Thyme – Thymus vulgaris
Thyme is a hardy perennial shrub which grows around the Mediterranean. When you think about Thyme, think ‘strongly anti-infectious and stimulating’. Thyme oils are powerful and have a broad range of action: antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Used in small amounts they have applications for respiratory ailments, poor circulation, and muscle aches. More than any other plant, thyme creates different ‘chemotypes’ depending where it grows.
Some plant species (such as thyme, rosemary, and basil) are ‘chameleon-like’, producing essential oils of extraordinarily different character, depending simply on the geographical region where they grow. The varieties of these plants are known as ‘chemotypes’, and the oils they produce can have dramatically different chemistry, significantly different uses, and therefore also importantly different safety factors.
We are going to have a look at thyme (it’s the flu season after all) which has a wealth of chemotypes. But consider this concept for a moment: we have the same plant growing in different places ‘innocently’ producing its essential oil. Yet the oils have such different characteristics depending where the plant grows. This is quite remarkable.
By way of example the thuyanol chemotype of thyme is highly recommended by one author (Jeanne Rose) for ‘… all problems of the male and female external genitalia’, which is of course absolutely fine. But if you are considering using thyme thuyanol in this way I would strongly recommend that you don’t inadvertently pick up the bottle of the thymol chemotype, which should undoubtedly be kept a nice safe distance from your genitalia and in fact should not be used on the skin at all. So this is an example of one big difference. And we haven’t even mentioned that we can find a thyme growing in another region which produces an oil with the theme of eucalyptus!
Crazy, confusing or delightful? All three probably!
A couple of short notes:
b) These chemotypes are not distinct. For example, as you move north from the Mediterranean up into the Alps, you will find a spectrum of different chemotypes of Thymus vulgaris.
c) In the case of thymes, the chemotype can be a more important indicator of the oil and its use than the botanical name. For example the thymol chemotype of thyme can originate from thymus vulgaris or thymus zygis. Interesting.Here are some examples of chemotypes of thyme:
Thyme linalol — typically contains 35-50% linalol and other terpene alcohols.
The ‘gentlest’ chemotype of thyme. A good fungicide which can be used (diluted in a carrier oil) on the skin it is also a valuable ally against fatigue. (See Malte’s notes below.)
Thyme geraniol — typically 30% geraniol (an alchohol) and 35-40% geranyl acetate (an ester)
A ‘broad spectrum’ thyme oil, mild but very effective, which is tonifying as well as being anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral.
Thyme thuyanol-4 — thuyanol 40% (another alcohol)
A powerful chemotype of thyme which is antiviral and anti-bacterial. Supports many aspects of the digestive system
Thyme thymol — thymol (a phenol) 50% and other phenols 10%
Phenols have totally different characteristics to alcohols (even though they both end with -ol!). This oil should not be applied to the skin, but is a very strong anti-infectious agent, and would be suitable for diffusing during the winter season, for example.
Thyme cineol — for example 32% 1.8 cineole (an oxide, also known as eucalyptole) with 11% camphor (a ketone)
The oxide component would suggest this oil could be used in inhalation blends.
Softened radiance of a mighty flame for life
Thyme has long been one of the major healing plants of Europe, respected for its ability to enliven the spirit and to fight nervous disorders. But it was already known to the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as a beneficial remedy. In modern European times we find the English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) lauding thyme as ‘a notable strengthener of the lungs’. And indeed, its detoxifying (lungs, kidneys, skin, all excretory organs) and clearing properties have been studied at length. The burning sensation which the usual thymol type of thyme leaves on the skin and mucus membranes is mitigated and softened in thyme linalol, a floral alcohol of a sweet balsamic fragrance.
However sweet and soft the oil may appear, it does not forget its true ‘thyme nature and signature’, expressed in its anti-microbial, fungicide (candida), antiviral and parasite-fighting properties, thereby powering the immune system. The antiseptic aspect of thyme not only relieves sore throat, but also fights bacteria. Inflammatory as well as pulmonary problems like bronchitis and also muscular rheumatism can be successfully ameliorated with this oil. Furthermore anemia and intestinal problems may be helped. Thyme also increases capillary circulation.
Thyme linalol stimulates the adrenal glands and therefore increases hormonal output. It is an excellent energizer, neuro-tonic and utero-tonic and a recognized aphrodisiac. Its strong ‘psychosomatic energy’ combined with its gentleness make it applicable also for children who might have problems to be understood within their family or broader environment. The essential oil may encourage and strengthen them to handle their daily lives in a more relaxed way since it is able to uplift the mood. Thyme charges the batteries of our life (kidney function) and revitalizes our exchange with the world (lung function) – giving us a more optimistic, less anxious outlook on ourselves and on life.