A Natural Antibiotic: Thyme Oil

I originally posted this article a few years ago when my husband became extremely ill with MRSA he had contracted from the apartment complex we manage. I feel that with the current situation at hand with the COVID-19 outbreak this post about thyme oil is appropriate.

A Natural Antibiotic: Thyme Oil

Superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus {MRSA} are on the rise and, unfortunately, are becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat them. When faced with a microbial infection, using natural antibacterial agents may not only be more effective but also safe and risk-free.

Apart from using spices like garlic, I recommend you try essential oils derived from herbs like thyme oil. Not only do they have antibacterial properties, but they also provide a number of health benefits. Before I go into thyme oil’s antimicrobial functions, let me share some information on the essential oil.

What Is Thyme Oil?

Oil of thyme is derived from thyme, also known as Thymus vulgaris. The perennial herb, a member of the mint family, is used in aromatherapy, cooking, potpourri, mouthwashes, and elixirs, as well as added to ointments. Thyme also has a number of medicinal properties, which is due to the herb’s essential oils.

The benefits of thyme essential oil have been recognized for thousands of years in Mediterranean countries. This substance is also a common agent in Ayurveda practice. Today, among the many producers of thyme oil, France, Morocco, and Spain emerge as the primary ones.

Uses of Thyme Oil

Due to thyme oil’s antibacterial, antispasmodic, antirheumatic, expectorant, hypertensive, and calming properties, it has a long list of uses that include:

  • Home remedy – Thyme oil is used to relieve and treat problems like gout, arthritis, wounds, bites, and sores, water retention, menstrual and menopausal problems, nausea and fatigue, respiratory problems (like colds), skin conditions (oily skin and scars), athlete’s foot, hangovers, and even depression.
  • Aromatherapy oil – The oil can be used to stimulate the mind, strengthen memory and concentration, and calm the nerves.
  • Hair product – It is said that thyme oil can prevent hair loss. It is used as a treatment for the scalp and is added to shampoos and other hair products.
  • Skin product – Thyme oil can help tone aged skin and prevent acne outbreaks.
  • Mouthwashes and herbal rinses – Like peppermint, wintergreen, and eucalyptus oil, thyme oil is used to improve oral health.
  • Insecticide/insect repellent – Thyme oil can keep insects and parasites like mosquitoes, fleas, lice, and moths away.

The Composition of Thyme Oil

Thyme is an example of a herb with over 300 varieties and various chemotypes, which are plants with the same appearance but have different chemical compositions. Each chemotype yields different oils with corresponding therapeutic benefits. This occurs when the plant is grown in different environments, climates, and soil.

Depending on which chemotype it is derived from, the oil of thyme produced will have a distinct chemical structure. The known chemotypes are:

  • Thymus vulgaris thymolThis 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 at 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 thuja oil and is known for its beneficial effects on the immune system and hormones. It is often called “sweet thyme.”
  • Thymus vulgaris alphaterpineolThis 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 at 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 from spring or else it becomes a different chemotype.
  • Thymus vulgaris phenol­– These are thyme plants that grow at high altitudes and contain up to 90 percent of phenol compounds.

Benefits of Thyme Oil

As I previously mentioned, thyme oil is an effective natural agent against nasty bacterial strains. 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.

Among the essential oils tested, cinnamon oil and thyme oil were found to be the most successful against various Staphylococcus species, including the dreaded MRSA.  Researchers said that this can help lower antibiotic use and minimize the formation of new resistant strains of microorganisms.

Oil of thyme can also function as a decontaminate for food products. As shown in Food Microbiology, both basil and thyme essential oils exhibited antimicrobial properties against Shigella sonnei and Shigella flexneri that may contaminate food. The compounds thymol and carvacrol in thyme oil demonstrated this benefit.

Furthermore, thyme oil can be used as a preservative against spoilage and several foodborne germs that can contribute to health problems. It is effective against other forms of bacteria like Salmonella, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Pseudomonas species.

Other reports also show that the oil of thyme has anti-inflammatory properties. In a 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. It was noted that the chemical constituent carvacrol was responsible for this effect.

The same study also noted that thyme and the other essential oils activated peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), which help suppress COX-2 expression.

