Thyme: From food seasoning to medicine, a wonder herb

Herbs are in essence the pharmacy of nature – most of them have healing properties, and our ancestors knew how to use them to ease the pain and cure an ailing body.

One of the most sought after herbs is thyme, due to its strong scent and healing properties. Historically speaking the first to use it were the Sumerians nearly 5,000 years ago, (a long time,  that is) mainly as a spice and medicine, whilst Egyptians used it for mummifications (spooky!)

The word “thyme” comes from an ancient word which means “making smoke” as well as “to sacrifice” (whatever that means) – some people say that the word comes from the Greek “Thymos” which in ancient Greek means vitality & willingness.

For the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, Thymos is one of the three parts of the soul, the main drive behind bravery. Speaking of ancient Greeks, since the Homer times (you know, the poet?), except of using it as a spice for various dishes, it was a symbol of strength. It was plenty and cheap, therefore its use was varied – from medicine to parties and feasts. It is said that senior citizens of the time, frequently drank thyme tea to preserve their mental state.

Another interesting fact : Thyme was a plant devoted to Aphrodite, goddess of love, as it was claimed to increase lust!

Nowadays, its scientific name is thymus vulgaris and it belongs to the Labiatae family (similar to oregano). It is a shrub with purple flowers and an amazing scent.  It is native to Mediterranean countries,  as well as Asia and South America. Its leaves have a green-olive colour and when they are dried and rubbed, they give a wonderful aroma (try it at home and see).

It has more than 23 varieties and the most important ones (in terms of aroma, nutrients and use ) are:

–          Thymus Capitatus or Wild Thyme: small shrub with wood-like branches. Available in many mountainous areas. This is where the thyme honey is made of.

–          Thymous striatus: one of the most common thyme varieties, mostly found in plains.

–          Thymus atticus: one of the most widely known thyme varieties, existing in Attica, Korinth and Mount Olympus, Greece.

Thyme has many applications within the pharmaceutical industry today, due to its antiseptic, healing and antispasmoic properties, being used in soaps to tonic crèmes, anti dandruff shampoos and mouthwash.

Lets have a look at its wonder-properties:

For internal use:

  • As a general stimulant when your body feels heavy,   great for anxiety relief, nervous breakdown, depression and headaches.
  • Helps in digesting greasy food
  • It is considered of increasing mental clarity
  • Strengthens the heart
  • If you have a coughing due to asthma, it can help you soothe
  • If you suffer from common cold, drink one cup of thyme tea with honey to help your throat and chest “breathe”
  • It is a very strong antiseptic for the bowel

For External Use:

  • Can be used as an antiseptic and bacteria killer in skin problem.
  • It can heal wounds
  • It is said that it can stop hair loss (!)
  • Can be used as a mouth wash fighting plaque and cleaning the mouth
  • If you are tired, fill out your bathtub and have some thyme essential oil drops – you will feel energetic and revitalised

Caution:  As much as a super herb (here, we invented a new term) its daily use must be avoided, as it can result in thyroid problems, as well as poisoning. If you want to use it regularly, just 2 cups a week is enough.

In another post we will discuss how to make essential oil from thyme, and which foods to season with.

If you have any recipes involving thyme, please leave some feedback or get in touch!

Thyme photo courtesy of Jason Baker via Flickr

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