People are always surprised to find out how effective some very familiar herbs can be. It’s a bit like finding out an old friend has actually been training for the olympics behind your back. Thyme is definitely one of those familiar friends who can surprise us by just how amazing they really are. It’s more likely to be associated with adding a bit of flavour to a meal than with helping your body deal with illness, but thyme is a useful tool in the herbal toolbox.
It is traditionally a herb used to treat the lungs, and some of the effects thyme has on the body include: reducing lung secretions, being antimicrobial, and relaxing bronchial muscle (Aydin et al, 2005). These effects will all be particularly useful when someone has congestion, coughs and colds, a lung or respiratory infection, bronchitis, or asthma.
Thyme contains volatile oils, saponins, tannins, flavonoids, caffeic and rosmarinic acids and luteolin. The main volatile oils in thyme: carvacrol, thymol and gamma-terpinene, are antibacterial and antimicrobial (Aydin et al, 2005). Flavonoids such as rosmarinic acid have an antioxidant effect, which helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. The saponins are reflex-stimulating expectorants, so they can help to clear congestion in the lungs. Extracts of thyme have been found to bind to the same receptors as bronchodilators such as Ventolin, and cause relaxation of the muscle airways, while improving clearance of mucous (Wienkotter et al, 2007). Thyme has also been found to have anti-allergy effects in various studies, preventing histamine release and inhibiting the release of inflammatory mediators (Kimata et al, 2000).
To benefit from all those helpful properties of thyme you can just pick some thyme leaves from your garden or buy some of the dried herb. This can then be used in cooking, or made into an aromatic tea by adding boiling water (remember to put a saucer over your cup or brew in a teapot to stop the antimicrobial volatile oils escaping with the steam). Another lovely way to take thyme is to make a soothing syrup with a strong infusion. Strain out the leaves after you have made your infusion, then add the liquid to an equal quantity of honey or sugar and boil with a lid on until it thickens. This is a particularly palatable way to take thyme and is good for children who won’t drink teas! You’ll only need a teaspoonful at a time and it’ll help to soothe a sore throat.
Aydin S, Başaran A, Başaran N (2005). Modulating effects of thyme and its major ingredients on oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. 53(4):1299-1305.
Kimata M, et al (2000). Effects of luteolin, quercetin and baicalein on immunoglobulin E-mediated mediator release from human cultured mast cells. Clin Exp Allergy 30(4):501-8.
Wienkotter N, et al (2007). The effect of thyme extract on beta2-receptors and mucociliary clearance. Planta Med 73(7):629-35.