Thyme





The Wild English thyme (Thymus serpyllum) belongs to the

Labiate plants, and takes its second title from a Greek verb

signifying to creep, which has reference to the procumbent habit

of the plant. It bears the appellation Brotherwort.



Typically the Thymus serpyllum flourishes abundantly on hills,

heaths, and grassy places, having woody stems, small fringed

leaves, and heads of purple flowers which diffuse a sweet perfume

into the surrounding air, [561] especially in hot weather.

Shakespeare's well known line alludes to this pleasant fact: I know

a bank where the wild Thyme grows.



The name Thyme is derived from the Greek thumos, as identical

with the Latin fumus, smoke, having reference to the ancient use

of Thyme in sacrifices, because of its fragrant odour; or, it may be,

as signifying courage (thumos), which its cordial qualities inspire.

With the Greeks Thyme was an emblem of bravery, and activity;

also the ladies of chivalrous days embroidered on the scarves which

they presented to their knights the device of a bee hovering about a

spray of Thyme, as teaching the union of the amiable and the active.



Horace has said concerning Wild Thyme:--



Impune tutum per nemus arbutos

Quaerunt latentes, et thyma deviae

Olentis uxores mariti.



Wild Thyme is subject to variations in the size and colour of its

flowers, as well as in the habits of the varieties.



This wild Thyme bears also the appellation, Mother of Thyme,

which should be Mother Thyme, in allusion to its medicinal

influence on the womb, an organ which the older writers always

termed the Mother. Isidore tells that the wild Thyme was called

in Latin, Matris animula, quod menstrua movet. Platearius

says of it: Serpyllum matricem comfortat et mundificat. Mulieres

Saliternitanoe hoc fomento multum utuntur.



Dr. Neovius writes enthusiastically in a Finnish Journal on the

virtues of common Thyme in combating whooping cough. He has

found that if given fresh, from an ounce and a half to six ounces a

day, mixed [562] with a little syrup, regularly for some weeks, it is

practically a specific. If taken from the first, the symptoms vanish in

two or three days, and in a fortnight the disease is expelled. The

simplicity, harmlessness, and cheapness of this remedy are great

supporters of its claims.



Other titles of the herb are Pulial mountain, and creeping Thyme. It

is anti-spasmodic, and good for nervous or hysterical headaches, for

flatulence, and the headache which follows inebriation. The infusion

may be profitably applied for healing skin eruptions of various

characters.



Virgil mentions (in Eclogue xi., lines 10, 11) the restorative value

of Thyme against fatigue:--



Thestylis et rapido fessis messoribus oestu

Allia, Serpyllumque herbas contundit olentes.



Or,



Thestlis for mowers tired with parching heat

Garlic and Thyme, strong smelling herbs, doth beat.



Tournefort writes: A conserve made from the flowers and leaves of

wild Thyme (Serpyllum) relieves those troubled with the falling

sickness, whilst the distilled oil promotes the monthly flow in

women.



The delicious flavour of the noted honey of Hymettus was said to be

derived from the wild Thyme there visited by the bees. Likewise the

flesh of sheep fed on pasturage where the wild Thyme grows freely

has been said to gain a delicate flavour and taste from this source:

but herein a mistake is committed, because sheep are really averse

to such pasturage, and refuse it if they can get other food.



An infusion of the leaves of Thyme, whether wild, or cultivated,

makes an excellent aromatic tea, the odour of which is sweet and

fragrant, whilst the taste of the [563] plant is bitter and

camphoraceous. There is in some districts an old superstition that to

bring wild Thyme into the house conveys severe illness, or death to

some member of the family.



In Grecian days the Attic elegance of style was said to show an

odour of Thyme. Shenstone's schoolmistress had a garden:--



Where herbs for use and physic not a few

Of grey renown within those borders grew,

The tufted Basil,--pun provoking Thyme,

The lordly Gill that never dares to climb.



