Make Time for Thyme! 9 Ways This Common Herb May Benefit Immunity, Respiratory Function, Heart Health, & More

Published on November 03, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

If you love to cook, you likely have a bottle of Thyme in your cupboard. 

This grassy, earthy, and lemony herb is a staple in American, French, and Mediterranean cooking. It’s also common in household herb and vegetable gardens.

However, few people know how this humble ingredient may benefit their health.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the science behind Thyme’s potential health-promoting properties, plus the many ways to incorporate Thyme—as an herbal supplement, tea, and an essential oil—into your wellness routine.

The Historical Uses of Thyme in Herbalism

You can learn much about an herb’s properties from its name. The name “Thyme” in Greek comes from a descriptor meaning “to fumigate.”REF#3080

This may refer to the nature of its plant compounds such as Thymol (which you’ll learn more about coming up), its use as an embalming agent in ancient times, and its use as an incense and protective herb in Greek temples.

Roman soldiers were also said to bathe in Thyme baths to give them courage and strength.

Thyme has been a favorite among European and North American herbalists for its broad-reaching wellness benefits* and availability.

There are many species of Thyme, but Thymus vulgaris is the most commonly used in cooking and herbal supplements.

Other Traditional Uses of Thyme Include:

  • Cardiovascular support
  • Cognitive and memory support
  • Digestive support
  • Energy support
  • As a hair, skin, and nail tonic
  • Oral health support
  • Mood support
  • Liver support
  • Muscle support
  • Respiratory support
  • Sleep support

As you can see, Thyme has been a revered staple in Mediterranean cultures as a culinary and health-promoting herb.*

Its reputation has inspired scientists to investigate the possible mechanisms behind Thyme's potential health benefits.

9 Science-Backed Thyme Benefits

Despite its rich history of traditional uses, Thyme is typically typecast as a culinary ingredient in American culture.

Yet, research has shown Thyme’s main active plant compound, Thymol, has numerous beneficial properties as an antioxidant, immune supportive compound, and more.REF#3081 REF#3082

Various Thyme extracts are also used in modern agricultural and food production for their sanitizing, disinfectant, and mold-inhibiting properties.REF#3083 REF#3084

Here, we discuss Thyme's ten health benefits for various well-being*.

#1: Thyme May Support Immune Function

Thyme and Thyme tea have traditionally been used to support normal immune function in the Mediterranean.* 

Research suggests Thyme’s essential oils may play a role, as they have been shown to potentially support normal immune function, inflammatory response, respiratory function, and immune regulation.REF#3085 REF#3086 REF#3087

More research is needed. However, strong anecdotal evidence and emerging research suggest an immune function benefit.

Traditional herbalists (and Mediterranean grandmothers) typically recommended using Thyme in recipes for ongoing immune support and Thyme tea as a soothing elixir.

#2: Thyme May Support Heart & Cardiovascular Function

While most herb-lovers turn to herbs like Hawthorne, Turmeric, and Hibiscus for heart support, preliminary research suggests Thyme may also be helpful.*

For example, animal research suggests Thymol‘s antioxidant and inflammatory response support properties may provide cardio-protective benefits.REF#3088

Other studies have shown Thyme and Thyme tea may support:REF#3089 REF#3090

  • Normal blood pressure
  • Normal cholesterol levels—when taken alone or combined with extra virgin olive oil REF#3091

Although the research on Thyme and cardiovascular function is in its infancy, its potential benefits are likely due to its naturally-occurring antioxidants and how it may positively impact the liver, which we’ll discuss next.

#3: Thyme May Aid Liver Function

Eclectic and traditional herbalists have long used Thyme and Thyme tea as a digestive aid and after-meal tonic. 

These practitioners believed part of its benefits were due to its positive impact on bile production in the liver. Bile is involved in the production of various digestive enzymes.*

Although studies proving this theory are limited, some research has shown Thyme may have a protective effect on the liver. REF#3092

The research on cardiovascular function and cholesterol suggests a connection, as the liver is responsible for many aspects of cholesterol production and function.

Preliminary research also suggests a possible liver-protective mechanism via the gut-liver axis.REF#3093

Animal research has also shown Thyme may provide liver and kidney benefits by supporting the normal production of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant.REF#3094

More research is needed to understand how Thyme may protect and promote various aspects of liver function. 

However, given that most green foods are liver-friendly, they are likely to support normal liver function.

#4: Thyme May Be Good For Your Brain

Did you know Thyme was considered a brain food in traditional cultures?

These cognitive benefits have been examined in various animal studies, which suggest the Thymol in Thyme may have neuroprotective properties and support memory.REF#3095 REF#3096

More research is needed. However, centuries of traditional use and emerging research on Thyme’s potential neuroprotective properties and its possible role in supporting normal inflammatory response via its antioxidant properties (a significant factor in brain function REF#3097) suggest a possible benefit.

#5: Thyme May Support Respiratory Function

Thyme has an extensive history of use as a respiratory support herb. 

It’s also considered an expectorant in herbalism, which is a type of plant or substance that helps promote clear airways and break up congestion.

Research has begun to validate this traditional use, showing Thymol (the active plant compound in Thyme) may support normal respiratory function and help ease coughing.REF#3098

Studies also suggest Thyme essential oil may provide respiratory support when inhaled.REF#3099

Many herbalists recommend drinking hot Thyme tea for this purpose, as warm liquids also act as expectorants.

Thyme essential oil, sometimes combined with Eucalyptus or Peppermint, is also popular to diffuse or add to a chest rub.

#6: Thyme May Support Cell Function

As previously discussed, Thymol, the main active plant compound in Thyme, is a powerful antioxidant.

Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances found in foods, drinks, or within the body that support cell function by fighting free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells if found in excess and/or left unchecked.

However, Thymol is not the only beneficial component of Thyme. 

Thyme also includes polyphenols, essential oils, flavonoids, caffeic acid, and triterpenes, all of which play a role in supporting cell function, inflammatory response, and overall health.REF#3100

#7: Thyme May Support Oral Health

Thyme is a popular ingredient in many natural oral care products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash.

The reasons are to do with traditional use and emerging research suggesting Thyme may support teeth and gum health by promoting oral microbiome diversity.REF#3101 REF#3102

If you’re interested in trying Thyme for your teeth and gums, look for oral care products containing Thyme or make your own Thyme mouthwash by swishing Thyme tea around in your mouth once or twice daily. Add some mint tea for extra breath-freshening power.

#8: Thyme May Support Digestion

As previously mentioned, Thyme has a rich history of use as a digestive aid. 

It is considered a carminative (relieves occasional gas and bloating) and stomachic (supports digestive function) in traditional herbalism.

Emerging research suggests Thyme’s reputation as a digestive aid is sound, showing plant compounds within Thyme are active in the gastrointestinal tract and may support digestion by soothing occasional stomach cramps (Thyme has antispasmodic properties), indigestion and gas, and supporting digestive microbiome diversity.REF#3103 REF#3104 REF#3105

Adding Thyme to your favorite recipes or enjoying a cup of Thyme tea after meals are excellent ways to take advantage of Thyme’s digestive-supportive properties.

#9. Thyme May Be Helpful For Menstrual Cramps

The next time you’re experiencing menstrual cramps and are out of Vitex or Cramp Bark, reach in your spice cupboard for a bottle of Thyme.

Emerging research suggests Thyme’s antispasmodic properties may make it effective for relieving menstrual cramps.REF#3106

More research is needed to understand the effects of Thyme on menstrual cramps and the best ways to use it. 

However, one or several cups of soothing Thyme tea and/or a Thyme essential oil abdominal massage or compresses may be worth a try.

For more tips on the best herbs for menstrual cramps, see: 18+ Natural Solutions & Herbs for Menstrual Cramps, PMS, Cravings, & More.

Side Effects & Possible Contraindications of Thyme

Thyme, Thyme tea, and Thyme essential oils have been safely used in cooking and wellness preparations for centuries and are considered very safe.

Like all essential oils, Thyme essential oil should be used sparingly and with common sense, as applying it undiluted to the skin or taking it internally could cause irritation.

Some research has shown Thyme may stop intestinal flora from synthesizing vitamin K. This should not be a problem if you’re consuming or taking Thyme in normal doses.REF#3107

However, there have been some side effects and potential contraindications reported.

For example, although Thyme tea has been traditionally used during pregnancy in small amounts,REF#3108 there is a lack of evidence on its safety during pregnancy and some concern it may have abortive effects.REF#3109

Therefore, always talk to your doctor, midwife, or healthcare practitioner before taking Thyme tea or Thyme supplements during pregnancy, if you have a pre-existing condition, or if you are taking medication.

How to Grow Your Own Thyme

Thyme is a hardy plant that can be grown in most North American climates and comes back for several years in most growing zones.

You can find Thyme plants at your local nursery or start your own from seed. Thyme can be planted in the ground or in pots or containers.

Thyme grows best in light, dry, well-drained soil and thrives with at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. Thyme will benefit from some shade if you live in a very hot climate.

Home-grown Thyme can be used fresh in recipes, teas, or dried to preserve it and concentrate its flavors.

How To Incorporate Thyme Into Your Wellness Routine

Thyme is easy to incorporate into your diet and wellness routine.

In addition to cooking with Thyme, you can enjoy Thyme tea, take Thyme supplements, and/or diffuse Thyme essential oil. All of these methods have specific benefits.

How To Make Fresh or Dried Thyme Tea

Thyme tea can be made using fresh Thyme sprigs or dried Thyme. Here’s how:

How to Make Fresh Thyme Tea

  1. Infuse 4-10 sprigs of fresh Thyme (to taste) in hot water for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Sweeten with honey or your favorite natural sweetener and enjoy.

How to Make Dried Thyme Tea:

  1. Infuse 1-3 teaspoons (to taste) of dried thyme in boiling water.
  2. Let steep 3-5 minutes
  3. Sweeten with honey or your favorite natural sweetener, and enjoy.

If you find straight Thyme tea too strong, try blending it with complementary herbs such as Lemon Balm, Lavender, Chamomile, Fennel, Mint, or Green tea.

How To Select High-Quality Thyme Supplements

Thyme can be found in various herbal supplements for things like immune, digestive, and respiratory support.

When choosing a Thyme supplement, always look for organic Thyme products made in a cGMP-certified facility that employs identity testing and third-party testing for purity and contaminants.

How To Source High-Quality Thyme Essential Oils

Thyme essential oil is generally affordable and easy to find. 

However, as with all essential oils, look for brands that sell only 100% pure essential oils that are steam-distilled versus essential oils cut with carrier oils that are solvent-extracted.

Thyme essential oil can be used alone or blended with complementary oils such as Orange, Lavender, Lemon, Rose, Peppermint, Cedarwood, and Eucalyptus.

Make Time for Thyme!

If you’re short on time and/or cash to invest in your well-being, Thyme is one of the best herbs to keep on hand.

Not only is it super-affordable to buy dried and easy to grow, but it provides many potential health benefits and is very safe (and tasty) to take.

Plus, it’s one of those pantry staples you can always turn to if you run out of your favorite immune-support tincture or tea.

In short, make time for Thyme…your body may thank you for it.


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