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Thyme Is More Beneficial For You Than You Think!

You may enjoy a bunch of chopped thyme in a salad or season your meat dishes with this savory herb… But did you know that the pleasant aroma of thyme is just one of countless beneficial ways this herb can help your life and wellbeing? If you enjoy thyme in your diet or aromatherapy, you’ll surely be glad to know that this humble herb comes with an impressive list of health benefits and uses. Learn what they are in this educational guide.

The origins and history of thyme

Thyme is a perennial evergreen herb in the mint family. There are hundreds of thyme species, but the kind that’s most commonly used in cooking, medicine, and landscaping is the species Thymus vulgaris. Thyme grows naturally all across the Mediterranean, but it was likely first cultivated in the Levant, where it grows in the wild to this day.
Thyme fresh thyme in a pot
Humanity has long since discovered the culinary, aromatic, and medicinal value of thyme. The Ancient Egyptians used it in embalming, the Ancient Greeks took baths and burnt incense containing thyme in temples, and the Romans flavored foods and drinks with it. The famous Greek physician Hippocrates recommended thyme for respiratory illnesses, which is why it was often used to purify the air in rooms.
This last tradition continued well into the Middle Ages, but it was but one of many ways Europeans used this aromatic herb. Thyme was believed to ward off nightmares and promote sleep, so people would often place it beneath their pillows. Women would gift thyme leaves to knights and warriors, believing that the herb would bring them courage.
Today, we still use thyme in aromatherapy and in cooking, but what is this aromatic herb really good for? Read on to find out.

The health benefits of thyme

The beauty of adding herbs to your diet is that they add flavor and offer health benefits without adding any calories. One serving of thyme (which is around 1 teaspoon of dried thyme or 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme) has less than 1 calorie, zero fat, 0.2 g of carbs, and 0.1 g of fiber. The herb also has low amounts of vitamin A, C, as well as some copper, magnesium, iron, and potassium.

Besides these general nutrients, thyme is rich in active plant compounds that account for its many health benefits, which we outline below:

1. Helps with a cough

Thyme man coughing
Since ancient times, thyme has been used as a natural cough remedy, and current research tends to confirm that thyme leaves and thyme extract may be able to ease a cough. For example, a research paper from 2006 suggests that taking a syrup consisting of thyme and ivy leaves reduced the cough in patients with acute bronchitis by 50%. A more recent test-tube study suggests that a mix of thyme and primrose extract reduces mucous production and inflammation in acute bronchitis as well.
Therefore, drinking some thyme tea may be a good idea the next time you have a cough! To prepare thyme tea, take 2 sprigs of thyme and steep them in 1 cup of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the sprigs and enjoy alone or with a squeeze of lemon and some honey.

2. Fights bacteria that cause food poisoning

Thyme woman with abdominal pain
In the history section, we briefly mentioned that thyme was used in food preservation. Lo and behold, those Romans were onto something, as scientists are now discovering that thyme has potent antibacterial properties. In fact, thyme essential oil may be able to eradicate strains of bacteria that cause foodborne illness and other infections.

A 2011 paper from Poland points out that thyme oil kills strains of Staphylococcus, Escherichia, Pseudomonas, and Enterococcus bacteria resistant to antibiotics. A more recent test-tube study looked at thyme’s preservative properties and concluded that even low doses of thyme oil killed off foodborne pathogens, so simply adding thyme to your meals can reduce your risk of food poisoning.

3. May reduce high blood pressure

Thyme blood pressure monitor
More recently, researchers have started to suspect that thyme may be capable of reducing blood pressure, and the current research is promising albeit not fully conclusive. A 2016 study carried out at the University of Belgrade suggests that wild thyme extract can reduce blood pressure.
A similar experiment conducted in 2014 used a species of thyme native to Pakistan and Afghanistan called Thymus linearis benth. and concluded that it had a significant capacity to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Both of these studies were conducted in rats, which have a similar but not identical response to high blood pressure in humans.

4. May be beneficial for yeast infections

As we’ve already established, bacteria are afraid of thyme. But they’re not alone in this regard. The aromatic herb may also be effective against fungi. The fungus called Candida albicans (C. albicans) is the most common cause of yeast infections, also known as thrush. Thyme essential oil was found to wipe out C. albicans strains, even those that are resistant to the antifungal medication fluconazole.

This antifungal activity was observed by a 2012 study carried out in Italy that demonstrated the ability of thyme essential oil to destroy the C. albicans fungus in human cells. Another in vitro study from 2021 confirmed these effects and further suggested that even minimal doses of thyme oil were effective at killing resistant strains of the fungus. Currently, human trials are needed to confirm that this effect is preserved in live subjects.

