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It may surprise folks that basic kitchen herbs and spices have any medicinal value. Thyme (thymus spp.) is actually a powerful medicinal herb for respiratory issues and more.
Wild thymes (thymus spp.) have one species noted in Haliburton Flora: mother of thyme (t. praecox). The few specimens were found on an open hillside and in paths in woods. It’s also rare to find this nonnative creeping herb in Algonquin park. If found, thyme will likely be in a large dense patch. Same as other mint family herbs, including the similar oregano. Another look-a-like found in similar circumstances is speedwell.
Edible Uses of Wild Thyme
Garden thyme (t. vulgaris) has been cultivated for culinary uses, and is also preferred for medicinal uses. Like many wild herbs, it’s been modified for better flavour. It’s a staple herb in homemade chicken soup, and my personal second most common usage is in herb and spice mixes for roasted vegetables.
And like typical mints, there are flavourful cultivators (ex. lemon).
It’s also one of the herbs fed to honey bees to make a special honey.
Medicinal Uses of Thyme
Wild Thyme is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Anticatarrhal, Antifungal, Antimicrobial, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Antiviral, Anthelmintic, Astringent, Carminative, Counterirritant, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Emmenagogue, Expectorant, and Stimulant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes in syrups for damp coughs, to soothe the lungs and throat. You could infuse the herb in honey for an easy homemade syrup. Many herbal recipes will include other ingredients, like wild cherry. There’s even a commercially sold cough syrup that is made of thyme, Tussiflorin®. Thyme is one of the reasons I make chicken soup for any cold or flu, and I also infuse my tea with thyme when sick.
Like other mints, the tea can be used for flatulence or colic. To soothe cuts. And to sooth the stomach, perhaps when you have a gut infection like food poisoning. And for headaches as well – although the menthol in the likes of peppermint is still king for treating headaches. (This is backed up by peer reviewed studies, btw!)
The essential oil is thyme’s strongest component. Oil of thyme contains thymol, a powerful antiseptic. It needs to be diluted to be used safely. It’s used carefully as an antiseptic for a tooth infection (whereas clove oil is used for numbing the pain of a toothache); handy when you can’t get to a dentist immediately. Oil of thyme is also used as a counter irritant for rheumatism and in some salves for shingles. Some herbalists will use it for roundworms and other worms, but as with most natural anthelmintics supervision is recommended. It can be very irritating to the skin.
Wild thyme tea, like black coffee, is a folk remedy for a hangover. If anyone has tested that out, how’d it work?
Alternative Uses of Thyme
The essential oil is used in mouthwashes and toothpastes.
It’s also used for perfume.
The dried flowers are insect repellant and can be used in place of mothballs to protect your linens from the two moth species that might eat them.
Growing Thymus SPP.
Thyme is not native to Ontario, but can be carefully grown in your herb garden or easily in a pot, in well drained soil. Some bees will visit it! For those not growing thyme for food, it’s usually bought for groundcover. Native options for groundcover include poverty oatgrass (danthonia spp.) native strawberry, silverweed (potentilla anserina) and various upland sedges.
Use in moderation.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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REFERENCESThe Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual