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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
There are two main types of thyme essential oil that are used in aromatherapy; these are sweet thyme and red thyme.  Both types of thyme oil have therapeutic properties and uses in aromatherapy practice.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a member of the Lamiaceae plant family; it is native to the Mediterranean region but is now found in Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, the United States, Russia, central Europe, China and Israel.  It was a medicinal herb that was known to many ancient civilizations, including Hippocrates, the “father of medicine.”

Botanical Description of Thyme

Thyme is a perennial, evergreen herb which grows up to 18 inches high; the small, oval shaped , gray-green leaves of thyme are highly aromatic.  The flowers of thyme are white or pale pink/purple in color.  Thyme is named for its fragrant aroma; it takes its name from the Greek word thymos which means to perfume.

Types of Thyme Essential Oil

Thyme produces a number of essential oils;  thyme essential oil extracted from the plant may exhibit different chemical compositions, depending on the location in which the plant is grown.  The most common thyme oil for aromatherapy use is sweet (common) thyme essential oil; red thyme essential oil is more aggressive in its chemical make-up.  There are also other varieties of essential oils produced from the distillation of the herb thyme and it is important to correctly identify each essential oil before using.

How to Identify Different Types of Thyme Essential Oil

Thyme essential oil is water or steam distilled from the fresh or dried flowers or leaves of the plant.  Red thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol) is the crude distillate of the distillation process; common or sweet thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct linalool) is the “second” distillation of the herb.  Sweet thyme essential oil is yellow in color with a sweet, herbaceous aroma;  red thyme essential oil is brown-orange in color with a spicy, herbaceous aroma.

Use of Red Thyme Oil in Aromatherapy

Red Thyme essential oil is anti-bacterial, anti-infectious, anti-fungal, a mental stimulant, antiseptic, expectorant and mucolytic; in aromatherapy, it is used to treat sinusitis, influenza, tonsillitis, rheumatism, asthma, sciatica, depression, stress, acne and wounds.  Red thyme essential oil has strong antiseptic properties but has a number of cautions for its use.

Use of Sweet Thyme Oil in Aromatherapy

Sweet thyme essential oil is highly antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral in its actions.  Sweet thyme essential oil is used to treat bronchitis, eczema, rheumatism, psoriasis, viral infections, insomnia, poor circulation, anxiety, sinusitis and it is used as uterine tonic in childbirth.  During World War I, sweet thyme was used as disinfectant in hospitals due to its powerful antiseptic properties.

Cautions for Using Thyme Essential Oil

Sweet, or common, thyme essential oil is less toxic than red thyme essential oil; it is a non-irritant.  Sweet thyme essential oil is mainly made up of alcohols, which makes it a gentler alternative for use with the elderly and children.  However, sweet thyme essential oil is still contra-indicated for use with high blood pressure and in pregnancy (until the onset of labor, as it is a uterine tonic).

Red thyme essential oil is primarily composed of the chemical component of phenols, which makes it more likely to cause skin irritations, and therefore it should be used with caution; it should also be avoided in pregnancy and by those with high blood pressure.  Consult a qualified professional for further advice.


– Caddy, Rosemary 1997 Essential Oils in Colour UK: Amberwood Publishing Ltd
– Davis, Patricia 1999 Aromatherapy An A-Z UK: Vermillion
– Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK:Thorsons

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Thyme Essential Oil

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

CopyrightSharonFalsetto2010 All Rights Reserved
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