As part of the Winterise your body I have been covering some herbs that might help protect or help alleviate symptoms should you get a cold or other infection. Although we are now in the season to be merry…. there is an increased opportunity for interaction between strangers and we also tend to get more friendly at this time of the year… hugging and kissing friends and family may get you more than you bargained for.
If this is the case then having Thyme in your natural medicine cabinet is useful and as a side benefit it might help if you are going a bit thin on top…
It is also a wonderfully healthy ingredient to your cooking as you will see.
This versatile herb can be used to flavour many wonderful dishes. As with most of our herbs, thyme has a long and revered history medicinally and if you had been a prominent Egyptian the herb would have been used to embalm you. Since the herb has antibacterial and antifungal properties it would have helped preserve the bodies beautifully.
The Greeks and Romans used thyme as a purifier, burning it as incense in rooms and added to their bathwater. It was also added to food such as cheese and alcohol – again probably because of its antibacterial properties and it may well be one of the first natural preservatives used in food manufacture.
It became better known in Britain in the 17th century and healers used the herb to relieve the symptoms of whooping cough, breathing difficulties, gout and mild stomach complaints. The oil has been used externally to help heal abscesses and during the First World War it was used to treat infections and relieve pain, as there were no antibiotics at that time.
Today the herb is cultivated all around the world and apart from cooking and medicine it is used in the manufacture of cosmetics and perfume.
How does thyme help the lungs?
As humans we have a sophisticated defence system to try and get rid of harmful substances before they can damage us. The cough reflex is an automatic response to mucus and infection in the lungs. Thyme helps the body with that job, and acts as an expectorant loosening the congestion and generally supporting the respiratory system. It also helps soothe coughs allowing a more effective use of the response, allowing the airways to get rid of more mucous. It is particularly beneficial for emphysema and chronic bronchitis sufferers. It can also be used in conjunction with other herbs such as cowslip to aid the absorption of thyme but also as an expectorant.
The list of thyme’s medicinal properties is quite lengthy but apart from its antibacterial uses it also is anti-fungal, antiseptic, antiparasitic, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, immune boosting, sedating or stimulating according to dosage and is a tonic.
As well as upper respiratory infections and lung conditions it has also been used medicinally to treat colic, depression, arthritis, eating disorders, ear infections, gastritis, hay-fever, headaches, heartburn, parasites, shingles , tooth decay and tetanus. There is traditional use for bed-wetting in children but as it is also a mild diuretic I would want to see evidence of that. It does however; disinfect the urine which can be helpful for those who suffer frequent bouts of cystitis.
Taken an hour before meals, it may stimulate the appetite, useful for someone who is elderly or recovering from illness.
A useful treatment is one for alopecia – so if you are going a little thin on top you might want to try a little of the oil in your shampoo and conditioner. Might save you from resorting to other less effective methods..
The plant contains some helpful nutrients, the primary being Vitamin K which is why this herb does need to be used with caution. Because it is so important to be aware of the ingredients of any herb that you take, here is a brief description of Vitamin K and its actions on the body.
There are two forms of the vitamin that the body can utilise. One is K1 (phylloquinone), which is from plant sources and the other is K2 (menaquinone) which is produced by bacteria in our own intestines. This is where many of us get into trouble because we are not eating sufficient raw and unprocessed foods for health and additionally many of us suffer from bacterial imbalances in the gut so do not produce sufficient from that source either.
The vitamin is fat-soluble and is stored in the liver. Studies indicate that approximately 50% of the stores come from our diet and the balance from bacteria in the intestines. We need healthy bile production for efficient absorption of Vitamin K and for our lymphatic system to circulate it throughout the body.
Apart from helping reduce excessive bleeding during menstruation it is also used therapeutically for the prevention of internal bleeding and haemorrhages including emergency treatment for overdoses of blood thinners such as Warfarin.
Blood clotting is a critical function in the body that solidifies blood to prevent us from bleeding to death from external or internal injuries. Vitamin K is essential for the production of a protein called prothrombin and other factors involved in the blood-clotting function, and is therefore necessary to prevent excessive blood loss. Also interestingly Vitamin K also activates other enzymes that decrease the clotting ability so it assumes the role of regulator within the blood stream. An example of this might be if a clot forms within a blood vessel that could block the flow and needs to be dispersed.
The vitamin has also been the subject of a great deal of research in recent years as scientists discovered that it played a significant role in liver function, energy production in the nervous system and in preventing bone loss as we age by assisting the absorption of calcium.
Vitamin K is needed to activate osteocalcin, the protein that anchors calcium into the bone, building and repairing the structure. A deficiency in the vitamin can therefore lead to brittle bones and osteoporosis.
As the vitamin works within the body it changes from function to function according to the various interactions with enzymes and at one stage it acts as an antioxidant preventing oxidative damage to cells. There may also be a role for the vitamin in cancer prevention as it is believed it may stimulate rogue cells to self-destruct.
When not to take Thyme as an herbal remedy.
Because of the high Vitamin K content and the effect on blood clotting you need to stop taking at least three weeks before having surgery. If you are also on medication that has this effect then you should not take the herb. For example, many people from middle age onwards are now being prescribed low dose aspirin to thin the blood so you should not take Thyme in an herbal form. Warfarin is a high dose anticoagulant and it would be dangerous to combine the two.
If in any doubt consult your doctor and always before taking any herbal remedy or check with a qualified advisor. If you feel that the person you have asked, in a health food shop for example does not appear to be informed, then, there should be an herbal reference guide in all dispensaries that gives the action and precautions of every remedy they sell. If they do not have a guide for you to read then buy somewhere else. I have worked with A. Vogel herbal remedies for over 20 years. http://www.avogel.co.uk/herbal-remedies/ivy-thyme-complex/ is one you might try.
Read the instructions for dosage on the bottle which is dependent on age and health.
The other nutrients in Thyme that make it a useful component in your diet are; iron, manganese, calcium, and tryptophan.
Thyme is a versatile herb and it is wonderful with meat dishes. It is quite pungent so take care when using fresh thyme and only use a little at time.
If you have a cold I suggest making a tea with a small amount of leaves, seep for five minutes and then add fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of honey. You will find it not only refreshing but it may also help prevent your infection reaching the next level.
You can buy thyme in capsule form and it often comes with another herb called fenugreek which is another expectorant and herb used in the treatment of lung disorders. The oil is used externally and is very warming when rubbed on the chest during bronchitis or pneumonia.
And on a lighter note…..