Plants have been used for medicinal purposes throughout the history of mankind. Thyme, an herb in the mint family, is one such plant. Historically, thyme was used as an embalming agent and natural antiseptic. Modern science has extracted the active chemical ingredient in thyme oil — thymol — for use in preparations ranging from toothpaste to mouthwash to topical ointments and other medicated substances.
Thymol is found in oil of thyme, thyme extract and as a distinct isolated chemical compound, is a proven antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial substance. It damages the cell walls of bacteria and fungi. The damage caused to the cell walls inhibits the microorganisms from causing disease or illness. While not officially proven, the same properties that inhibit bacteria and fungi may also work against internal parasites like hookworms.
There are several common preparations for thymol. As a topical ointment, it is applied directly to an external area of the skin as is the case with nail fungus or ringworm. As a tea or tisane, this plant is added to boiling water to treat internal maladies, such as throat infections or gingivitis. The compound can also be suspended in a solution of isopropyl alcohol for direct application to hands or inanimate objects.
Thymol is prevalent in alcohol-free hand sanitizers because of its medicinal properties. It also has limited use as a pesticide and animal repellent. It can also be used on all-natural medicated bandages to reduce the likelihood of infection. Crushed thyme can be used in place of pure thymol; both contain the same compound, and the only minute differences between thyme and thymol lay in the arrangement of molecules in the substances.
In addition to its medicinal uses, it is used in cooking as a flavoring agent or enhancer. Because it is a naturally occurring substance that is found in a plant used in culinary applications, it has a high margin of safety. Despite this, it is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor, naturopath or another qualified health care professional before ingesting this plant.
Although side effects are rare, an allergic reaction can occur in sensitive people. Itching, rashes, hives and difficulty breathing are just some of the symptoms a person might experience if she is allergic to this substance or the plant it is derived from. Mild gastrointestinal upset may occur if it is taken internally. Emergency medical treatment should be sought in the event of an adverse reaction.