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Thyme History – Name Origins

(Thymus vularis)

Thyme Plant

Thyme Plant

There are a number of theories as to the origins of the name thyme. Most agree that the name Thyme is derived from the Greek thumos and/or the Latin fumus which both mean smoke. After that, thyme history and the origins of its name get a bit muddled.

The reference to smoke might be due its use in sacrifices or because of its fragrant odor; which some scholars also tie with the word fumigate.

Thumos can also signify courage. The Greeks and others considered thyme an emblem of bravery. Ladies, in the days of chivalry and knights, would often embroider a bee hovering above a spray of thyme upon scarves that they would present to their chosen protector.

In writing our thyme history, we found another references that said the word thyme is derived from the Greek word thyo which means sacrifice since it was used to perfume their temples. The Greeks also associated thyme with style and elegance.

Yet another theory on thyme history and its name origin comes from Tournefort (1656 – 1708), who says that the name thyme comes ‘from the mind‘ because it was used as a treatment for fainting.

History of Thyme – Folklore

A great deal of thyme history and folklore centers around Biblical and saintly references. “Our Lady’s bed-straw”, the manger where Mary gave birth to the infant Jesus, was said to have included thyme, woodroof, and groundsel. Thyme and rosemary were used on St. Agnes’ Eve with this verse:

“St. Agnesm that’s to lovers kind,
Come, ease the troubles of my mind.”

Thyme was a key ingredient of a favorite vision-inducing love potion. On St. Luke’s Day, October 18th, young girls were to do the following:

“Take marigold flowers, a sprig of
marjoram, thyme, and a little wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them
to powder, then sift it through a fine piece of lawn; simmer these with
a small quantity of virgin honey, in white vinegar, over a slow fire;
with this anoint your stomach, breasts, and lips, lying down, and repeat
these words thrice:–
‘St Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,
In dream let me my true love see!’
This said, hasten to sleep, and in the soft slumbers of night’s repose,

the very man whom you shall marry shall appear before you.”

Danish and German folklore list patches of wild thyme as a favorite place to find fairies. Thyme oil was a major component of an ‘ungent’ which enabled the user to see fairies but only if the thyme was gathered “neare the side of a hill where fayries used to be.”

Thyme History – Natural & Medicinal Uses of Thyme.

According to the writings of Horace (65 BC – 8 BC), the Romans grew thyme extensively for bee culture.

Thyme is known to produce flowers that are male on the first day and female on the second along with flowers that are decidedly only female. Muller believed this was the plant’s way of attracting insects first to the more showy male pollen-bearing flower prior to visiting the less conspicuous female flowers. This theory was mentioned by Neltje Blanchan in 1900, and as far as our research indicates, this theory remains unproven.

Virgil, in his Eclogue, recommends the use of thyme to combat fatigue.

“Thestlis for mowers tired with parching heat
Garlic and Thyme, strong smelling herbs, doth beat.”

Thyme oil was once prescribed for use as an inhalant to treat consumption.

Culpepper recommended thyme as a remedy for nightmares.

Dr. Neovius, wrote in a Finnish Journal about the effectiveness of thyme in combatting whooping cough. He advocated giving fresh thyme with a little syrup to conquer symptoms within 2-3 days and completely expel the disease within 2 weeks.

Thymol, a primary component of thyme oil is valued for its disinfecting properties, as an affective treatment for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, as an inhalant to treat septic sore throat from scarlet fever and ringworm. The disinfecting properties of thyme is said to be up to 12 times as powerful as carbolic acid.

Additional Thyme Information.

Our Herb Garden also has information on Growing Thyme and a Thyme Companion Planting Guide. We also have an extensive article on the different varieties of creeping thyme.

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