(adapted from Kitchen MedicineHome Remedies, p173)

This is a native Mediterranean herb, and in Ancient Greece its given name meant both ‘strong’ and ‘cleansing’. As a herbal medicine, common or garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) still embodies these qualities, especially in treating respiratory and digestive systems, accompanied by a sweet and uplifting aroma that is itself healing and restorative.

Peter Holmes, a contemporary American herbalist, notes that in common with marjoram, sage and other Mediterranean native aromatics, thyme best releases its ‘warm, dry, bitter and pungent principles’ as a tincture or essential oil.

Thyme’s main essential oil, thymol, is known to be twenty times stronger than phenol (carbolic), the standard medical antiseptic. Thymol was first isolated in Germany in 1725, almost three hundred years ago, and has been in pharmaceutical use ever since.

Chewing fresh or dried thyme leaves brings emergency relief at home for toothache or inflamed gums; Holmes calls thyme mouthwash ‘a stronger anesthetic for mouth, gums and teeth than Clove’.

As a kitchen medicine, thyme is well known as a respiratory herb, which as a tea, vinegar, syrup, tincture – or indeed za’atar (see recipe) improves expectoration and relieves coughs and wheezing.

Thyme is almost as essential as salt in the diet.
– Margaret Roberts, Margaret Roberts’ Book of Herbs (1983)

This [list of attributes] elevates the humble thyme into one of the finest remedies for the lungs.
– Peter Holmes, The Energetics of Western Herbs (1989)

Thyme cough syrup

Mix 2 parts dried thyme, 1 part fennel, 1 part licorice and 0.5 part poppy seed.

Bring these to a boil in a pan of water, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the herbs and continue the simmer until the liquid has reduced by at least a half and a natural syrup has formed.

Use ad lib for sore throat, deep cough or asthma.


This is the Arabic name for wild thyme and also of a classic Middle Eastern spicy paste or condiment. We have simplified the recipe as follows:

Assemble 2 parts thyme (fresh or dried leaf), 1 part coriander seeds, 1 part roasted sesame seeds and 0.5 part rock salt. Pound these in a mortar and add olive oil to achieve a paste consistency. Serve with more oil on pitta or other bread.