Latin Name: Thymus vulgaris
Pharmacopeial Name: Thymi herba
Other Names: common thyme, garden thyme
Thyme is cultivated throughout the world for culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal purposes, the manufacture of perfume, and for red and white thyme oil. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and Spanish thyme (T. zygis) are used interchangeably for medicinal purposes. Crude dried or fresh herb may be brewed as tea or extracted into an alcohol macerate. Common thyme contains 0.43.4% of the volatile oil; Spanish thyme contains 0.71.38%. The red or white thyme oil is manufactured commercially for use in cough drops, mouthwashes, liniment, toothpaste, detergent, and perfume. Because white thyme oil is a distilled red thyme oil product, red thyme oil is generally preferred (Leung and Foster, 1996).
Thyme in its crude herb form is carminative, antibiotic, anthelmintic, astringent, expectorant, and antitussive (Leung and Foster, 1996; Newall et al., 1996). It has been used in traditional medicine to treat heartburn, gastritis, asthma, laryngitis, pertussis, and bronchitis (Newall et al., 1996). Extracts demonstrate in vitro anti-inflammatory effects on guinea pig tracheal smooth muscle tissue (Leung and Foster, 1996), and the volatile oil in the herb most likely exerts spasmolytic effects on bronchial tissues in humans (Tyler, 1994). The herb is approved by Commission E in the treatment of bronchitis, whooping cough, and upper respiratory inflammation.
Like the herb's infusions and extracts, thyme oil is also carminative, expectorant, and possesses antimicrobial and anthelmintic properties, due to concentrated thymol and carvacrol content (Leung and Foster, 1996), but it is extremely toxic. As an ingredient in toothpaste, thyme oil has been blamed for cases of inflamed lips and tongue reported in the toothpaste users. Signs of toxicity escalate from nausea to respiratory arrest (Newall et al., 1996). For these reasons, the herb is preferred to the oil.
Thyme was known to classic Rome; it was added to cheeses and alcoholic beverages. In the seventeenth century, herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that thyme teas and infusions were useful for whooping cough, shortness of breath, gout, and mild stomach pains. He suggested that a thyme ointment be used to eliminate abscesses and warts. Thyme oil was used as a rubefacient and counterirritant, and was part of an herbal cigarette that was smoked to relieve stomach upset, headache, and fatigue. Thyme essence was used in perfumes and embalming oils (Grieve, 1979).
Thyme's common name may be derived from a Greek word meaning to fumigate, because the Greeks used thyme as an incense. It may also have come from the Greek word thumus, meaning courage. In medieval times, thyme was regarded as a plant that could impart courage and vigor, and women often embroidered a sprig of thyme on gifts for their favorite knight (Grieve, 1979).
Thyme consists of the stripped and dried leaves and flowers of T. vulgaris L., T. zygis L. [Fam. Lamiaceae], or both species, and their preparations in effective dosage. The herb contains at least 0.5% phenols, calculated as thymol based on the dried herb.
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Constituents include essential oil containing the phenols thymol and carvacrol; terpenoids; glycosides of phenolic monoterpenoids; eugenol and aliphatic alcohols; the flavonoids thymonin, cirsilineol, and 8-methoxycirsilineol; biphenyl compounds of monoterpenoid origin; caffeic and rosmarinic acids; and saponins (ESCOP, 1997). Other constituents include tannins, labiatic acid, ursolic acid, and oleanolic acid (Leung and Foster, 1996). Thyme also contains apigenin, luteolin, and 6-hydroxyluteolin glycosides, as well as di-, tri-, and tetramethoxylated flavones, which are all substituted in the 6-position (5,4'-dihydroxy-6,7,3'-trimethoxyflavone and its 8-methoxylated derivative, 5,6,4'-trihydroxy-7,8,3'-trimethoxyflavone, 5,4'-dihydroxy-6,7,8-trimethoxyflavone, 5,4'-dihydroxy-6,7-dimethoxyflavone) (Bruneton, 1995).
