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| What is it?
The dried leaves of Thyme, the familiar, low growing, woody, long-lived shrub with its distinctive scent. Thyme is a tough little plant that may grow straggly under difficult conditions but is likely to survive nevertheless.
How has it been used?
In traditional medicine Thyme has first and foremost been a remedy for coughs that are dry, unproductive or painful, Thyme has a way of softening and loosening the cough to help the body do, with much less effort and discomfort, what it had been trying to achieve by coughing in the first place. Thyme also has a potent antimicrobial effect which speeds the resolution of infections in the lungs.
~ Thyme’s other traditional uses include:
- a mouthwash and gargle for ulcers or infections in the mouth and throat.
- internally for painful menstruation.
- internal small doses for irritable bowel and colic.
- internally and as a compress for a chronic grumbling appendix
One of the most renowned folk healers of recent times has been the French herbalist Maurice Messegue. He had this to say about Thyme. 'From my long years of experience as an herbalist I can appreciate Thyme because of its antiseptic qualities; its smell destroys viruses and bacteria in the atmosphere as it destroys infectious germs in the body. I do not know of any infection that cannot be mitigated if treated with this precious herb. It is an excellent weapon against epidemics and much cheaper than other methods of controlling them'.
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Science on Thyme
~ Essential oils in Thyme (notably Thymol) are well established to have potent anti-biotic and anti-fungal properties. A broad spectrum of activity against 7 different strains of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria have been observed (Shapiro S, Meier A, Guggenheim B. Oral Microbiol Immunol 1995;10(4):241-246)
~ Thyme syrup was compared with the drug Bromhexine in 60 patients with productive coughs in a randomized double-blind study. Over the 5 days of treatment both groups made significant gains so whilst the herb may not have been better it was certainly at least as effective as the drug and it would be surely be a safer option - especially for children or the elderly (Knols G, Stal PC, Van Ree JW. Huisart Wetens 1994;37(9):392-394)
~ There are several reports of Vulval lichen sclerosis being successfully treated with creams containing Thyme extract with no side effects reported from this treatment (Hagedorn M. Z Hautkr 1989;64(9):810:813-814)
Safety of Thyme
Thyme is generally regarded as a very safe herb that can be used by all ages as well as during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However some people can be a bit allergic to it and the dust of the herb is known to trigger some people's breathing allergies. Likewise you have to be careful in using Thyme products externally; one study with 100 patients with leg ulcers showed that 5% of them responded with an allergic reaction to patch testing with Thyme oil.
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I have had some excellent experiences with the use of Thyme for people with the severe and stubborn bronchitis. Whenever I think about Thyme I am reminded to 'never underestimate the little guy' as the simple fact is that I have seen for myself how these tiny leaves pack enough punch to knock out infections that have defied repeated courses of the most potent antibiotics that were available at the time!
It should be expected that Thyme will initially make people cough more rather than less at first but note how it can quickly change the cough from a dry, irritating, unproductive and exhausting ordeal to being a looser, 'wetter' more productive and much easier cough. Thyme has other great applications no doubt but it is in this transformation of a stuck chest condition into one that moves up and out that has given me the greatest respect for its healing power.
If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or if you have your own reasons to want to understand this plant ally at a much deeper level then I warmly encourage you to take a tsp of dried Thyme from your kitchen panty, place it in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes or so, strain and then drink some of the resulting Thyme 'tea' with a quiet and attentive mind. This old way of experiential learning can do more to show you the 'action' of the herb than any amount of academic study. You have to try it for yourself to see but having done this experiment myself and with colleagues and students I think you will find it to be a strongly 'activating' herb. Your body will notice its arrival!
Acute bronchial infections and chronic stuck coughs yield best to a strong tea of Thyme made in the morning and then sipped through during the day. There is no point in overdoing it (can just make it too hard to take) so be confident that just a few tsps of Thyme (e.g. 3 or 4) in a litre of water steeped whilst covered for a good 10-15 minutes will be ample to get its strength. This is best taken in small doses throughout the day and it is certainly appropriate to add others herbs (or honey) as available and as desired for taste and effect.
Most people find that their condition noticeably improves the first day they follow this simple program. Thyme is a safe herb so keep the treatment going as long as necessary.
Thyme also works particularly well in a bath. A handful of dried Thyme wrapped in some muslin cloth or whatever is to hand and placed in the bath will make a potent, aromatic and therapeutic bath to open the lungs and ease aches in the muscles. It has a paradoxical effect of being both relaxing to the body and stimulating to the mind, but you will have to try this for yourself to see what I mean by it!
Thyme combines particularly well with Elder flower for clearing infections from the head and throat, with Chamomile to ease pain and inflammation, and with Mullein and White horehound for bad coughs or lung troubles.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Thyme is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Thyme can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Thyme is tonic, carminative, emmenagogue, and antispasmodic. The cold infusion is useful in dyspepsia, with weak and irritable stomach, and as a stimulating tonic in convalescence from exhausting diseases.
The warm infusion is beneficial in hysteria, dysmenorrhoea, flatulence, colic, headache, and to promote perspiration. Occasionally the leaves have been used externally, in fomentation. The oil is valuable as a local application to neuralgic and rheumatic pains; and, internally, to fulfil any of the indications for which the plant is used. It forms a good preparation for nervous and spasmodic diseases of children. It may be given in teaspoonful doses to a child 3 years old, repeating it 3 or 4 times a day, sweetening and diluting it, if desired.
A strong infusion of the Thyme slightly sweetened, is a valuable remedy for whooping-cough, convulsive and catarrhal coughs, and stridulous sore throat, the favourable result occurring at the end of a very few days.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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