Most people consider this low-growing perennial evergreen no more than a culinary seasoning, yet its fragrance led Rudyard Kipling to write of “our close-bit thyme that smells like dawn in paradise.” Ancient Greeks so highly regarded its aroma that to compliment someone they would say the person smelled like thyme. Thyme essential oil is widely used in aromatherapy today.

Thymain, a derivative of the name, described burning incense, and the “art of using perfumes as medicine”was known as thymiatechny. The word thyme also relates to strength, spirit, or courage -- attributes thought to be imparted to anyone who sniffed its fragrant leaves. Medieval ladies sent a sprig of the herb with their knights to instill these virtues in them during travel and battle.

Thyme was used in Muslim countries for fumigating houses; frankincense was added when people could afford it. The compound thymol, derived from thyme essential oil, is one of the strongest antiseptics known and has been isolated as an ingredient in drugstore gargles, mouthwashes, cough drops, and vapor chest balms. Some of the best known products that contain thymol are Listerine mouthwash and Vicks VapoRub.

Principal constituents of thyme: Thymol and carvacrol (highly antiseptic but potentially toxic), cymene, terpinene, camphene, borneol, linalol, menthone, geraniol, citral, thuyanol, and many more

Scent of thyme: The scent is herbaceous, strong, hot, penetrating, and therapeutic.

Therapeutic properties of thyme: Antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, astringent; destroys parasitic infections, helps dissipate muscle and rheumatic pain, stops coughing, decreases gas and indigestion, stimulates menstruation, clears lung congestion, stimulates the immune system and circulation

Uses for thyme: Thyme essential oil is primarily used in a compress or sometimes in a salve or cream to fight serious infection. Stir 8 drops of the oil into a salve or cream or add them to a cup of water and soak a cloth in it to make a compress. It is also useful for treating gum and mouth infections, such as thrush (Candida). You can make your own mouthwash by adding three drops of thyme essential oil to 1/4 ounce tincture of Oregon grape root and 3/4 ounce water.

Shake well before rinsing your mouth; then spit it out. You can relieve lung and sinus congestion and infection by adding a couple drops of thyme essential oil to a quart of simmering water and inhaling the steam, although the essential oils of eucalyptus, tea tree, or lavender are preferable for steaming because they are less toxic than thyme.

Warnings about thyme: Thyme essential oil can irritate the skin and mucus membranes as well as raise blood pressure, so be sure to use it only in very low dilutions. Red thyme oil is even stronger than the white and is rarely used, except in a liniment for its increased heating effects. Essential oils of thyme are sometimes available in which the most potent components, thymol and carvacrol, are removed, although this decreases their antiseptic properties. Thyme essential oil should not be used with pregnant women or children. Thyme does destroy intestinal worms, but the essential oil should never be taken internally. Instead, use the herb itself in the form of a tea or tincture.

To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:

  • Aromatherapy: Learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.