Essential oils carry biologically active volatile compounds in a highly concentrated form that can provide therapeutic benefits in very small amounts. One such oil is thyme oil, which is derived from steam distillation of fresh thyme flowers and leaves.
Thyme, a member of the mint family, has a sweet, earthy flavor that lends itself well to cooking. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” counted thyme as a culinary herb,1 although it was used also used as a form of medicine in ancient times, particularly for respiratory conditions. According to the American Botanical Council:2
“The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians used thyme as a medicine and to embalm the dead. The ancient Romans used thyme to flavor cheese and alcoholic beverages, burned it to deter wild animals, and bathed in it to ‘provide vigor.’ Medieval women embroidered thyme on gifts for knights.”
Many of thyme’s beneficial properties come from its essential oils, which include potent compounds like thymol, camphene, linalool, and carvacrol. Thymol, which makes up 20 percent to more than 50 percent of thyme oil is known as a biocide, which means it can destroy harmful organisms and gives thyme oil strong antimicrobial properties.
Perhaps not surprisingly, due to its antimicrobial effects thymol is often used in mouthwash as well as in cosmetics (as a preservative/biocide). Because thyme also has a pungent aroma, it’s also used in aromatherapy and potpourri, and sometimes as a fragrance in cosmetics.
Thyme Essential Oil Health Benefits
The benefits of thyme oil have been recognized for thousands of years in Mediterranean countries, and it’s also commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s the perfect example of a natural compound that exerts multiple, often synergistic, effects on your health – nearly two dozen in all (that we know of).3
Wild thyme has been used to induce cell death in breast cancer cells. After 72 hours of treatment, thyme essential oil killed 98 percent of human breast cancer cells, with researchers concluding wild thyme “may be a promising candidate in the development of novel therapeutic drugs for breast cancer treatment.”4
Thyme oil has strong antibacterial properties, including against Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that causes acne. In one study, a tincture made from thyme was more effective against the bacterium than tinctures made from marigold or myrrh. In addition, the thyme tincture had a stronger antibacterial effect than the common acne treatment benzoyl peroxide.5
Spasms are involuntary muscle contractions that may lead to coughs, cramps, and aches. Thyme oil has anti-spasmodic activity, which explains why it’s traditionally been used to treat respiratory ailments and coughs. According to the American Botanical Council:
“In vitro and in vivo studies show that thyme flavonoids relax tracheal and ileal smooth muscles.”6
Thyme oil is anti-rheumatic because it acts as a diuretic, helping to increase urination and remove excess toxins from your body. In addition, it stimulates circulation, which may help lower concentrations of uric acid in your bloodstream.
Thyme oil also has anti-inflammatory properties. In research published in the Journal of Lipid Research, six essential oils including thyme oil showed the ability to suppress the inflammatory cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme in the same manner as the antioxidant resveratrol does.7 It was noted that the chemical constituent carvacrol was responsible for this effect.
Compounds in thyme oil, including caryophyllene and camphene, are powerful antiseptics that can guard wounds against infections.
Wild thyme extract (Thymus serpyllum L.) has been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies, with researchers noting, “Our results indicate that TE [wild thyme] may protect against hypertension in experimental model of essential hypertension.”8
It’s important to note that not all thyme varieties have this effect and, in fact, some may have the opposite effect by increasing circulation, which elevates low blood pressure.
Thyme oil has strong antibacterial properties. A study presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s spring conference in Edinburgh pointed out that essential oils may be efficient and affordable alternatives to antibiotics in the battle against resistant bacteria.9
Among the essential oils tested, cinnamon oil and thyme oil were found to be the most successful against various Staphylococcus species, including MRSA. Researchers said that this can help lower antibiotic use, and minimize the formation of new resistant strains of microorganisms.
8. Health Tonic
Thyme essential oil is known for benefitting the circulatory system, heart, digestive system, nervous system, muscles, and skin, as well as boosting immunity.
9. Heart Health
Because thyme oil is anti-spasmodic, it helps relax your arties and veins, lowering blood pressure and stress to your heart. It may also help strengthen and tone your heart muscles.
Thyme oil is carminative,10 which means it not only helps prevent the formation of gas in your gastrointestinal tract but also helps your body to remove excess gasses, helping to combat flatulence.
As a diuretic, thyme oil may help your body to remove excess water, salt and toxins from your body, helping with weight, blood pressure, digestion, and more.
12. Menstrual Regularity
Thyme is an emenagogue, which means it stimulates blood flow to the pelvic area and uterus, and may stimulate menstruation in women. Thyme oil may therefore be useful for irregular periods, premature menopause, and other menstrual problems.
