THYME – the Plant & the Essential Oil

A swan planter in the garden with flowering Thyme and two bottles of Thyme oil.

Thyme seems straightforward and accurate, but it has confusing common names, complex chemistry, and sometimes opposite uses of the various chemotypes.

By Jeanne Rose ~ 8-30-23

COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL ~ Thymus vulgaris, Thymus mastichina, and Thymus satureioides

 Other Common Name/Naming Information ~ The word “thyme” originates from the Greek word thumos, which means “courage.” During the Middle Ages, it was given to jousting knights for courage in personal combat, and a sprig of the herb was carried into courtrooms to ward off diseases. During Medieval times, Thyme was considered an emblem of bravery. The word thyme may also be derived from the Greek word thymos, meaning “perfume.” and was used as incense in Greek temples. The Egyptians used it in the embalming process. The species name, vulgaris, is Latin and means “common” or “widespread.” 1.

. .. see also Herbs & Things

Family ~ Lamiaceae. Other notable members of this family are Lavender, Sage, Melissa, Savory, Oregano, Mint, Patchouli, Basil, and more.2.

COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ France and Spain, although it is now grown in multiple countries.

ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ Thankfully, this plant species is considered of >Least Concern< as it is so easy to grow in multiple locations. However, knowing what chemotype you may be growing will require a laboratory test and/or some scent training.


THYME GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH ~ Perennial dwarf shrub that grows to twelve inches in height, with woody stems, tiny, slightly woolly leaves, and pink-to-lilac flowers. It is good to correctly identify this plant and be able to distinguish between multiple species and even from some of the Oregano and Marjoram types.


PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS & YIELD ~  The flowering tops of Thymus vulgaris (CT not defined) are steam distilled. 

Yield ~  0.7-1.0%.                               

Two bottles of Thyme oil showing Chemotype Borneol and Chemotype Linalol

Two Thymes

Sensory Aspects of 3 Chemotypes of Thyme oil

• •

THYME ODOR DESCRIPTIONS & ODOR ASSESSMENT ~ The borneol chemotype of Thyme smells herbaceous and floral with a back note that is lightly camphoraceous. The linaloöl chemotype of Thyme smells herbaceous, fruity & floral but not camphoraceous. The usual Thyme you will obtain is the carvacrol or cymene type, and I suggest you do not try to taste it. It is often called Red Thyme because of the color of the essential oil, the intensity of odor, and the strong irritating taste. However, this is the one that you may want in a hydrosol when you have a cold. See the hydrosol section for more information.  

CHEMICAL COMPONENTS ~ The main chemical components are a-thujone, a-pinene, b-pinene, Camphene, p-cymene, a-terpinene, linaloöl, borneol, b-caryophyllene, thymol and carvacrol. The terpenoid phenol Thymol, Isomer Carvacrol, and Cymol (used in 1855), now called paracymene, Linaloöl, and Camphene are all chemotypes of Thyme.  

The chemical name and symbol of carvacrol

 CHEMOTYPES  – There are many species, varieties, and chemotypes of Thyme, and they are extensively discussed in either of the two reference works mentioned in the Reference Section. In brief, here are the actions of these chemotypes.

Thymus vulgaris – [See also  375 Essential Oils  & Hydrosols] 

*Thyme CT borneol (alcohol•mono-terpenol) – from Thymus satureioides, also with carvacrol, inhaled to assist in the treatment of bulimia, chronic infections, and fatigue.

Thyme CT carvacrol (phenol) – warming and active,  used as an anti-infection agent in lotions or the herb in tea. Any plant with significant amounts of carvacrol will work this way.

Thyme CT cineole (oxide) – from Thymus mastichina, called Wild Marjoram, inhaled and taken to decongest the lungs and for chronic bronchitis.

Thyme CT citral (aldehyde composed of neral & geranial) – from Thymus hiemalis and others. Contains up to 34% citral, an antiviral when applied, and calming if inhaled.

Thyme CT geraniol – milder than some and valuable in skin products for acne or eczema or for problems of the ear, nose, and throat or taken internally for blood infections.

