As I write this, I am sitting in Austin, Texas. It is much colder than rainy Portland, Oregon, which I call home. As usual I am wondering what I am going to write about.  As I put fingers to my computer, I thought, it’s so nice to finally have the time to write my article. And just like that I knew what I was going to write about— Thyme! Thymus Vulgaris, or better known as Thyme, is a great herb to know this time of year. When there are stuffy noses, and coughs, Thyme can be there to help us. Botanical Name: Thymus Vulgaris Family: Mint (Labiatae) Common Name: Common Thyme, French Thyme, and Garden Thyme Harvest/Part used: While summertime (no pun intended) is better for harvesting this plant. It is an easy one to grow and dry yourself. Thyme can be direct sowed in late March or early April; it is best done after the fear of frost is over. This varies, so check your local last frost date. Thyme grows best with room to spread and move. Thyme dislikes excess water, which makes it great for my yard! I am famous for forgetting to water. It does well in rock walls, and there are some creeping varieties that make for wonderful path liners. The part used is the leaf. It is best to harvest before the plant flowers. Remove the leaves from the stem; they will dry quickly just laying them out on a cookie sheet, in a warm dry place away from drafts. Thyme then can be stored in a glass container, in a cool, dark place. You can also store it in the freezer. Just make sure you put it in a moisture-proof container. I like to use Mason Jars, first putting it into a zipper  bag before storing it in the freezer. You can also put the jar into a larger zipper bag. Toxicity: Thyme is on the FDA “generally regarded as safe” list, but large doses may cause intestinal problems such as diarrhea and bloating. Thyme is safe to use as a seasoning during pregnancy, but strong medicinal doses should be avoided if there is any possibility that you are pregnant. Herb/Drug Interactions: None known Constituents: Volatile oils: thymol, methylchavicol, cineole, borneo. Flavenoids and Tannins. Actions and Therapeutic uses: The first thing I think of using thyme for is when I am working with someone with congestion. The volatile oils from the thyme are great for helping open up a stuffy nose or relieve lung gunk. You can do this one of two ways. I like to use a VERY strong tea of the fresh plant. This means using somewhere around 1⁄2 cup to 1 full cup of the fresh herb. You do not have to remove it from the stem for this use. I take a large soup pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add 4 to 6 cups of water to the pot and bring this to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the fresh thyme, cover the pot, and let steep for 5 minutes. While the thyme is steeping, go and find a big soft bath towel, and a smaller tea towel to set on the kitchen table, in front of a chair. Remove the pot from the stove; set it on the tea towel. Wrap the bath towel around your shoulders; sit down in front of the pot. Remove the lid from the pan; bring the towel up over your head, making a tent over the pot. Start to take deep breaths, through your nose if your nose is stuffy, through your mouth if it is for your lungs. Make sure that you DO NOT do this while the pot is on the stove; there is a chance you could get burned. If the vapors are too strong, put the lid back on and take your head out from under the towel. Wait a minute or so and try again. If you can, it is best to spend about five minutes under the towel with the steam. The second way you can do this is using thyme essential oil. If doing it this way, use the same method with the following changes. Bring the same amount of water to a boil. Set up the table, chair, and towels the same way. Bring the pan to the table, remove the lid, and add about four drops of the thyme essential oil. Quickly cover the pan with the lid. Place the towel over your head and continue as above. I have found that the essential oil is so much stronger and can feel much more harsh. Guess you can tell which way I like best. Other uses of thyme are antifungal, antiseptic, bronchitis, carminative, cough, cold, digestive cramps, expectorant, flatulence, mouthwash, urinary disinfectant, vermifuge, and whooping cough.



  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 stalks celery with leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley (or one teaspoon dried, but fresh is best)
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 medium onion with skin on, and stuck with two cloves
  • ½ to 1 tablespoon chunky (non-milled) salt


Tie all the ingredients into a cheesecloth bag. Add to water when cooking chicken, fish, beef, or add to soups or stews. This amount will flavor 2 quarts of cooking water. I have also found a VERY large stainless tea ball, which will hold up to 1 full cup of ingredients. This also works well and is easy to remove from the pot.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of The Nutritional Therapist.