Thyme is one of the most versatile of all herbal seasonings, but, like me, I’ll bet you are surprised to learn that for centuries thymol (oil of thyme) was valued highly for its antiseptic properties.
Since early times, thyme has been used as a food seasoning and as a treatment for health problems. It is said Charlemagne (742-814), the first Holy Roman Emperor, ordered thyme to be grown in his royal gardens. No doubt the great conqueror used it to treat his soldiers’ wounds as well as to season and preserve his food.
When World War I began in 1914, France and England found themselves in a state of emergency because of their shortage of thymol. At that time, most of the world’s supply of this vital field antiseptic was distilled in Germany. Since then, other antiseptics have replaced the popularity of thymol.
Oil of thyme is still very much in use though. For instance, it is the number one ingredient of Listerine. It is used in insecticides, embalming fluids, perfumes, colognes, lotions, soaps and other bath products.
I find it very interesting the thymus gland is so named because it reminded early anatomists of a thyme flower.
Thyme contains the chemicals thymol and carvacol. These chemicals have preservative, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Early man was unaware of chemicals, but they were well aware thyme preserved their food and healed their ailments.
Through time, this herb has been used to treat many health conditions including leprosy, sciatica, epilepsy, nervous disorders, headaches, nightmares, digestion and female problems. It is still considered to be an effective expectorant for sinus and lung congestion, especially when combined with fenugreek. The combined effects of these two herbs is said to relax the respiratory tract and treat coughs, emphysema and even asthma. It even helps relieve some migraine headaches.
Once, when my late husband had the flu, he took the medications prescribed by his doctor. On the third day, he also began to take fenugreek and thyme. All his flu symptoms, even the coughing at night, were gone by the seventh day. Since he had a lifetime history of lung problems, both the doctor and I had feared pneumonia would develop. It didn’t happen though and on the eighth day his doctor found his lungs were clear and said he thought the herbs had contributed to his recovery.
A word of caution must be added. Excessive internal use of thyme can lead to symptoms of poisoning and over-stimulation of the thyroid gland. With commercially-prepared products, never take more than package directions indicate.
There is no danger of excessive use of thyme as a seasoning. Only a small amount is needed. Thyme enhances the flavor of practically any food and goes especially well in soups, chowders, stuffings and with poultry, beef, lamb, veal, pork, eggs, cheese, oysters and fish.
Dried thyme is just as flavorful as the freshly-harvested herb. Thyme is a genus of shrubby plants or aromatic herbs of the mint family with white, pink or red flowers and fragrant leaves. There are many varieties varying from 1-12 inches in height. Some grow as an erect bush while others have a creeping or prostrate nature. Most are evergreens with tiny leaves and flowers. My favorite is lemon thyme.
Check with your doctor before taking any herbal nutritional products.