The Commission E reported bronchoantispasmodic, expectorant, and antibacterial activity.
In vitro experiments found that the flavonoids thymonin, cirsilineol, and 8-methoxy-cirsilineol may be responsible for the bronchospasmolytic effect of thyme (ESCOP, 1997). In vivo, rosmarinic acid demonstrated inhibitory properties in reduction of edema, inhibition of passive curtaneous anaphylaxis, and impairment of in vivo activation by heat-killed Corynebacterium parvum of mouse macrophages. This activity demonstrates that its activity may relate to complement activation (ESCOP, 1997).
The Commission E approved thyme for symptoms of bronchitis and whooping cough and catarrhs of the upper respiratory tracts. It has also been used as to improve digestion (Stecher, 1968) and to treat pertussis, stomatitis, and halitosis (ESCOP, 1997; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).
Use During Pregnancy and Lactation
Not recommended during pregnancy. No restrictions known during lactation.
Interactions with Other Drugs
Dosage and Administration
Unless otherwise prescribed: Cut herb, powder, liquid extract, or dry extract for infusions and other galenical preparations. Liquid and solid medicinal forms for internal and external application. Note: Combinations with other herbs that have expectorant action could be appropriate.
Infusion: 1-2 g of herb for 1 cup of tea, several times daily as needed.
Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 1-2 ml, one to three times daily.
Compress: 5% infusion for compresses.
Bruneton, J. 1995. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing.
ESCOP. 1997. 'Thymi herba.' Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, U.K.: European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy.
Grieve, M. 1979. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Hutchens, A. 1991. Indian Herbology of North America. Boston: Shambala.
Leung, A.Y. and S. Foster. 1996. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Newall, C.A., L.A. Anderson, J.D. Phillipson. 1996. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press.
Stecher, P.G. (ed.). 1968. The Merck Index: An Encyclopedia of Chemicals and Drugs, 8th ed. Rahway, N.J.: Merck & Co., Inc.
Tyler, V.E. 1994. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press.
Wichtl, M. and N.G. Bisset (eds.). 1994. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers.
Braun, R. et al. 1997. Standardzulassungen f r FertigarzneimittelText and Kommentar. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag.
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Englberger, W. et al. 1988. Rosmarinic acid: a new inhibitor of complement C3-convertase with anti-inflammatory activity. Int J Immunopharm 10(6):729737.
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Van den Broucke, C.O. et al. 1983. Action spasmolytique des flavones de differentes especes de Thymus. Plantes Med Phytother (16):310317.
Van den Broucke, C.O. and J.A. Lemli. 1981. Pharmacological and chemical investigation of thyme liquid extracts. Planta Med 41(2):129135.
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Wichtl, M. (ed.). 1989. Teedrogen, 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft.
Wren, R.C. 1988. Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Essex: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd.
This material was adapted from The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. M. Blumenthal, W.R. Busse, A. Goldberg, J. Gruenwald, T. Hall, C.W. Riggins, R.S. Rister (eds.) S. Klein and R.S. Rister (trans.). 1998. Austin: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications.
1) The Overview section is new information.
2) Description, Chemistry and Pharmacology, Uses, Contraindications, Side Effects, Interactions with Other Drugs, and Dosage sections have been drawn from the original work. Additional information has been added in some or all of these sections, as noted with references.
3) The dosage for equivalent preparations (tea infusion, fluidextract, and tincture) have been provided based on the following example:
- Unless otherwise prescribed: 2 g per day of [powdered, crushed, cut or whole] [plant part]
- Infusion: 2 g in 150 ml of water
- Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 2 ml
- Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 10 ml
4) The References and Additional Resources sections are new sections. Additional Resources are not cited in the monograph but are included for research purposes.
This monograph, published by the Commission E in 1994, was modified based on new scientific research. It contains more extensive pharmacological and therapeutic information taken directly from the Commission E.
Excerpt from Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs
Copyright 2000 American Botanical Council
Published by Integrative Medicine Communications
Available from the American Botanical Council.