Known for its aromatic foliage and delicate flowers, thyme is also valued for its healing properties and use as a culinary herb.
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has long been utilised for its medicinal benefits. Additionally, the Mediterranean herb is a popular seasoning for various dishes. Read on to find out all about how to use thyme as well as its benefits and flavour.
Thyme: health benefits
Thyme provides a host of health benefits. It is primarily used to treat colds, coughs, rhinitis, bronchitis and whooping cough due to its expectorant, bronchodilatory, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. The essential oils within thyme work by loosening the bronchial muscles, which facilitates the expectoration of mucus. Thyme is also used to treat infections of the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts.
Tip: make thyme tea to harness the health benefits of thyme. Simply take around three sprigs of thyme and steep in boiling water for at least five minutes. Remove the sprigs before drinking.
Thyme can also be applied externally. Some sport or rheumatism ointments benefit from thyme’s anti-inflammatory properties, whilst in cosmetics, thyme is used in balms, deodorants, hair care products and perfumes. Its antibacterial properties also make it suitable to use as a mouthwash in the form of thyme hydrolate. Pure thyme oil is particularly potent, so take care not to apply directly to the skin. Instead, ensure the oil is diluted with a base oil or cream. When consuming thyme, it is recommended not to exceed a dose of 4 – 6 grams per day. Pregnant women should take particular care and consulting a doctor is advised.
Using thyme in the kitchen
Thyme, like rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) and sage (Salvia officinalis), brings a Mediterranean flavour to the kitchen and complements many fish, vegetable and meat dishes. Although the plant’s entire shoot is harvested, only the leaves that are suitable for seasoning as the stem of the thyme plant contains many bitter substances that make it undesirable for culinary use. In some recipes, such as soups and stews, the entire sprig is added to the pot to allow the flavour to infuse, but the sprig is removed before serving. Whilst fresh thyme may be considered superior in taste and aroma, the herb can also be dried, frozen or preserved in oil.
Ingredients of thyme
Thyme’s aromatic and healing properties are due to the presence of various secondary plant compounds. The compound thymol, which makes up 30 to 50 % of thyme essential oil, is responsible for the characteristic taste as well as thyme’s antimicrobial properties. Thyme also contains p-cymene, γ-Terpinene and other monoterpenes, as well as various flavonoids and tannins. The composition varies greatly depending on the variety, weather conditions, and cultivation. The combination of these active ingredients is ultimately responsible for thyme’s healing properties.
What does thyme taste like?
Thyme has an earthy yet fresh flavour with a slightly bitter note. Its floral character is comparable to other native Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and sage. The presence of thymol gives thyme its characteristic aromatic flavour.
Tip: The Thymus genus is hugely diverse, with each species and variety offering a unique flavour profile. Read our dedicated article to discover the most popular thyme species and varieties.
Are thyme flowers edible?
Yes, thyme flowers are edible. Thyme flowers taste sweeter and less bitter than the rest of the plant. Thyme flowers, in addition to their flavour, are an attractive addition to a dish. Thyme flowers complement salads and Mediterranean-inspired desserts, and they can also be used to make delicious herb butters.
Are you curious about growing thyme at home? Find out everything you need to know about planting thyme in our dedicated article.