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Health Benefits of Thyme

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 19, 2020

While thyme is commonly used to flavor food, this herb has been used since ancient times for different health and medicinal benefits and as a preservative. Today, it’s used in a wide variety of products ranging from mouthwashes to teas and even nasal sprays. 

Thyme, which is from the mint family, has tiny, sage-green leaves and thin stalks. It can be used fresh, dried, or made into an essential oil. While there are many claims about thyme’s health benefits, most of them have yet to be confirmed by scientific research. 

That said, thyme does contain the compound thymol, which can help control or neutralize some bacterial, parasitic, fungal, or viral infections. Research also suggests that it may have analgesic, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties that can help with skin conditions, pain from bug bites, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.      

Health Benefits

Thyme can be added to your foods, used as a tea, applied to your skin as an essential oil, gargled as thyme oil, or even inhaled. While there are various claims about the health benefits of thyme, scientific research is lacking in many areas or only based on animal research. 

However, thyme has been shown to have some health benefits. Thyme oil is frequently used in mouthwashes to help with bad breath, prevent gingivitis, and help treat oral pathogens. 

Fresh or dried thyme can be used as a substitute for salt when cooking to help decrease your salt intake or manage high blood pressure.

Thyme also can provide other health benefits like:

Potential Pain-relieving Properties

Thyme’s anti-inflammatory properties may help provide pain relief. Studies have found that thyme supplements offered pain relief from menstrual cramps similar to that provided by ibuprofen.

Some individuals with rheumatoid arthritis use thyme, either as a tea or topically, to alleviate symptoms. There is some evidence that thyme’s anti-inflammatory properties may help, but more research is needed before this can be confirmed. 

Natural Cough-suppressant 

Thyme has been used as a home remedy for coughs, respiratory conditions, and bronchitis for years. Alternative medicine has used it as a tea and in aromatherapy. Research has shown some support for its use, though more studies are needed before its efficacy can be proven.

A small study in 2013 found the use of a thymol nasal spray helped reduce the severity and number of coughs and the urge to cough among participants. 

Antimicrobial Properties

Thyme can be useful as a disinfectant thanks to its antifungal properties. Studies indicate that thyme may be useful as a disinfectant in homes with a low concentration of mold when used as an essential oil.

Help with Skin Conditions like Eczema and Acne

Thyme’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties may also help with skin conditions. It may help get rid of bacterial infections while also helping to reduce inflammation. As a result, it can help with the irritation and inflammation in conditions like eczema and acne. 

Natural Insect Repellent 

Thyme oil may help repel insects like mosquitoes. The oil in thyme, thymol, is often used as an active ingredient in bug repellents. You can make your own natural repellent by combining thyme oil with olive oil or water. 

Nutrition

Thyme contains thymol and small amounts of other nutrients such as potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium. 

Nutrients per Serving

A one-teaspoon serving of fresh thyme contains:

Portion Sizes and Safety

A serving of thyme is typically two tablespoons when fresh or one teaspoon when dried. Thyme is safe when used in normal amounts for cooking. However, if you plan to ingest it as an essential oil, you should bear in mind that it’s at a higher concentration in that form and may cause side effects. While fresh or dried thyme is safe to use as a flavoring in food when pregnant, it’s important to consult your doctor before ingesting it as an essential oil.

Thyme is generally safe. However, using too much, especially if ingesting it as an essential oil, can lead to a drop in your blood pressure or hypotension. If you are on high blood pressure medications or anticoagulants, consult your doctor before using thyme essential oil or supplements.

If you are allergic to plants in the mint family, consult your doctor before using thyme. Individuals who are allergic or sensitive to thyme have experienced nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting due to eating thyme. People with a sensitivity or allergy to thyme may experience a skin rash if it’s applied to their skin. 

How to Prepare Thyme

You can grow thyme or purchase it fresh or dried from most grocery stores. Dried thyme can be stored at room temperature, and fresh thyme should be refrigerated or frozen. If you’re purchasing thyme as an essential oil, you can store it in the refrigerator or keep it in a dry, cool space away from direct sunlight. 

Thyme is frequently used to add flavor to meats, seafood, stews, and soups. Here are some ways to use thyme in recipes:

  • Add fresh or dried thyme to vegetable, beef, or chicken stock
  • Use it in stews or soups for added flavor
  • Replace or cut back on salt in recipes by adding thyme
  • Infuse your favorite tea with thyme
  • Add thyme to your favorite chicken or pork recipes
  • Add fresh thyme as a topping to baked potatoes

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine: “Comparative effect of thymus vulgaris and ibuprofen on primary dysmenorrhea: A triple-blind clinical study.”

Complementary Therapies in Medicine: “The prevalence and predictors of herbal medicines usage among adult rheumatoid arthritis patients: A case-control study.”

European Respiratory Journal: “Urge to cough is significantly abolished by nasal thymol application.”

International Immunopharmacology: “Thymol attenuates the worsening of atopic dermatitis induced by Staphylococcus aureus membrane vesicles.”

Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology: “Use of traditional plants in management of halitosis in a Moroccan population.”

Letters in Applied Microbiology: “Antifungal activity of thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) essential oil and thymol against moulds from damp dwellings.”

United States Environmental Protection Agency: “EPA R.E.D. Facts Thymol.”

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