Health Benefits of Thyme

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on December 11, 2022
5 min read

Thymeis an herb that’s commonly used to flavor food. It’s also 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 – as well as in the kitchen. 

With roots in the mint family, thyme has tiny, sage-green leaves and thin stalks. It’s a robust, shrubby herb with an intense aroma and flavor. It can be used fresh, dried, or made into an essential oil. Although there are more than 60 types of thyme, Thymus vulgaris, or garden thyme, is the most common culinary species.

You can add thyme to your foods, make thyme tea, smooth it onto your skin as an essential oil, gargle with a thyme oil solution, or even inhale it. You'll find thyme oil in some mouth washes, too. 


While the are various claims about the health benefits of thyme, most of them aren’t confirmed by scientific research or are only based on preliminary lab tests on animals. 

That said, thyme does contain the compound thymol, which can help control or neutralize some bacterial, parasitic, fungal, or viral infections and have  anti-inflammatory properties.  

Here's what to know. 

Salt substitute. You can use fresh or dried thyme as a substitute for salt when cooking. This can help you cut down on how much salt you use, which is important if you’re trying to bring down high blood pressure.

Respiratory Support: Natural Cough Suppressant. Thyme has been used as a home remedy for coughs, respiratory conditions, and bronchitis for years. Complementary and alternative medicine has used it as a tea and in aromatherapy. There's some research on that, but more studies are needed to know how well it works.

A small study in 2013 tested a nasal spray containing a thyme-based extract called thymol in 18 healthy people with normal lung function. They used the nasal spray before and after inhaling a little bit of capsaicin, which would naturally make them cough. They coughed less when they used the thymol spray, compared to a saltwater or placebo spray. Bigger studies are needed to check those results.Compounds in thyme – in particular, thymol and carvacrol – may also help ease chest congestion, and researchers have suggested studying whether thyme, in amounts you’d get from food or tea, can do that. 

Antimicrobial properties. Thyme essential oil and pure thymol (extracted from thyme) may help disinfect mold, one study shows.  Thymol is an active ingredient in some pesticides. In the mold study, it was about 3 times more effective than thyme essential oil. 

Help with skin conditions. 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.

Gastrointestinal health. In experimental studies in rats, compounds extracted from thyme oil helped protect the stomach’s lining from ulcers and increase the protective gastric mucus layers in your stomach, which help protect the stomach lining from acid.  But thyme’s effects on the digestive system haven’t been studied in people, so a lot more research is needed on this. 

Thyme’s antimicrobial properties have shown promise for the development of extracts to help with food safety.   

Allergic reactions. People who are allergic to thyme or similar plants like basil, oregano, sage, and lavender may experience negative symptoms. These can include skin sensitivity if you touch thyme leaves or nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, and vomiting if you eat it or drink thyme tea.

Caution on essential oils. Fresh and dried thyme is generally safe to eat or drink as a refreshing tea. But essential oils are different. They’re highly concentrated and can be toxic in their undiluted form.Ingesting too much thyme in essential oil could cause a risky drop in your blood pressure. 

If you take high blood pressure medication, anti-clotting drugs (anticoagulants), or are pregnant, talk with your doctor before using thyme essential oil or supplements.

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:

  • Calories: 0.8
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0.2 grams
  • Fiber: 0.1 grams

Portion Sizes and Safety

A serving of thyme is typically 2 tablespoons when fresh or 1 teaspoon when dried. Thyme is safe when used in normal amounts for cooking. Remember that essential oils are more concentrated and could have side effects. You should check with your doctor first, especially if you are pregnant or take medicine for high blood pressure or to help prevent blood clots.

If you are allergic to plants in the mint family, consult your doctor before using thyme. People who are allergic or sensitive to thyme can havenausea, diarrhea, or vomiting due to eating thyme or develop a skin rash if thyme gets on their skin. 

You can grow thyme or buy it fresh or dried from most grocery stores. You can store dried thyme at room temperature. Refrigerate or freeze fresh thyme. If you purchase 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 a go-to herb for flavoring 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.
  • Sprinkle fresh thyme as a topping to baked potatoes.

Thyme tea is easy to brew. You can choose to make your tea using fresh leaves or ground thyme powder. You can also use dried thyme, but remember to strain the leaves from your drink to avoid unpleasant textures. 

If you’re using fresh leaves, add several sprigs of thyme to a cup of boiling water and let steep for 5 to 8 minutes. If any leaves fall off the sprigs and into your water, you can strain them before drinking.

Using dried, powdered thyme instead? Add about 1 teaspoon of the powder to a cup of boiling water and stir to combine. Ground thyme is similar in texture to matcha green tea powder, and you may need to stir several times to mix it thoroughly.