*Thyme CT linaloöl (alcohol•mono-terpenol) – the scent is warm, herbaceous, and floral with powder notes and used in products or taken for fungal infections. Thymus officinalis CT linaloöl is from the herbal tops. It is steam-distilled in France and organically grown. This EO with up to 80% linaloöl is gentle enough for children’s skin and is used in skincare products as an antiseptic and disinfectant and in blends for mood swings, mental inconsistency, and energy fluctuations.

Thyme CT paracymene (monoterpene) – from Thymus serpyllum, in blends as an antiseptic and inhaled as a tonic stimulant and pain reliever in massage blends.

Thyme CT para-Cymol is the older discarded non-systematic name for this chemical, now called Thyme CT thujanol (alcohol•mono-terpenol) – This type is a powerful antibacterial, and it is used for external male and female problems such as venereal warts and herpes.

Thyme CT thymol (phenol) – from T. vulgaris and T. zygis and oftener called Spanish Thyme. A major anti-infective,  it is used in lotions and creams or applied externally; it reduces infection. However, this is a significant skin irritant and can only be used highly diluted.

Thyme CT phenol (carbolic acid). See also carvacrol, chavicol, eugenol, and thymol.  

And I should also mention more about  Thymus mastichina, aka Sweet Marjoram. It is a species of Thyme considered to have chemical polymorphism of its main components, which determine the specific chemotype. Still, it also has other oil components that can vary depending on several growing factors responsible for quality. It has a gentle and pleasant scent and can be used for massage and skincare treatments. It is considered anti-bacterial and anti-infectious, as well as being a fungicide. It is a lovely herb and essential oil to know and use.

A chart of 4 types of Thyme oil explaining the chemistry, scent description  and medicinal uses.


Thyme linalol oil and Thyme CT linalol growing in the garden




(by IG=ingestion or IN=inhalation or AP=application) ~

Thyme types (see Chart and Chemotypes)

Ingestion:  Thyme oil is antibiotic, antiseptic, antiviral, tonic, diuretic, vermifuge, and immuno-stimulant.  

Inhalation:      Antidepressant, tonic, expectorant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, balsamic, anti-infectious, rubefacient, and immuno-stimulant.
Application: Antiseptic, antibiotic, circulatory stimulant, pectoral, analgesic, expectorant, balsamic, anti-infectious, antiviral, tonic, rubefacient, diuretic, emmenagogue, vermifuge, antivenom, cleanser of skin, antispasmodic, antifungal, and immuno-stimulant.

Thyme CT borneol – An immune stimulant that is useful in respiratory formulas that are taken internally. This would be part of the formula, maybe 20% with Ammi visnaga, Tanacetum annuum, & a Mandarin type of oil.

Thyme CT linaloöl An antibacterial that is gentle enough for skin care and all skin care products. The only one that should be used in handwash products for children.


PHYSICAL USES & HOW USED (IG OR AP) ~ These uses generally hold true. Remember that there are many varieties and chemotypes of Thyme, and you must know what you are using. See the chart and the Chemotypes descriptions as listed above.  

    Application:    Thyme oil can be used on the body, face, and room surfaces as an antiseptic. It stimulates circulation for muscular pains, arthritis, poor circulation, physical exhaustion, and muscular debility. It can be used to clean wounds and burns. It is helpful for all infections, viral and bacterial. Thyme oil may be used for otitis, vaginitis, obesity, gout, acne, thrush, verruca, and warts to kill external parasites and hair loss. Thyme oil is helpful for all problems of the ear, nose, throat, and lungs.    

Ingestion: Throat infections, gum infections, anorexia, viruses in the blood, urethritis, cystitis, and cervicitis.          

Inhalation: Thyme oil stimulates the respiratory system, relieves the spasms of asthma, is antiseptic, clears mucous congestion, and is used for general debility and physical exhaustion. It also kills airborne bacteria.


EMOTIONAL USES (AP OR IN) ~ Thyme oil is mildly sedating and may be used in blends by application or inhalation for insomnia. It can also be uplifting and relieve depression. However, this essential oil can cause skin irritation, yet it helps with concentration and focus on particular situations when inhaled. Blend with gentle essential oils and then dilute with a carrier before use.  

Diffuse/Diffusion ~ Emotional/Energetic Use ~ The mystery of aromatherapy —Get to know this elusive essence in all its various chemotypes, as it can create multiple emotional and physical changes. Thyme Ct linaloöl is used energetically for mood swings, mental inconsistency, and energy fluctuations.  