In addition to these, significant health benefits of thyme oil include:

  • Help reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Stimulates menstrual flow
  • Increases circulation and elevates low blood pressure
  • Triggers the removal of waste that may lead to cellulite
  • Eases nervousness and anxiety
  • Helps fight insomnia
  • Eliminates bad breath and body odor

How to Make Thyme Oil

Thyme essential oil is produced through the steam distillation of the fresh or partially dried leaves and flowers of the thyme plant. Distillation produces a red-, browns, or orange-colored thyme oil, which has a strong, spicy smell. Further distillation yields white thyme oil, a clear or pale yellow oil with a mild fragrance. As mentioned before, its chemical composition varies depending on the type of thyme used in production.

Fortunately, you can make infused thyme oil at home. Here’s is one guide you can use.

What You Need:

  • ½ cup fresh thyme
  • 8 ounces carrier oil (ex. olive oil)
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Saucepan
  • Funnel
  • Glass container

Procedure:

  • Wash the herbs and dry it by patting it with a clean cloth. You may also dry it in the sun or place it in a salad spinner.
  • Crush the herbs using the mortar and pestle to release their natural oils.
  • Place the crushed thyme and its oil into the saucepan, and place the carrier oil. Simmer this mixture over medium heat for at least five minutes or until it produces bubbles.
  • Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool. Pour the mixture into the glass container then store it in a cool place.

How Does Thyme Oil Work?

Thyme oil can be used in a number of ways. It can be inhaled, applied topically, or used as a mouthwash. Below are some particular ways to enjoy its benefits:

  • Relieve pain – Mix three drops of thyme oil with two teaspoons of sesame oil. Use this mixture as a massage oil and apply it on the abdominal area to relieve pain. This may also be used as a massage oil to treat other types of pain.
  • Alleviate fatigue – Add two drops of thyme oil to your bathwater.
  • 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 the appearance of scars and skin marks – Apply oil of thyme mixed with any carrier oil (like almond oil) on the affected area.
  • Use as a 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.

Is Thyme Oil Safe?

Thyme oil should not be used directly on the skin, as it can cause sensitization. It must be first diluted with a carrier oil (like olive oil or almond oil). Before use, test on a small area to see if you have any allergies.

This herbal oil should not be taken internally, as it can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle problems. Doing so may also negatively impact your heart, lungs, and body temperature. It may also stimulate the thyroid gland, which is why this essential oil is not recommended for people with hyperthyroidism.

Since thyme oil can be used to increase circulation, it should be avoided by people with high blood pressure. Pregnant women should steer clear of thyme oil because it can stimulate menstrual flow. Thyme oil should also be kept away from infants and young children because they are sensitive.

Thyme Oil Side Effects

The use of thyme oil may result in allergic reactions, even when it’s diluted. Some people who use it may experience dermatitis or inflammation of the skin. People with allergies to rosemary or mint oils should also stay away from thyme and its essential oil.

Always consult a physician or anyone knowledgeable in essential oils before using one, especially if you’re suffering from any disease or are taking certain medications.

What Are The Health Benefits of Thyme?

Thyme is a herb with culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. The flowers, leaves, and oil of thyme have been used to treat bedwetting, diarrhea, stomach ache, arthritis, colic, sore throat, cough, including whooping cough, bronchitis, flatulence, and as a diuretic, to increase urination.

Thyme is of the genus Thymus. The most common type is Thymus vulgaris.

It is native to the Mediterranean.

History of thyme

[thyme]

Thyme has been used for flavoring and medicinal purposes since ancient times.

In Ancient Egypt, thyme was used for embalming. The Ancient Greeks used it as an incense in temples, and they added it to bathwater.

The Romans used thyme as a flavoring for cheese and alcoholic beverages. They are also said to have offered it as a cure people for who were melancholic or shy. They are believed to have introduced it to the British Isles.

Hippocrates, who lived around 460BC to 370BC, and who is known today as “the father of Western medicine,” recommended thyme for respiratory diseases and conditions. It was grown in gardens and gathered in the countryside.

When the Black Death swept across Europe in the 1340s, posies of thyme were worn for protection.

Scientific research does not support this use, but thyme has been shown to have a range of medicinal properties.

Forms of thyme

The fresh leaves of thyme can be used in teas and in cooking. They are sometimes placed between layers of linen, like lavender, to protect the fabric from insects.

The essential oil of thyme, usually referred to as “oil of thyme,” contains between 20 percent and 60 percent thymol.

It is extracted for a range of uses, for example, for scenting soaps and as an ingredient in deodorant. It has been used as an antiseptic, and as an insect repellant. Thymol has been used in meat preservation, and it is often included in the oil used to preserve olives in the Mediterranean.

Unlike the fresh leaves, the essential oil cannot be ingested and it should not be used directly on the skin. It should be diluted in a carrier oil, for example, olive oil.

Possible health benefits of thyme

Thymol is one of a naturally-occurring class of compounds known as biocides, substances that can destroy harmful organisms. Used alongside other biocides, such as carvacrol, thyme has a strong antimicrobial action.

One study has suggested that thymol can reduce bacterial resistance to common drugs such as penicillin.

The tiger mosquito

The tiger mosquito is native to tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia. Since the 1990s, it has spread around the world, carrying West Nile virus, Yellow fever virus, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever.

team at Chungbuk National University in South Korea reported that a combination of thymol, alpha-terpinene, and carvacrol was effective in killing off tiger mosquito larvae.

High blood pressure

Researchers at the University of Belgrade, in Serbia, found that an aqueous extract obtained from wild thyme reduced blood pressure in tests on rats. Rats tend to have similar responses to humans when they have hypertension so the findings could have implications for humans.

Protecting from foodborne bacterial infections

[thyme and olives]

Thyme is often used with olive oil to preserve olives.

A team at the Center for Studies of Animal and Veterinary Sciences in Portugal studied the antimicrobial activity of essential oils extracted from a range of aromatic plants, including thyme oil.

They reported that thyme oil, even at low concentrations, showed potential as a natural preservative of food products against several common foodborne bacteria that cause human illness.

A Polish study tested thyme oil and lavender oil, and they observed thyme oil was effective against resistant strains of Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia and Pseudomonas bacteria.

Colon cancer

study carried out in Lisbon, Portugal, found that extracts of mastic thyme may protect from colon cancers.

Breast cancer

Oncologist researchers Turkey looked at the effect of wild thyme on breast cancer activity, and specifically how it affected apoptosis, or cell death, and epigenetic events in breast cancer cells.

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. They found that wild thyme induced cell death in breast cancer cells.

Yeast infection

The fungus Candida albicans is a common cause of mouth and vaginal yeast infections, a recurring condition often referred to as “thrush.”

Researchers at the University of Turin, in Italy, found that essential oil of thyme significantly enhanced the intracellular killing of C. albicans, which causes thrush, in the human body.

Prolonging the stability of cooking oils

Lipid oxidation is a serious problem during food processing and storage. It leads to losses of quality, stability, safety, and nutritional value.

Scientists from Warsaw, in Poland, carried looked at whether thyme extract might prolong the stability of sunflower oil at different temperatures. They suggest that thyme might be a potent antioxidant for stabilizing sunflower oil.

Common skin problems

Skin problems are common worldwide. In some countries, herbal preparations are an important form of medicine.

[thyme oil]

Thyme oil is an antifungal cream may help prevent eczema.

A team at Addis Ababa University, in Ethiopia, carried out a study to assess the therapeutic benefits of a 10 percent chamomile extract cream and a 3 percent thyme essential oil antifungal cream for eczema-like lesions.

They noted that 66.5 percent of those treated with a fungal cream containing thyme essential oil was completely healed, compared with 28.5 percent of those using a placebo.

Results for the chamomile cream were similar to those for the placebo. The researchers conclude, “A 3 percent thyme essential oil cream could represent a relatively economical and easily available opportunity to treat and heal mild to moderate cases of fungal infections,” but they recommend further research.

Acne

Scientists from Leeds, in the U.K., tested the effects of myrrh, marigold, and thyme tinctures on the bacterium that causes acne. They found that thyme may be effective in treating acne.

Its antibacterial effect proved stronger than that of standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient used in most creams and washes that are recommended for acne. Benzoyl peroxide also causes a burning sensation and irritation on the skin.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies thyme essential oils as “generally recognized as safe for their intended use.”

However, anyone planning to make a significant change to treatment for a health condition should first discuss this with a physician.