It’s About Thyme
Do you like to include fresh herbs in your cooking? Most cooks know that herbs and spices can help bring an otherwise ho-hum dish alive. What about dried herbs? Are they a staple in your kitchen? I certainly hope so. For one thing, using herbs is one way to bring out the flavors in foods without relying on added salt. But the benefits of herbs don’t end there. Consider the benefits of just one popular culinary herb: thyme.
This Mediterranean native is a hardy perennial plant that comes in many different strains and species. Perhaps the best known is thymus vulgaris, or “common thyme.” This fragrant perennial grows like a weed in the sun-drenched soils of the Mediterranean basin. It was revered by everyone from the ancient Egyptians to the ancient Greeks, and it’s still a staple of good home cooking in places like Provence, in the south of France, where—along with a few other important aromatic herbs—it forms the basis of the seasoning mixes known as “herbes de Provence” and “bouquet garni”.
Of course, you can use it in sachets, for its lovely minty/piney fragrance alone, or add it fresh or dried to savory foods of all kinds. But don’t think that thyme is only good for seasoning food or adding fragrance to your home. This hardy plant has so much more going for it, including some substantial medicinal properties. In fact, when it comes to “superfoods” and “functional foods” most experts refer to things like blueberries, pomegranate, broccoli, or some other fruits or vegetables. But most fail to acknowledge that certain herbs are also highly beneficial, functional foods.
Thyme oil, for example, is a potent antiseptic and antibiotic. It’s been proven to kill the bacteria that cause acne. When applied to the skin, it’s been shown to be as effective—if not more so—than prescription-strength acne medication. Certain commercial mouthwashes make good use of thymol (an extract of thyme) to provide antisepsis. Before the age of modern antibiotics, healers frequently relied on thyme extract to enhance would healing and prevent infection.
And research suggests that when you consume thyme, you may be helping prevent colon cancer. Along with other fragrant herbs, such as rosemary, sage and spearmint, thyme has been shown to significantly inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells in the laboratory. That may not be direct proof that consuming these herbs can help prevent the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but given that it tastes good too, it certainly can’t hurt to sprinkle in a little thyme next time you cook.
Yi W1, Wetzstein HY. Anti-tumorigenic activity of five culinary and medicinal herbs grown under greenhouse conditions and their combination effects. J Sci Food Agric. 2011 Aug 15;91(10):1849-54. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.4394. Epub 2011 Mar 30.