BLENDING & PERFUMERY ~ I personally do not use most Thyme essential oil chemotypes in perfumery but do use them in blends, massage blends, or inhalation blends. I have used Thyme linaloöl in a masculine perfume-type aftershave lotion.

Thyme blends Best with most Citrus and Mediterranean oils such as Rosemary, Marjoram, and Mints. In areas where very hot weather prevails and at lower elevations, the Chemotype of carvacrol, cymene, and thymol may prevail and are powerful skin and mucous membrane irritants. This is a’‘hot’ type of Thyme and should be carefully diluted before use. These essential oil types are quite effective at very low concentrations and should not be formulated into perfumes or applied directly.

Blending Formula – You can incorporate the linaloöl type into a lovely masculine perfume or skincare product like an aftershave.

This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals. 

HYDROSOL USE ~ Be very careful of the Thyme hydrosol that you use. The different chemotypes are very different in intensity and in use. They have some of the same active properties as its essential oil but also include herbal properties. For colds, flu, or infection, take 1 t. diluted in water every other hour while awake for the first day and less on succeeding days as you get better. For external use on any type of skin infection, use the hydrosol by adding to the water that you wash with or make a compress and apply.            

Thyme hydrosol can be a powerful germicide and can be used as a mouthwash, to flavor foods, and as a wash or disinfectant and antiseptic for wounds.            

Thyme CT linaloöl hydrosol is the gentlest Thyme type of hydrosol. It is antiseptic and antifungal and can be recommended for soothing skin infections, acne, insect bites, and cleaning wounds. It can be antiviral when taken internally.            

PLEASE NOTE -A true hydrosol should be explicitly distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components. Most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using fresh plant material.  

a scroll

Distillation, as such, is an entirely natural phenomenon. When raising your head, you look at the clouds in the sky; those are but the evaporation visible patterns. And when you tread upon the early morning dew, it is the condensate of the night. “…  Georges Ferrando


HERBAL USE ~ I am able to grow Thymus prostratus, the creeping Thyme in my garden. The flowers and the leaves are edible and tasty, and this plant doesn’t lose its flavor when blooming. Easy and pretty to grow.

Thymus prostratus in the garden

Thymus prostratus in Jeanne Rose garden

HISTORICAL USES ~ As a medicinal and flavorant.  

INTERESTING FACTS ~ “Thyme was used medicinally by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Most present-day research has centered on Thyme’s ability as an antibacterial and anti-infectious agent, even when diffused in the air. There are several species of Thyme oil in use, and although the strongest is red Thyme with carvacrol/thymol and the gentlest is Thyme with linaloöl, their uses are often the same. The difference is in their relative strength. [See Herbs & Things for herbal information.]             The plant Thymus mastichina is usually listed under the Marjoram category, as the common name is Sweet Marjoram.  [see ]

Swan planter in the garden with Thyme prior to flowering.

Swan planter with Thyme  plant before flowering


KEY USE ~ As an antiseptic and antibiotic.

Moderation in All Things.

Be moderate in your use of essential oils, as they are just not sustainable for the environment. Be selective and more moderate in your usage.
Use the herb first as tea or the infusion. —JeanneRose 2014

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS ~ Some say do not use during pregnancy. 
Best used diluted as Thyme oil may cause skin irritations.


  1. From Wikipedia

2. Page 39, 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols


Copeland, Dawn. Essential Oil Profiles for The Aromatherapy Studies Course

Miller, Richard & Ann. The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop. Acres USA. Kansas City. 1985.

Mojay, Gabriel. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Rochester, Vermont:  Healing Arts Press,

Prakash, V. Leafy Spices. CRC Press. NY. 1990

Rose, Jeanne. Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose, Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies, 1992.

Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999

Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California:

Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. [currently out of print]



SOME CAUTIONS TO REMEMBER for all Plants and their Parts

Patch Test:  If applying a new essential oil to your skin, always perform a patch test on the inner arm (after diluting the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then, apply a loose band-aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas.—The Aromatherapy Book, Applications &  Inhalations, p. 64

Contradictions:    This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Dosages are often not given, as that matters between you and your healthcare provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies  – Jeanne Rose©  

Thank you for reading and your comments.