Thymus vulgaris or common thyme is a low growing herbaceous plant,
sometimes becoming somewhat woody. It is native to southern Europe,
where it is often cultivated as a culinary herb.
It typically grows as a sub-shrub, between 15 and 20 cm tall.
A shoot of a common thyme plant in the wild (Castelltallat)
Nomenclature can be very confusing. French, German and
English varities vary by leaf shape and colour and essential oils.
The many cultivars include 'Argenteus' (silver thyme).
Thyme adds a distinctive aromatic flavoring to sauces, stews,
stuffings, meats, poultry – almost anything from soup to salad. In
medieval times, the plant symbolized courage, and to keep up their
spirits, knights departing for the Crusades received scarves
embroidered with a sprig of thyme from their ladies. There was a
popular belief, too, that a leaf tea prevented nightmares, while
another held that tea made of thyme and other herbs enabled one to
see nymphs and fairies. Herbalists of the Middle Ages regarded thyme
as a stimulant and antispasmodic, and recommended sleeping on thyme
and inhaling it as a remedy for melancholy and epilepsy.
In 1725, a German apothecary discovered that the plant's
essential oil contains a powerful disinfectant called thymol that is
effective against bacteria and fungi. Thymol also
as a expectorant, loosening phlegm in the respiratory tract so it
can be coughed up. Later herbalists listed thyme for these uses and
as remedy for numerous other complaints, including diarrhoea and
fever. They prescribed the oil externally as an antiseptic for
fungal infections such as athlete's foot.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency is not aware of
any adverse effects of thymol to humans or the environment when it
is used in a manner prescribed by product labeling.