News on the spotlight Do we really know the thyme in our herbal teas?

The thyme from Provence that our grandmothers used to pick up to make herbal tea is a powerful disinfectant used for diseases such as flu or cold snap; but do we really know which one is better?

5 February 2019by phyto-admin

Do we really know the thyme we drink in our herbal tea? Not at all!
There are over 40 different varieties of thyme commonly used in agriculture. The main ones are: Thymus vulgaris, Thymus citriodorus, Thymus satureioides cosson, Thymus zygis, and so on. All of these varieties are cultivated in Western Europe, and mainly around the Mediterranean basin. Since ancient Egypt times, thyme is normally used for cooking, to spice up our food; but also as herbal teas as essential oils, hydrolats, and extracts.

In most cases, thyme is active for ENT and digestive problems; and currently the European Commission has even counseled its use for throat and sinus inflammations, for bronchitis and pertussis symptoms, and for the liver.

Concerning the so-called “vulgar” thyme (or Thymus vulgaris), it is customary to classify these varieties according to their content of active molecules as follows:

Academic name Common name
Thymus vulgaris L. thymoliferum thymol
Thymus vulgaris L carvacroliferum carvacrol
Thymus vulgaris L. geranioliferum geraniol thyme
Thymus vulgaris L. linaloliferum linalool thyme
Thymus vulgaris L. paracymeniferum para-Cymene thyme
Thymus vulgaris L. thajanoliferum thujanol thyme
Thymus vulgaris L. terpineoliferum alpha-terpineol thyme

Their efficacy is determined by the main molecules that make up thymol or carvacrol. So we can easily classify their “power” according to the properties of the main molecules as follows:

Molecules  
thymol Phenol (antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal or antimycotic)
carvacrol Monoterpene phenol (antimicrobial properties)
geraniol Unsaturated terpenic alcohol (insect repellent, perfumery)
linalool Terpene Alcohol (perfumery)
para-Cymene Monoterpene family (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-infective)
thujanol Monoterpenic alcohol (against ENT infections, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal)
alpha-terpineol Monoterpenic alcohol (antioxidant, antiseptic)
borneol Terpene alcohol (analgesic, anesthetic)
eucalyptol or cineole Monoterpene cyclic ether (inflammation of respiratory tract and perfumery)
limonene Terpene hydrocarbon (insecticide and perfumery)
terpinene-1-ol-4 Terpene alcohol (antioxidant effect, antiseptic)

In February 2018, the European Commission recognized thyme from Provence as a protected geographical indication (PGI).
PGI. The protected geographical indication applies to agricultural products tied to a specific geographical area. This doesn’t mean that the product is produced or raised in this area: it can even be only processed there.

For instance, Provencal thyme is part of the Thymus vulgaris group which contains 7 varieties, depending on the chemical composition. Although they are generally all “disinfectants”, some have specific properties and a different taste. It is therefore recommended to find out beforehand to avoid disappointments, mainly with the use of essential oils.

When you pick it up yourself, you should be aware that its composition will depend on altitude and dry conditions. This may explain why some varieties are more active than others on minor health disorders mentioned above.

  • Thymol thyme can be found in all types of soils where thyme can grow, from very hot and dry soils to more humid ones. The thymol family is the most common, but less consistent, and is often associated with other varieties.
  • Carvacrol thyme is found mainly in extremely hot and dry conditions.
  • Linalool thyme is found in all thyme areas, mainly in mid-mountain environments, with high atmospheric humidity.
  • Thujanol thyme, less abundant, is half way between linalool and geraniol.
  • Geraniol thyme, not very abundant, is well adapted to harsh altitude conditions (1,000 m).
  • Para-Cymene thyme is a predecessor to the botanical biosynthesis of carvacrol and thymol.

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