Thyme Leaf

Health Benefits
In alternative medicine, thyme can be taken by mouth, applied to the skin, gargled, or inhaled for health purposes. The plant contains compounds like thymol (a plant-based phenol specific to thyme) that is known to control or neutralize certain bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections.

Thyme is touted as a natural treatment for an almost encyclopedic array of unrelated health conditions, including:

Bad breath
Cold sores
Difficulty urinating
Ear infections
Hair loss
Liver dysfunction
Menstrual cramps
Oral thrush
Premenstrual syndrome
Sore throat
Urinary tract infection
Whooping cough

Thyme is also believed to stimulate appetite, curb inflammation, boost immune function, and repel insects. Some of these claims are better supported by research than others.

As with many herbal remedies, the evidence supporting thyme's medicinal effects is weak. However, there are certain conditions for which thyme or thyme oil shows definite promise.

Thyme is believed by practitioners of aromatherapy to exert anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects, a property supported by a 2014 study in the Journal of Acute Disease. According to the research, mice provided an oral dose of thymol at 20 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) exhibited far less stress when undergoing an elevated maze test than mice that weren't.

Whether the same can occur by inhaling the thyme oil has yet to be established. Further human research is needed.

Atopic Dermatitis
According to a 2018 study in International Immunopharmacology, the application of thymol to the skin of people with atopic dermatitis has a direct physiological response. In addition to inhibiting inflammatory compounds known as cytokines, thymol helps shrink the swollen dermal and epidermal skin layers characteristic of dermatitis.

In addition, thymol was able to prevent secondary infections caused by the bacteria Staphyloccocus aureus. This all-too-common complication occurs when swollen tissues allow S. aureus to move from the surface of the skin and establish reservoirs beneath the skin.

According to the researchers, thymol's anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects may have a place in the management of chronic atopic dermatitis.

Thyme has long been used as a home remedy for cough, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. It is sometimes taken orally to treat a chest infection or inhaled to open airways. There is some clinical evidence of these effects.

According to a 2013 study in the European Respiratory Journal, thymol acts on receptors on the tongue, mouth, throat, and nasal passages in a way that may suppress coughs.

The study involved 18 volunteers, each of whom was exposed to cough stimuli. After using a thymol nasal spray, they underwent several tests to evaluate the urge to cough, the number of coughs experienced, and the threshold by which coughs occurred.

While the nasal spray had no effect on the cough threshold (the point where coughs occur in response to stimuli), it significantly reduced the number and severity of coughs as well as the overall urge to cough. The users reported that the spray had a pleasant cooling effect.

Intestinal Infections
Thymol has been shown in test tubes to neutralize certain enteric bacterium associated with intestinal disease.

In a 2017 study in Scientific Reports, chickens inoculated with the disease-causing bacteria Clostridium perfringens were fed a blend of essential oils containing 25% thymol and 25% carvacrol (another potent phenol found in thyme). After 21 days, the birds treated had far less evidence of the bacteria in their intestines than the untreated birds. These had fewer lesions and C. perfringens-related deaths.

Further research is needed to determine whether the same effect might occur in humans with other types of Clostridium bacteria.

Menstrual Cramps
Thyme has long been touted for its analgesic (pain-relieving) and antispasmodic (spasm-relieving) properties. The evidence supporting these claims is often mixed, but there have been some promising findings.

In a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences in 2012, researchers gave 120 female college students either thyme supplements or ibuprofen to treat menstrual cramps. After two months of treatment (four times daily for the thyme supplements and three times daily for ibuprofen), both groups of women reported similar levels of the relief.

This suggests that thyme may be a viable alternative to ibuprofen with far fewer side effects.

Oral Thrush
Thyme oil mixed with water has long been used as a remedy for bad breath and the prevention of gingivitis and gum disease. There is also evidence that it may treat oral thrush, a common infection caused by the fungi Candida albicans.

According to a 2015 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, thymol was able to suppress the growth of C. albicans and other Candida strains in the test tube. The researchers believe that thymol inhibited the production of ergosterol, a cholesterol-like substance needed to foster fungal growth. When used in combination with the antifungal drug nystatin, thymol was able to eradicate 87.4% of all Candida strains.

Thymol (derived from thyme by alcohol extraction) is widely used as an active ingredient in many commercial brands of mouthwash, including Listerine.