Thymes are small bushy plants, erect (common thyme) or more spreading and creeping (wild thyme), typical of the Mediterranean region where they grow naturally.
Thyme is grown all over the world, some varieties withstand cold and humidity, others tropical heat.
It is nevertheless the guarrigue thymes that have the highest concentration of essential oil, which undoubtedly helps the plant to survive the aridity and summer heat of the Mediterranean environment.
Botanists differentiate many species of thyme (between 250 and 500) which are quite difficult to differentiate and often typical of a region or country (endemic species).
Common thyme , Thymus vulgaris, is spontaneous in the west of the Mediterranean zone: northern Italy, southern France and the eastern half of Spain.
It is mainly found on dry (basic) calcareous soils: scrublands, edges of hedges or ditches, around vines, areas grazed by goats and sheep who do not appreciate it and thus, indirectly, ensure its extension in monospecific patches.
As common or vulgar thyme adapts to many climates and soils and has a pleasant aroma, it is cultivated throughout the world as a culinary herb.
Other species of thyme are also important in phyto-aromatherapy:
THYMUS SATUREOIDES = THYMUS SATUREOIDES, borneol thyme, very present in North African countries,
southern Spain and Portugal, it generally has a strong odor linked to the high content of thymol or carvacrol.
THYMUS SERPYLLUM: wild thyme, which includes many very similar species, these are species of small more or less creeping thyme present throughout Europe, part of Asia and in North Africa in scrublands, uncultivated areas and even grasslands where it can proliferate because herbivores avoid eating it.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
Thyme leaves contain 0.5 to 2.5% essential oil, the composition of which varies greatly depending on the growing area, the variety (cultivar) and especially the climatic conditions (hot, cold, dry or wet). These are the chemotype varieties.
There are 7 chemical races or chemotypes of common thyme: thymol, carvacrol, linalool, thuyanol, alpha terpineol, geraniol, and paracymene.
Thymol chemotype : this is the most common variety because it grows in most climates and has the typical smell of thyme, which is used to flavor dishes.
Carvacrol chemotype: more specific to very hot and arid areas and whose strong odor is similar to the previous one, thymol and carvacrol being chemically similar molecules.
The Linalool and Geraniol chemotypes are more frequent in mid-mountains and in the cool areas of the scrubland.
The chemotypes in Thuyanol are thymes from dry and hot guarrigue, abandoned land in the south of France.
Other chemotypes are less common.
This variability in the chemical composition of the essential oils of thyme is difficult to perceive by the human sense of smell, nevertheless we can differentiate thymol-carvacrol thymes with a strong smell from other much "milder" chemotypes when we smell them.
You should know that essential oils are complex mixtures and that the chemotype classification is artificial, there are indeed transitional forms between all these chemical varieties.
So why bother with these differences?
Because essential oils with different chemotypes have different medical and pharmacological properties.
Thyme essential oil with carvacrol or thymol (very similar molecules, monoterpenes with a phenolic structure) is strongly bactericidal (antibacterial), it is an antiseptic essential oil but its undiluted application on the skin and mucous membranes can induce strong inflammation. and necrosis, it is dermocaustic.
Essential oils of thyme with linalool, geraniol or thuyanol are not as antiseptic but are less aggressive for the skin or mucous membranes.
All these essential oils are antibacterial and also have an antifungal, analgesic and antispasmodic power (relaxing the smooth muscles).
The action on the nervous system is more varied: the essential oils of thyme are most often tonic (exciting) more rarely sedative (depressant of the activity of the nervous system); it depends on their terpene composition, the dose ingested and the body's response.
Herbalists consider thyme and its essential oil as parasympaticolytic (light of course, nothing to do with atropine).
In high doses thyme essential oil, whatever the chemotype, is toxic, causing serious neurological disorders, starting with diarrhea and vomiting up to cardiovascular depression and respiratory arrest.
Thyme leaf contains flavonoids (yellow pigments) with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-spasmodic properties. They are derivatives of quercetin, apigenin and luteolin; they are found in many other plants but here, in the thyme leaf, they are not associated with alkaloids or other more or less toxic compounds (hepatotoxic or mutagenic for example).
The phenol acids present in the thyme leaf: caffeic, chlorogenic, lithospermic, rosmarinic, and their derivatives are important antioxidants. They also have other interesting potentialities: they are enzyme inhibitors (eg anti-inflammatory or anti-allergic), also antiviral and cytostatic.
