Thyme is delicious with many dishes, I especially love it paired with chicken and salmon, but did you know that thyme has medicinal properties too? In today’s post, lets explore the medicinal properties of thyme and how it can benefit more than just your taste buds.
An Overview of the Plant Thyme
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), also called garden thyme, is the most common form of thyme you’ll find. This is the thyme you buy at the grocery store, and is most likely the thyme you’ll have growing in your garden. There are many different varieties of thyme, but in this post I’ll be referring to common thyme. All thyme varieties are in the same genus, however, and should exhibit many of the same medicinal properties.
Thyme is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and is native to the Mediterranean area. One defining characteristic of the mint family is they all have square stems. This is a great way to tell whether the plant you found is a mint or something else.
The thyme plant has small leaves and grows fairly low to the ground. A variety of thyme, called creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), is often used as ground cover in landscaping. The landscaping I have planned for my front yard includes creeping thyme along the walking path.
Medicinal Properties of Thyme
Lets Kill Things
One thing to know about members of the mint family is that they have a tendency to kill things. I don’t mean this in a “mints are deadly to humans” kind of way. It means they love to attack things that invade and try to do harm.
Maybe that’s one reason it’s almost impossible to get rid of them once you have them established? And the fact they love to multiply helps too!
That takes care of all the major bugs that plague us!
Or at least it feels like it! Thyme is also:
What does all that mean?
Antispasmodic means that it helps calm your muscles down when they spasm. Cramps are cause by muscle spasms where your muscles contract uncontrollably and cause pain. Thyme can come in and help those muscles relax, basically telling them to take a chill pill.
An antioxidant is something that helps your body get rid of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to other cells. These can lead to things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune disorders, and other diseases. They can also cause signs of aging like wrinkles and gray hairs.
Antioxidants come in and stabilize free radicals so they are less reactive in the body. By lessening their reactivity, they cause less damage to cells. This is a good article that goes into more depth while still being easy to understand.
Inflammation occurs when the immune system is either attacking a foreign invader or trying to heal an injury. When the immune system goes overboard, inflammation doesn’t get cut off. Instead, the body starts attacking itself. Chronic inflammation can cause lots of health issues: autoimmune diseases, infertility, and chronic pain are a few examples I’ve personally experienced due to inflammation.
Much like an antispasmodic, an anti-inflammatory comes in and tells the immune system to calm down and stop overreacting.
Thyme’s antiseptic properties mean that it likes to help heal wounds and prevent them from getting infected.
Other Medicinal Properties of Thyme
Some other wonderful medicinal properties of thyme include:
- help stimulate the thymus
Thyme can help loosen up all that phlegm that builds up when your sick so you can get it out.
The thymus is a small gland that’s part of your immune system. It’s primary job is to make white blood cells which help protect your body against infections. (source) When you consider that thyme is in the genus Thymus, it makes sense that it might just help support your thymus gland in it’s important work for your body.
A carminative is something that helps relieve gas. Feeling bloated or maybe you’ve just eaten beans? Thyme may just be able to help you out with that.
How You Can Use Thyme As A Medicine
There are several ways you can use thyme as a medicine:
- Eat it
- Make a tea
- Use it as a tincture
- Infuse it in oil
These four ways are going to be my standard answer for how to use herbs as medicine, and are definitely the best ways for culinary herbs like thyme.
Using it to flavor dishes will help you gain some of it’s medicinal benefits. Cooking does break the nutritional and medicinal properties down some, but you can still enjoy some benefits by eating it. If you eat it raw, you’ll get even more.
Making a Tea to Extract Medicinal Properties
To make thyme into a tea, take either fresh or dried thyme and put about a teaspoon per cup into a tea bag or infuser. Poor 8 oz of boiling water over it and cover the cup to keep the steam from escaping. There are special tea mugs you can buy that come with covers, or you can just cover the cup with a small saucer plate like I do.
Let the tea steep for about 10-15 minutes then remove the cover. Take out the thyme and enjoy your refreshing medicinal tea.
Making a Tincture
Tinctures typically involve alcohol, but can be made with vegetable glycerin or vinegar if you do not consume alcohol. Keep in mind that when you are taking a tincture, you are taking such small amounts that it is impossible to feel any affects of the alcohol.
I make a tincture by using 100 proof vodka. Fill a jar with fresh thyme. I like to cut it up into smaller pieces so I can fit more in and have more surface area for the alcohol to extract from. It’s important that the plant be fresh so it still retains all of it’s water and alcohol soluble properties. Make sure you fill the jar to the top with thyme, so don’t pick a jar that’s larger than the amount of plant material you have. It doesn’t matter what jar you use, just make sure it has a lid that is tight.
When your jar is full of thyme, poor the alcohol over it until it reaches the brim of the jar. You may have to let it sit for a minute before the alcohol makes it into all the nooks and crannies. Put on the lid tight and sit the jar in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks.
When it’s ready, strain out the plant material and your tincture is ready for use.
Tinctures are pretty powerful medicine, so start slowly when taking it. Start with just a few drops several times a day, and work up until you reach the number of drops your body needs to feel the medicinal affects.
Making an Oil Infusion
An oil infusion is best used to make a salve for use to help heal wounds, but of course you can always use the oil to cook with too! My favorite oil to use is avocado oil, but you can use a pure olive oil, grapeseed oil, or basically any oil that isn’t soy or canola based. I wouldn’t recommend using either of those.
Oil infusions should be made with dry plant material only. Because oil and water are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, if you use fresh plant material your oil is going to end up growing mold.
Fill a jar up with dried thyme, you can use the stem and all you don’t have to only use the leaves. Just like with a tincture, fill the jar full and cut it into smaller pieces for more surface area.
Pour the oil over the plant material up to the rim of the jar. Cap it tight and place it in a warm, dark place for 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, strain out the plant material and your oil is ready to go!
There are no known contraindications with thyme, but it’s always best to start slow if this is a new herb to you.