Herbal Staple Wins Thyme After Thyme

thyme on wooden table

The delicious culinary herb thyme is a staple in most kitchens and one of the most popular herbs today, but there may be health benefits to using it medicinally as well.

Thyme, or Thymus vulgaris, is a perennial shrub with small grey-green leaves native to the Mediterranean. Culinarily, thyme is used in a variety of seasonings from poultry and other meats to vegetables, dressings, sauce, soups and stews. But thyme is also used medicinally for:

  • Lung issues (cough, bronchitis)
  • Gastrointestinal troubles like gastritis, colic, diarrhea
  • Stimulating appetite
  • Sore throats
  • Skin disorders

Thyme Essential Oil BottleThyme oil and extract is used topically and in the eyes in oil extract form as well. This culinary herb is also used in manufacturing for scented soaps, lotions and even toothpaste because of its herbal fragrance.

When used in foods, thyme is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) without danger or warning. Feel free to use it liberally in cooking preparations. Like so many other herbs, when used as an oral supplement, tincture or oil, there are some safety considerations. The key benefits of thyme likely come from its antioxidants. The phenols thymol and carvacrol have been found to be the main constituents in addition to flavonoids luteolin and apigenin. In animal studies, thyme extracts have been used to treat both acute and chronic pain as well as kill skin and leukemia cancer cells. Regarding skin conditions, thyme has proven effective. It acts as an anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory when used topically.

The best research on using thyme medicinally is for lung conditions including bronchitis and cough. Commonly taken with other herbs that aid the lungs, thyme appears to help improve symptoms associated with bronchitis. Some preliminary research suggests that thyme and other herbs improve symptoms including the strength of a cough and the amount and consistency of sputum produced.

Thyme in bowl, close-upThere is also some evidence that, when used in combination with other herbs, thyme helps reduce coughing in patients with upper respiratory infections or the common cold. One 2016 study found that thyme extract showed significant anti-inflammatory properties by reducing several transcription factors and decreasing of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1 beta and IL-8 in human bronchial and tracheal epithelial cells. For other possible medical conditions, there is insufficient reliable evidence to rate the medicinal use of thyme. Some of the conditions that are yet unknown include agitation and other psychiatric or neurological conditions, alopecia (hair loss), pain, and cancer.

Thyme used medicinally does have some interactions with medications and herbs including a moderate interaction with acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs as it is another natural blood thinner. Thyme used in supplemental form may also interact with estrogen replacement therapy as it may have the ability to bind with estrogen receptors. Concerning medical conditions, use caution with any bleeding disorder or when using other blood thinning medications or supplements combined with thyme (in supplement form). It seems that, for now, thyme is safest for use in food, especially with certain medical conditions.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments if you have had a positive experience with thyme used medicinally.


Opara EI, Chohan M. Culinary herbs and spices: Their bioactive properties, the contribution of polyphenols and the challenges in deducing their true health benefits. International journal of molecular sciences. 2014;15(10):19183-202.

Natural Medicines Database. Thyme: professional monograph. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=823. Updated 12/30/15. Accessed 5/30/17.

Oliviero M, Romilde I, Beatrice MM, Matteo V, Giovanna N, Consuelo A, Claudio C, Giorgio S, Filippo M, Massimo N. Evaluations of thyme extract effects in human normal bronchial and tracheal epithelial cell lines and in human lung cancer cell line. Chemico-Biological Interactions. 2016;256:125-33.

About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN gingerhultin@hotmail.com | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group ChampagneNutrition.com  
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