Pharmacologists are increasingly interested in components with phenolic structures of plant origin to delay the appearance of cancers or slow down their development.
These substances, which are found in food, act by modifying the "epigenetic" regulation of cancers.
Epigenetic regulation is modifiable (reversible) while genetic regulation is not.
Cancer cells partly use epigenetic regulation to proliferate, so this is a therapeutic target.
There are already experiments on animals which show that a simple diet reinforced with thyme extract can considerably reduce cancerous proliferation (breast cancer cells in mice).
Thyme is first and foremost a widely used condiment (with good reason) in everyday cooking.
A regular addition to the diet of thyme and other Mediterranean labiateae (oregano, rosemary, savory) reinforces resistance to both viral and bacterial infections.
Thyme and Herbes de Provence have an immunostimulant power that is very useful for strengthening the body's defenses, particularly against viral infections of the respiratory tract (colds, laryngotracheitis, bronchitis, flu-like infection).
A branch of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried leaves in a cup of very hot water, infuse 5 to 10 minutes, 1 to 3 cups per day. To strengthen immunity and in case of viral infection of the respiratory tract, or as a digestive antispasmodic and to facilitate digestion.
2 teaspoons of dried plant in 100 ml of boiling water, infuse for 10 minutes, for external use (mouthwash, gargling, debridement of wounds)
The ethanolic tincture of thyme is very convenient to use both externally and internally, it contains both water-soluble compounds (flavonoids and phenol acids) and hydrophobic essential oil.
10 to 50 drops 2 to 3 times a day, or applied locally.
Essential oil of thyme:
all chemotypes must be used with caution, risk of attack on the skin or mucous membranes, especially for carvacrol and thymol chemotypes; risk of frequent gastric intolerance; small allergic risk and risk of respiratory intolerance in asthmatics.
The essential oil ((EO) of thyme, often in combination with other essential oils (mint, niaouli, pine, cajeput) is especially useful for fighting bacterial and viral infection, the thymol or carvacrol chemotypes are the most antiseptic, we prefer the other milder chemotypes (linalool or geraniol), in case of intolerance or in children from 6 to 12 years old:
Urinary and genital tract : urethritis, cystitis, orchitis (eg, 2 drops EO thyme + 1 drop HE cajeput 3 times a day).
Digestive tract: gastroenteritis, colitis, (eg, 2 drops EO thyme + 2 drops EO mint twice a day).
Especially respiratory tract: from nasopharyngitis to bronchitis, including otitis, hoarseness, angina, (eg, 1 drop EO thyme + 1 drop HE niaouli + 1 drop HE pine 2 to 3 times a day).
Viral infections: “flu”, herpes, shingles.
Skin infections: boils, impetigo in local application diluted in 90° alcohol.
Oral tract infections: sores on the tongue or gums, mouth ulcers, bad breath, dental caries, 2 drops in a little diluted alcohol as a gargle or mouthwash 1 to 3 times a day.
The essential oil is absorbed for example with honey, or condensed milk, or on bread, it can also be diluted in a little alcohol.
Inhalations: they are useful in case of infection of the respiratory tract: a handful of fresh thyme or 2 spoonfuls of dry leaves or a few drops of essential oil in a bowl of very hot water, inhale for 10 to 15 minutes.
The infusion of thyme leaf (thyme tea) and its essential oil (2 drops) are also useful in case of spasmodic disorders of the digestive tract: cramps, belching, hiccups. They do not cure the cause of the spasms but attenuate them which very often makes them disappear.
HE can also be incorporated into liquid soap to reinforce its bactericidal and antifungal power.
CAUTION: the caustic nature of thymol-carvacrol thyme EO; essential oils are often tonic and taken in the evening can delay sleep; no essential oils of thyme in children under 6 and in pregnant women (especially in the first 3 months).
Thyme honey is renowned, honey from the guarrigues, but also wild thyme honey.
CULTIVATION OF THYME
Thymes are plants that are easy to grow, very resistant (except to too high humidity), not very demanding on the soil and which can be satisfied with a pot or a flower box, they attract bees when they are in flowers.
They are propagated by seed or by separating the roots of a parent plant, and can be stored for many years with occasional pruning.
A MEDITERRANEAN PLANT CULTIVATED WORLDWIDE
Thyme is a small bushy plant, widely used to flavor food,
it contains a powerfully bactericidal essential oil useful for combating
respiratory, digestive or urinary infections.
Thyme also contains substances, soluble in water, antispasmodic and immunostimulating
Copyright 2022 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel