Thyme is a popular culinary herb whose health benefits often go unnoticed.
However, the benefits of thyme oil go far beyond just making food taste good. It helps treat respiratory conditions, inhibits bacterial growth, clears skin conditions and so much more.
It has been utilized in the Mediterranean for thousands of years where it has long been recognized for its antiseptic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, hypertensive, and anti-anxiolytic properties.
Thyme essential oil is truly one of the strongest antioxidants known, and the benefits are here to prove it.
What is Thyme Essential Oil?
Thyme essential oil comes from the perennial herb known as Thymus vulgaris. The oval green leaves of the plant are housed on a woody stem that is covered with tiny microscopic hairs.
Thyme is native to southern Europe from the western Mediterranean to southern Italy.
The genus Thymus, a member of the Lamiaceae family, contains about 400 species of perennial aromatic, evergreen, or semi-evergreen herbaceous plants with many subspecies, varieties, subvarieties, and forms
The main chemical component of thyme essential oil is thymol. Thymol has a monoterpene backbone and is part of the phenols functional group. Thymol contains warming properties.
In addition to thymol, thyme essential oil contains the following constituents
Thyme essential oil contains up to 54 percent thymol, which gives thyme oil its antiseptic properties. This is why it is commonly used to fight skin infections, infections of the mouth, and more.
Uses and Benefits of Thyme Essential Oil
There are multiple studies that support how thyme essential oil supports various healing processes in the body.
Here is how the different chemical constituents of thyme benefit the body:
1. Clears Skin Conditions
The antiseptic properties of thyme essential oil combined with its strong antioxidant potential make it great for conditions of the skin.
One study found that thyme oil was effective at reducing acne-causing bacteria on the skin
Thyme essential oil is also considered a cicatrizant, which means that it promotes healing. When used topically, it can visibly reduce the appearance of scars left behind from surgery, acne, pox, measles, sore or accidental injuries.
2. Kills Bacteria and Infections
Thyme oil is an excellent way to enhance the functioning of the immune system. Since thyme is able to inhibit bacterial growth, it can be used to kill infections that build up in the respiratory system, heal cuts and wounds, or treat intestinal infections.
According to several studies, thyme oil is even effective against methicillin-resistant Staph bacteria, also known as MRSA
One study from 2011, published in Medicinal Chemistry tested thyme oil’s effectiveness against 120 strains of bacteria isolated from patients with infections of the oral cavity, respiratory and genitourinary tracts. Results confirmed strong activity against all clinical strains, even against those that were antibiotic-resistant
Studies have also investigated the effect of thyme oil against viruses like the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) in vitro. Essential oils from eucalyptus, tea tree, and thyme were able to reduce viral infectivity by over 96 percent by inactivating free viral particles
3. Balances Hormones
Dealing with hormonal imbalances can wreak havoc on all parts of your life. When your hormones are off-balance, it can affect your energy levels, negatively impact your sex life and so much more.
Thankfully, though, there are things you can do to bring your hormones back into balance, and thyme essential oil is one of them.
Thyme essential oil impacts hormonal balance by raising levels of progesterone. Low progesterone levels can impact how fertile you are, as well as trigger things like PCOS and depression.
One study tested over 150 herbs for progesterone production that inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells. Thyme oil ranked number six for having the highest estradiol and progesterone binding effects
The grounding and balancing properties of thyme oil also keep cortisol levels in check, the hormone that is released when we’re stressed. Having too much cortisol circulating in the body can throw off the balance of our hormones and cause irregular menstrual cycles and infertility in women, as well as decreased libido.
4. May Prevent Hair Loss/Alopecia
Thyme oil has been found to potentially help with hair loss or alopecia areata, a condition that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles on the head.
One study showed that a daily scalp massage made up of a blend of thyme, cedarwood, rosemary, and lavender oils resulted in significant improvement in hair growth among subjects with alopecia areata
Thyme oil is thought to be beneficial for hair growth because it is a powerful antibacterial and antimicrobial that helps eliminate bacterial build-up on the scalp that clogs hair follicles.
It also helps increase circulation to the scalp, which delivers nutrients to hair follicles more quickly, promoting hair development.
Another way thyme oil helps with hair growth is that it contains the anti-inflammatory compounds apigenin and apigenin-7-glucoside
5. Treats Respiratory Conditions
In Germany, thyme is an officially approved treatment for coughs, upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, and whooping cough.
One study found that thyme mixed with ivy can help relieve coughing as well as short-term bronchitis. The cough-calming compounds in thyme work by relaxing tracheal and ileal muscles and reducing inflammation
Because of their volatility, essential oils like thyme oil can easily reach both the upper and lower parts of the respiratory tract via inhalation.
A study published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies found promising antibacterial activity of thyme oil against respiratory tract pathogens either in a liquid medium or in vapor phase
One study investigated the effects of thyme oil on symptoms associated with COPD. Cilia beating frequency (CBF) is dramatically impaired in COPD, so the researchers evaluated the effect of thyme extract on CBF function. They found that thyme extract is in fact effective in stimulating CBF by increasing levels of cAMP and calcium ions, which would support its therapeutical use in the treatment of COPD (13).
6. Improves Oral Health
Thyme is an excellent antibacterial and antiseptic, so it is often used in mouthwashes and toothpaste to improve oral health. Even Listerine utilizes extracts of eucalyptus, thyme, and mint in their formulations to help fight bacteria that cause plaque, gingivitis, and bad breath.
The antimicrobial activity of thyme oil, along with a few other essential oils, was tested against four oral pathogens Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus fecalis, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans. The study concluded that thyme oil can act as an effective intracanal antiseptic solution against oral pathogens
Thymol, the active component in thyme oil, is also used as a dental varnish to protect teeth from decay.
Avoid oral infections, gingivitis, and bad breath by swishing your mouth with a little bit of thyme oil in water, and then spitting out after about 30 seconds.
7. Supports the Cardiovascular System
Thyme essential oil is a stimulant, so it helps increase circulation and improves the function of the cardiovascular system. It is also able to relax the arteries and veins, thus reducing stress on the heart and lowering blood pressure.
High blood pressure is one of the main contributors to heart disease and cardiovascular morbidity. You can see why, then, that keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level is essential if you want your heart to live out a long, healthy life.
One study found that wild thyme induced a significant decrease of blood pressure and vascular resistance in hypertensive rats. The researchers postulate that the numerous polyphenolic substances and other chemical compounds found in thyme are responsible for the beneficial effects of this plant extract on the cardiovascular system
Thyme oil is also an excellent anti-inflammatory, helping relieve the effects of chronic inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease.
A study published in the Journal of Lipid Research found that carvacrol, an active constituent in thyme oil, is an effective anti-inflammatory agent with cardioprotective capabilities, which would prove beneficial for individuals with heart disease
8. Effective Bug Repellent
Thyme oil is an effective natural bug repellent. It contains insect-fighting substances called monoterpenes (carvacrol, p-cymene, linalool, alpha-terpinene, and thymol), and when applied to the skin, they help deter mosquitoes.
One study found that the topical application of thyme essential oil can provide up to 98 percent protection against the common house mosquito for nearly 82 minutes (17).
Another study demonstrated that some of the monoterpenes found in thyme essential oil out-performed DEET in repelling mosquitoes
Thyme oil is also highly effective against the common housefly, too (19).
You can also use a few drops of thyme essential oil to keep moths and beetles away from your closets and pantries. It can even be added as part of treatments used to get rid of lice, fleas, and bed bugs.
9. Eases Stress and Anxiety
If you deal with any level of stress or anxiety, you probably know how debilitating it can feel to function day in, day out.
Thankfully, thyme might be able to help.
A study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine showed that thyme extract helps lower anxiety in male rats
While further research is still needed, this may be the reason why cooking with the herb can bring about feelings of calm and relaxation.
Among the many benefits of thyme essential oil, its anti-inflammatory effects are quite well studied.
A study published in the journal Lipid Research found that thyme essential oil (along with clove, rose, eucalyptus, fennel, and bergamot) can suppress the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme in a way similar to resveratrol, the compound linked with the health benefits of red wine
The researchers go on to point out that out of all the oils, thyme oil, which is highest in carvacrol, was best at suppressing COX-2 expression (by almost 75%!), thus providing the most favorable anti-inflammatory benefits.
How to Use Thyme Essential Oil
There are a variety of ways you can use thyme essential oil. You can either use it aromatically or externally.
It is generally wise to stay away from internal uses of thyme essential oil, unless the manufacturer of the oil allows for it. For example, DoTerra and Young Living essential oils can be used internally, but it is best to inquire with the manufacturer of these oils first before consuming.
Using thyme essential oil in aromatherapy could look something like the following:
- Add a few drops of thyme essential oil to a nebulizing diffuser and diffuse it into the air to alleviate respiratory conditions and to calm stress and anxiety.
- Make a facial steamer with a warm bowl of steaming water and add 1-2 drops of thyme essential oil. Put a towel over your head, and place your head over the bowl and take deep breaths. This will help open your sinuses and treat any respiratory conditions you may be dealing with.
- Add 2-4 drops of thyme essential oil to a warm bath to help ease fatigue.
- Inhale directly from the bottle to help clear nasal passages.
- Increase circulation by inhaling or diffusing 2-3 drops of thyme oil daily.
Using thyme essential oil externally could look something like the following:
- Clear conditions of the skin by adding 1 drop of thyme essential oil to a carrier like jojoba oil (one of the best oils for the skin). Rub into the skin one to two times daily.
- To kill toe fungus, add 5 drops of thyme essential oil to a warm foot bath.
- To ease menstrual cramps, rub a few drops of thyme essential oil with a few drops of carrier oil (like jojoba, almond, or grapeseed oil) onto the abdomen.
- Use as a mouthwash by adding 2 drops of thyme oil to water, swish in the mouth, and then spit out.
- Kill infections and rashes by rubbing 2 drops of thyme oil to the area as needed.
- Add 5-10 drops of thyme essential oil to a spray bottle with 1/2 cup witch hazel, and use this as a bug spray.
- Use as a scalp treatment to encourage hair growth by mixing 3-5 drops of thyme essential oil with 1/2 cup of carrier oil like jojoba oil or grapeseed oil. You can also add a few drops of lavender, rosemary, and cedarwood essential oil to the mix to enhance hair growth even more. Massage a small amount of this mix into the scalp every day for about 10 minutes. Leave on for an hour or overnight, and then wash out with a mild shampoo and conditioner the next day. This may take several months to work, so you need to be patient. Discontinue if your scalp becomes irritated.
Thyme Essential Oil Risks and Precautions
Thyme is likely safe when consumed in normal food amounts in children and adults, and is possibly safe when taken internally as medicine for short periods of time. In some individuals, thyme can cause digestive upset, headache, or dizziness.
Thyme oil, when applied to the skin, is possibly safe, though in some individuals it can cause irritation. This is why it is advised to mix with a carrier oil like almond or jojoba oil and test it on a small patch on your arm to make sure you’re not sensitive.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, thyme can be consumed in normal food amounts but should be avoided in larger medicinal quantities.
Individuals who are allergic to mint, oregano, or other Lamiaceae species might also be allergic to thyme and thyme essential oil.
Do not take thyme if you have a bleeding disorder, s thyme might slow blood clotting. If taken in large amounts, thyme can increase your risk of bleeding. For this reason, you should stop taking thyme or thyme oil at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Thyme may interact with medications that slow blood-clotting (anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, clopidogrel, diclofenac, naproxen, dalteparin, heparin, warfarin, and others.
Thyme may also act like estrogen in the body, so if you have any condition that is made worse by excess estrogen exposure, don’t use thyme.
Thyme oil is generally considered unsafe for pets, so if you choose to diffuse it, make sure it is in a room a pet does not go into, or avoid diffusing at all.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of thyme oil have long been recognized for thousands of years. It helps treat conditions of the respiratory tract, kills bacteria and infections, clears skin conditions and more.
The main constituent of thyme oil, thymol, lends most of its benefits to the plant.
You can use thyme oil externally or as an aromatherapeutic agent. Unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer, you should avoid using thyme oil internally.