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Botanical Description & Habitat

Thymus vulgaris


Common names
Whooping cough herb

Native to the Mediterranean region and widely cultivated in Europe and the United States. It prefers limy, sandy, and well-drained soil with sufficient sunlight.

A perennial plant with numerous procumbent stems, 6 to 12 inches high, covered with fine hair and pale brown bark. The leaves are small, opposite, sessile, and gray-green with slightly rolled edges. The small, blue-purple flowers are two-lipped and grow in dense, whorled clusters, blooming from May to September.

Medicinal parts
Leaves and flowering tops, dried

Historical Properties & Uses

Thyme is well known throughout the world as a culinary spice. As a tea, tincture, extract, and oil, it has demonstrated medicinal properties.

Primary among these properties is its effect on the gastrointestinal tract, where it is antispasmodic, carminative, and anthelmintic. Thyme is antispasmodic and expectorant in the respiratory system; it is beneficial in the treatment of bronchial coughs, laryngitis, and whooping cough.

Like many other herbs with a high content of volatile oil, thyme has strong antibacterial properties. In addition, thyme has hypotensive (sedative) and cardiotonic characteristics. Thymol, a major constituent of thyme's volatile oil, is powerful, and should not be used internally unless directed by a physician.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E for bronchitis, catarrh and whooping cough.

Wild Thyme is also approved, for its antimicrobial qualities.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Thyme contains a large concentration of volatile oil. Normally, the primary component of that oil is thymol, but actually concentration may vary greatly. Other constituents include carvacol, tannin, flavonoids, caffeic acid, labiatic acid, ursolic acid and oleanolic acid. These oils have antioxidant properties. A lipid fraction has been found to have anti-cancer properties.

Thyme Has Antispasmodic And Cholagogue Activity
As would be expected, thyme as good antispasmodic action, due to its volatile oils. Hence, it has found verified effectiveness in treating gastrointestinal problems and respiratory ailments, such as coughs. The herb is a good carminative and expectorant. Thyme is also a good cholagogue, which helps contribute to its gastro-intestinal effectiveness.

Thyme Has Good Antibacterial And Antifungal Properties
Like other volatile herbs, thyme is effective against a host of gram negative and gram positive bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, N. peraflava, B. subtilis and S. marescens. Incubated at 37 degrees C. for seven days with the H37Rv strain of mycobacterium tuberculosis, thyme extract produced inhibition at concentrations lower than 1:80 but higher than 1:40. Thymol is a good disinfectant also, supposedly 25 times as powerful as phenol.

Thyme Is Hypotensive, Cardiotonic, And Respiratory Stimulant
When administered orally or intramuscularly to rabbits, it has caused arterial hypotension accompanied by increased rhythmic contraction of the heart. At higher dosages, it also increased respiratory frequency. Intravenous injections in cats of a 5% emulsion of the oil at 5-10 mg/kg increased respiratory volume and lowered blood pressure.

Thyme Is Anthelmintic
Anthelmintic property of thyme is supported in the scientific literature. Hookworms are reported to be especially susceptible to thyme oil.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
The antituberculous activity of thyme may potentiate the adverse effects of other antituberculous drugs, especially ethionamide.

The tannin in thyme may potentiate the antibiotic activity of echinacea. The tannin in tea made from the herb may be inactivated by the addition of milk or cream.

By sequestering thyme, mineral oil may reduce the herb's anthelmintic effect. The same may be true, to a lesser extent, of antacids.

The anti-inflammatory activity of thyme can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain other sedatives and hypnotics, such as chloral hydrate and meprobamate.

This is also true of beta-adrenergic blocking agents, such as propranolol.

Due to the spasmolytic nature of thyme, it may interact in unknown ways with CNS-depressants or stimulants.

To minimize the risk of central nervous system depression and possible synergism, thyme should not be taken by persons on procarbazine antineoplastic agents.

In the absence of other hard data, it may be assumed observable interactions occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in thyme.

There is evidence to show combined use of bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the bacteriostatic agent. However, how this finding applies to herbal anti-infectives is still unknown.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Thyme and thyme oil are generally recognized as safe by the FDA. However, thyme oil can irritate the skin when applied topically. Taken internally in large doses, it is poisonous.

Thymol is especially toxic, and can produce the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, gastritis, headache, dizziness, convulsions, coma, cardiac arrest, and respiratory collapse.

Thyme and Wild Thyme have approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day
Dried leaf and flowering top
1-4 grams

made from 1/2-1 tsp of dried herb

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 0.6-4 ml

1:5 in 45% alcohol, 2-6 ml

0.05-0.3 ml. The oil is made by steam distillation of the flowering top. It is primarily used diluted with olive oil (1:2). Thyme oil is for external application only; watch for allergic reaction.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

1 - 2 g herb for 1 cup of tea (several times a day as needed).
1 -2 g fluid extract.
5% infusion for compresses.

Wild Thyme:

6 g of the herb.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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Essential Oil

See Thyme Essence under Aromatherapy


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