13. Scars and Skin Marks
As a cicatrisant, thyme oil may help with the removal of scars and other skin marks, such as those left by acne, chicken pox, and other sores.
Thyme oil is an expectorant, which means it can help remove mucus from your airways and lungs. Thyme oil is approved by Germany’s Commission E in the treatment of bronchitis, whooping cough, and upper respiratory inflammation.11
15. Low Blood Pressure
As mentioned, certain types of thyme have hypertensive effects, i.e. they may increase blood pressure. This is beneficial for those suffering from low blood pressure, who are at risk of becoming unconscious, for instance.
16. Repel Pests
Thyme oil is very effective against insects and pests. It can be used to repel mosquitoes, fleas, lice, bed bugs, flies, beetles, moths, and more.
Thyme oil can stimulate your circulation, digestion, secretion of hormones, and your entire metabolism.
As mentioned, thyme oil is an expectorant and anti-spasmodic, and it’s also bechic, which means it helps relieve or cure coughs and may also help heal infections in your chest.
Thyme oil is a vermifuge, which means it kills worms, including round worms, tape worms, maggots, and hook worms.
Thyme oil has anti-fungal properties, and has been shown to be effective against candida albicans, which is a common cause of yeast infections. According to one study, thyme (red) essential oil “significantly enhanced intracellular killing of C. albicans…”12
Thyme Oil Comes in Different Chemotypes
Thyme comes in more than 300 varieties and chemotypes, or plants that appear similar but have different chemical compositions. Depending on the chemotype, the oil may have slightly different chemical structure that can impact its uses. The known chemotypes are, according to Prevent Disease:13
- Thymus vulgaris thymol – This chemotype has strong antiseptic activities and is 60 to 70 percent thymol. It goes by the name of “thyme” and “red thyme” and is harvested during the fall.
- Thymus vulgaris linalool – This is the most gentle of all thyme chemotypes. Referred to as “garden thyme,” this variation has potent antiparasitic and antifungal properties, and is grown in high altitudes.
- Thymus vulgaris carvacrol – As its name suggests, this type contains the chemical constituent carvacrol. Its amount will depend on when it is harvested. When collected in the spring, it will contain 30 percent carvacrol and 60 to 80 percent when harvested right after flowering or during the fall. T. vulgaris carvacrol is known for its antiseptic properties.
- Thymus vulgaris thujanol – Found only in the wild, this plant contains 50 percent thujanol and is known for its beneficial effects on the immune system and hormones. It is often called “sweet thyme.”
- Thymus vulgaris alpha–terpineol – This type is harvested during the early spring and has a pepper-like smell.
- Thymus vulgaris geraniol – The geraniol chemotype has a lemon-like fragrance and is grown in high altitudes. It is often picked during autumn.
- Thymus vulgaris 1,8 cineole – This contains 80 to 90 percent cineole and has diuretic, anticatarrhal, expectorant, and analgesic properties.
- Thymus vulgaris p-cymene – This should be obtained within spring or else it becomes a different chemotype.
- Thymus vulgaris phenol – These are thyme plants that grow in high altitudes and contain up to 90 percent of phenol compounds.
How to Use Thyme Oil at Home
Once you’ve chosen a thyme oil, remember that it is a powerful compound and should not be used directly on your skin, as this can cause sensitization and irritation. It must first be diluted with a carrier oil (like olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil), and it’s a good idea to test it on a small area first to see if you have any allergies.
Thyme oil can be used in a variety of ways. It can be inhaled via aromatherapy, applied topically, or used as a mouthwash, for instance. You can also try the following remedies:14
- Relieve pain – Mix three drops of thyme oil with two teaspoons of sesame oil. Use this mixture as a massage oil and apply on your abdominal area to relieve pain. This may also be used as a massage oil to treat other types of pain, including insect and animal bites and stings.
- Alleviate fatigue – Add two drops of thyme oil to your bath water.
- Improve sleep – Add a few drops to your diffuser.
- Promote oral health – Use thyme oil as a mouthwash by adding one drop to a cup of warm water.
- Reduce appearance of scars and skin marks – Apply oil of thyme mixed with any carrier oil (like almond oil) on the affected area. You can also apply it for eczema, athlete’s foot, and dermatitis.
- Use as cleanser – Add a few drops of thyme oil to your facial wash.
- Treat or protect against respiratory problems – Add two drops of thyme oil to hot water and use for steam inhalation.
- Uplift mood – Simply inhale the scent of thyme oil.