Bacon in his Essay on Gardens recommends to set whole alleys

of Thyme for the pleasure of its perfume when treading on the plant.

And Dioscorides said Thyme used in food helps dimness of sight.



Gerard adds: Wild Thyme boiled in wine and drunk is good against

the wamblings and gripings of the belly: whilst Culpeper describes

it as a strengthener of the lungs, as notable a one as grows. The

Thyme of Candy, Musk Thyme, or Garden Thyme is good against

the sciatica, and to be given to those that have the falling sickness,

to smell to.



The volatile essential oil of Wild Thyme (as well as of Garden

Thyme) consists of two hydrocarbons, with thymol as the fatty base,

this thymol being readily soluble in fats and oils when heated, and

taking high modern rank as an antiseptic. It will arrest gastric

fermentation when given judiciously as a medicine, though an

overdose will bring on somnolence, with a ringing in the ears.

Officinally Thymol, the stearoptene obtained from the volatile oil of

Thymus vulgaris, is directed to be given in a dose of from half to

two grains.



[564] Thymol is valued by some authorities more highly even than

carbolic acid for destroying the germs of disease, or for disinfecting

them. It is of equal service with tar for treating such skin affections

as psoriasis, and eczema. When inhaled thymol is most useful

against septic sore throat, especially during scarlet fever. At the

hospital for throat diseases the following formula is ordered:

Thymol twenty grains to rectified spirit of wine three drachms, and

carbonate of magnesia ten grains, with water to three ounces; a

teaspoonful to be used in a pint of water at 150 deg. Fahrenheit for each

inhalation.



Against ringworm an ointment made with one drachm of thymol to

an ounce of soft paraffin is found to be a sure specific.



The spirit of thymol should consist of one part of thymol to ten parts

of spirit of wine; and this is a convenient form for use to medicate

the wool of antiseptic respirators. As a purifying and cleansing

lotion for wounds and sores, thymol should be mixed in the

proportion of five grains thereof to an ounce of spirit of wine, an

ounce of glycerine, and six ounces of water.



The common Garden Thyme is an imported sort from the South of

Europe. Its odour and taste depend on an essential oil known

commercially as oil of origanum.



Another variety of the Wild Thyme is Lemon Thyme (Thymus

citriodorus), distinguished by its parti-coloured leaves, and by its

lilac flowers. Small beds of this Thyme, together with mint, are

cultivated at Penzance, in which to rear millepedes, or hoglice,

administered as pills for several forms of scrofulous disease. The

woodlouse, sowpig, or hoglouse abounds with a nitrous salt which

has long found favour for curing scrofulous [565] disease, and

inveterate struma, as also against some kinds of stone in the bladder.



The Hoglouse, or Millepede was the primitive medicinal pill. It is

found in dry gardens under stones, etc., and rolls itself up into a

ball when touched. These are also called Chiselbobs, and Cudworms.

From three to twelve were formerly given in Rhenish wine for a

hundred days together to cure all kinds of cancers; or they were

sometimes worn round the neck in a small bag (which was absurd!).

In the Eastern counties they are known as Old Sows, or St.

Anthony's Hogs. Their Latin name is Porcellus Scaber. The

Welsh call this small creature the withered old woman of the

wood, the little pig of the wood, and the little grey hog, also

Grammar Sows. Their word gurach like grammar means a

dried up old dame.



Cat Thyme (Teucrium marum verum) was imported from Spain,

and is cultivated in our gardens as a cordial aromatic herb, useful in

nervous disorders. Its flowers are crimson, and its bark is astringent.

The dried leaves may be given in powder or used in snuff. A

tincture (H.) is made from the whole herb which is effectual against

small thread worms. Provers of the herb in material toxic quantities

have experienced troublesome itching and irritation of the

fundament. For similar conditions, and to expel thread worms, two

or three drops of the tincture diluted to its first decimal strength

should be given with a spoonful of water three or four times in the

day to a child of from four to six years.





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