5. Kills acne bacteria

Acne is caused by the Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacterium. Given that thyme has a known antibacterial effect, thyme essential oil may be a good way to eradicate these acne-causing bacteria from the surface of the skin. Research from 2010 suggests that thyme essential oil is indeed effective against P. acnes.
Further research from the Leeds Metropolitan University, England, in 2012, confirmed these findings and compared the antibacterial activity of thyme to benzoyl peroxide, a common clinical acne-fighting ingredient. The antibacterial effect of thyme was stronger than that of benzoyl peroxide. What’s more, the thyme tincture didn’t have the unpleasant side effects of benzoyl peroxide, such as irritation or a burning sensation on the skin.
Thyme woman with acne
If you want to try using thyme essential oil on the skin, mix only 1 drop of the oil with your moisturizer on the back of your hand, and only then apply it on the skin. Diluting the oil is key to preventing burns or irritation. We also recommend patch-testing this mixture behind your ear to make sure that your skin can tolerate thyme oil.

6. The aroma of thyme can lift your mood

The smell of thyme may not be able to make you more courageous, as was believed by people in the Middle Ages, but it can certainly lift your mood! In aromatherapy, thyme essential oil is extensively used in times of stress, fatigue, or even grief. And there is one study suggesting that the smell of thyme can positively influence our brain chemistry.

The active substance in thyme essential oil called carvacrol was stated by the study to boost the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the two so-called happiness hormones. So if you enjoy the smell of thyme, try diffusing some thyme essential oil to lift your mood.

7. May have cancer-fighting properties

Thyme closeup of blooming thyme plant

Cancer research started investigating thyme as a potential cancer-fighting herb only recently. Nevertheless, in-vitro research suggests that the herb may be beneficial for fighting breast and colon cancer. Research from Turkey in 2012 looked at the effect of Thymus serpyllum, or wild thyme, on breast cancer cells. The test-tube experiment concluded that thyme eradicated breast cancer cells. Since then, two other studies - one from 2018 and another one from 2021 - made identical conclusions.

As for colon cancer, a study conducted in Lisbon in 2012 suggested that thyme extract may be effective against colon cancer, and a 2015 study observed similar findings in regards to colorectal cancer.

Home uses of thyme

Apart from having a direct positive effect on your health, thyme is also beneficial for your home and cooking. Thyme can be easily added to any meat, fish, pasta, and vegetable dish or enjoyed as a tea. But you probably already knew all that. So here are a few extra ways you can use thyme leaves or thyme essential oil around the home.

1. Keeps pests away

Thyme mosquito
Did you know that thymol, a variety of thyme oil, is a common ingredient in pesticides? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), thymol is used to kill bacteria, viruses, rodents, and pests both indoors and outdoors. Thyme essential oil naturally contains between 20-60% thymol.
More recently, research also found that thyme essential oil can kill mosquitos and their larvae, particularly the tiger mosquito known to carry countless deadly illnesses.
Make your own pest repellant by combining 5 drops of thyme oil with ¼ cup (60 ml) of water or mixing 4 drops of thyme oil in 1 teaspoon of carrier oil, such as almond or jojoba oil. You can apply this mixture on the skin or diffuse this mixture around your home. Some people also place dried thyme sprigs in-between laundry to repel pests.

2. Extends the shelf life of cooking oils

Thyme cooking oils

If you live in a warmer climate or simply buy oil in bulk, you may struggle with your cooking oil going rancid faster than you can use it up. Even here, thyme can come to the rescue, provided that you enjoy the taste of thyme and use it in cooking quite often. According to Polish scientists, thyme extract can stabilize sunflower oil and prevent it from spoiling at various temperatures.

You can purchase pre-infused cooking oil in-store, but if you want to try infusing your own cooking oil with thyme, follow these steps:

1. Combine 1 cup of cooking oil with ¾ cup of washed and pat-dried fresh thyme in a saucepan.
2. Heat oil to 180°F (80°C) to kill any germs that may be lurking in the herb.
3. Let the oil cool, strain, and bottle it up. That’s it!

3. Disinfecting

Those who live in a humid climate will know that the risk of mold suddenly growing in the basement, bathroom, and other places in the home is no joke. Even though thyme oil will not solve a serious mold problem, it can be super helpful at preventing the issue, especially if you already had a mold problem in the past. Diffusing and spot-treating problem areas with thyme essential oil are both beneficial.

Share this information with family and friends!

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