Thyme, that perennial favourite and household staple. Thyme is used in many cuisines. It may appear to be very ordinary but it packs quite a punch in terms of its medicinal properties.
Plagues and suspected poisoning
The herb has a long history of use. During the Black Death plague it was used as a preventative. At the time, doctors used masks containing thyme when they visited clinics. In the Roman Empire, thyme was used either as a preventative or as an antidote to being poisoned. If you suspected poisoning, it was believed that soaking in a bath infused with thyme leaves drew out the poison.
Bravery, heroism and death
Thyme was also used to indicate the bravery and heroism of Roman soldiers. Some soldiers used to wear thyme sprigs with pride and even exchanged thyme as a mutual sign of respect. Thyme played a dual role on the battlefield. It has been used as an embalming aid since the time of the Egyptians.
On the cooking front, thyme has long been used as a preservative.
In the modern era, researchers have also noted the many medicinal properties of thyme. They are antiseptic, antioxidative, antibacterial, antifungal, sedating, expectorant, antispasmodic, antifungal, antivirotic (antibiotic which is effective against viruses), antihelminthic (anti-parasitic action), and carminative. Quite the all-rounder.
One of the main constituents of the essential oil of thyme is the compound thymol. Thymol is responsible for the taste and odour which characterise thyme. Thymol is also found in Nigella Sativa seeds and a few other species including Holy Basil, caraway, za’atar, and spreading sneezeweed which is native to Nepal. Although its name may suggest otherwise, squeezing the head of the spreading sneezeweed flower releases substances (including thymol) which treat sinus infections.
Thymol is a compound that occurs very widely in nature and has many benefits, including its use today in dentistry, mouthwash, and antiseptics.
Versatile in cooking
How can we get the benefits of thymol? Perhaps we should make some time for thyme. Thyme is very versatile in cooking. A simple internet search will provide countless ideas for using thyme. Italian, Middle Eastern and French cooking is resonant with thyme. It can be used fresh or dried, and can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes.
Such a delicious way of taking your medicine…