caution, thyme should be avoided by pregnant women and those suffering from high blood pressure.

For some great ideas on how to use this versatile herb visit:


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    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 6 years ago from Winnipeg

      We started adding Thyme to our food regularly, as we heard it was real good for you. Goof info here, thanks for sharing. Voted Up and Useful.

    • Rachelle Williams profile image

      Rachelle Williams 6 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      As an ardent follower of botanical medicine and naturopathy, I heart this hub!

      Good Work!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Interesting article. I'd like to know more about the connection between thyme and high blood pressure.

    • medor profile image

      medor 6 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Excellent history and usage of thyme... just started growing my own herbs and love the smell and using it in cooking... now I have more opportunities to use... thanks...