Wild thyme overtakes the mountains sprouting its purple haze of flowers each November here in Central Otago. When walking among the hills, the fragrance of Thyme is so sharp that you can smell it in the air. This month, my local town of Alexandra celebrates this miraculous plant with a 10 day-long Thyme Festival to celebrate everything Thyme.
This ancient herb was used by the Egyptians in the mummification process and dried thyme was burned in ancient Greece during ceremonies. To be told “he smells of thyme” was a sincere compliment in Grecian days. It is believed the word “thyme” may have come from the Greek word meaning “courage” and stories cite that knights were given a sprig of thyme to promote courage and strength before going into battle.
Fairies are said to love thyme. Many people even create a special bed of thyme to attract fairies and make them feel at home in their garden. In A Mid Summer Nights Dream, one fairy told another “I know a bank where wild thyme grows”.
As an essential oil, thyme is distilled as both red and white thyme. White thyme begins as red thyme oil that is further redistilled to remove the properties that produce the red colour. The therapeutic effects and aroma of white thyme is a bit milder than the red thyme which should be used with care.
This potent essential oil is a killer of bacteria, fungus and viruses. In one study which tested 21 essential oils against five bacteria, including salmonella and e. coli, thyme oil was the most effective inhibitors. Thymol, the main chemical compound of thyme, is the active ingredient in Listerine Mouthwash.
Diluted and used as a room spray thyme will disinfect a sick room, and stop the spread of germs when sprayed on hard surface (such as toilet, door handles, rubbish bins, pet areas). Adding a few drops of thyme essential oil to a diffuser and inhaling the vapour helps clear up airway passages by breaking down mucus from the lungs and throat. Thyme is also known to aid concentration levels and stimulate memory. Thyme can be irritating to the skin and should not be used by pregnant women.