GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A perennial evergreen subshrub up to 45 cms high with a woody root and much-branched upright stem. It has small, grey-green, oval, aromatic leaves and pale purple or white flowers.
DISTRIBUTION: Native to Spain and the Mediterranean region; now found throughout Asia Minor, Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Israel, the USA, Russia, China and central Europe. The oil is mainly produced in Spain but also in France, Israel, Greece, Morocco, Algeria, Germany, Hungary and the USA.
HERBAL/FOLK TRADITION: One of the earliest medicinal plants employed throughout the Mediterranean region, well known to both Hippocrates and Dioscorides. It was used by the ancient Egyptians in the embalming process, and by the ancient Greeks to fumigate against infectious illnesses, the name derives from the Greek thymos meaning ‘to perfume’. It is also a long-established culinary herb, especially used for the preservation of meat. It has a wide range of uses, though in western herbal medicine its main areas of application are respiratory problems, digestive complaints and the prevention the treatment of infection. In the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia it is indicated for dyspepsia, chronic gastritis, bronchitis, pertussis, asthma, children’s diarrhoea, laryngitis, tonsillitis and enuresis in children.
ACTIONS: Anthelmintic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiputrescent, antirheumatic, antiseptic (intestinal, pulmonary, genito-urinary), antispasmodic, antitussive, antitoxic, aperitif, astringent, aphrodisiac, bactericidal, balsamic, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, fungicidal, hypertensive, nervine, revulsive, rubefacient, parasiticide, stimulant (immune system, circulation), sudorific, tonic, vermifuge.
EXTRACTIONS: Essential oil by water or steam distillation from the fresh or partially dried leaves and flowering tops. 1. ‘Red thyme oil’ is the crude distillate. 2. ‘White thyme oil’ is produced by further redistillation or rectification. (An absolute is also produced in France by solvent extraction for perfumery use.)
CHARACTERISTICS: 1. A red, brown or orange liquid with a warm, spicy-herbaceous, powerful odour. 2. A clear, pale yellow liquid with a sweet, green-fresh, milder scent. It blends well with bergamot, lemon, rosemary, melissa, lavender, lavandin, marjoram, Peru balsam, pine, etc.
PRINCIPAL CONSTITUENTS.: Thymol (up to 60 per cent), carvacrol, cymene, terpinene, camphene, borneol, linalol. Red thyme oil, serpolet (from wild thyme), ‘thymol’ and ‘carvacrol’ type oils all contain quite large amounts of toxic phenols (carvacrol and thymol). They can irritate mucous membranes, cause dermal irritation and may cause sensititzation in some individuals. Use in moderation, in low dilution only. they are best avoided during pregnancy. White thyme is not a ‘complete’ oil and is often adulterated.
AROMATHERAPY/HOME USE: Skin care: Abscess, acne, bruises, burns, cuts, dermatitis, eczema, insect bites, lice, gum infections, oily skin, scabies. Circulation, muscles and joints: Arthritis, cellulitis, gout, muscular aches and pains, obesity, oedema, poor circulation, rheumatism, sprains, sports injuries. Respiratory system: Astma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, laryngitis, sinusitis, sore throat, tonsillitis. Digestive system: Diarrhoea, dyspepsia, flatulence. Genito-urinary system: Cystitis, urethritis. Immune system: Chills, colds, ‘flu, infections, diseases. Nervous sys.: Headaches, insomnia, nervous debility and stress-related complaints-‘helps to revive and strengthen both body and mind’.
OTHER USES: The oil is used in mouthwashes, gargles, toothpastes and cough lozenges. ‘Thymol’ is isolated for pharmaceutical use in surgical dressings, disinfectants etc. Used as a fragrance component in soaps, toiletries, aftershaves, perfumes, colognes, etc. Extensively employed by the food and drink industry, especially in meat products.