As I contemplate over the characteristics of thyme and the richness of my own personal history and experiences with it, I recall these words from the Hungarian poet Mihály Váci:
It’s not enough to fear,
Fight the fight instead.
It’s not enough to flicker,
But burn with flames of red.
Not enough to talk.
But say what’s not been said.
It is not enough to sense,
You have to know instead.
It is not enough to journey,
But walk where others dare not tread.
You have to set out first,
along the road ahead.
One man is not enough,
others must be lead.
And only those should lead,
Who are for leading bred.
Goodwill is not enough,
It takes a stronger head.
But is a head enough?
No, it needs a heart to spread
the message of this verse
of pain and passion true.
To strive for a better life,
A life for me and you.
The article was originally written for and published in the issue 2018/1 of Aromatika Magazine, an online publication in Hungary to support holistic living, the practice and professional education of aromatherapy, phytotherapy, naturopathy and related subjects. My special thanks and gratitude goes to Gergely Hollódi, editor-in-chief of this beautifully constructed aromatherapy periodical for his always encouraging support. Hope you enjoy the English version in this post. The original copy of the electronic magazine in Hungarian is available for download from the website of Aromatika Magazine.
Would not be true to say that wisdom from thyme came across breast milk from my mother and her ancestors, however, it has claimed its significant presence in the past 10 years of my life, almost overcompensating the rareness in the preceding years.
Meeting with Spanish thyme
Using historical phrases I would say there was a strong Greek influence in how Spanish thyme came first to rule my daily life when I found myself buying up stocks I found at apothecary shops in 2009. Over our sessions at the time, my healer and mentor introduced thyme as a general first-aid in my household. It was due to its antiviral, disinfectant and mucolytic properties that became especially useful during winter times in Hungary. I made tons of cups of herbal tea and also did inhalations under a towel to see miracles happen in a fast pace. This time around I was fortunate enough to travel to many countries. When I went to Spain, my eyes autonomously kept hunting for local herbs and oils. It was an absolute joy filled with excitement when I ran into small producers on street markets. Smelling their offerings was like being in a different world, as if my nose worked under a magnifier. Whether caused by the thrill of discovery, the fresh hot sea breeze, the Mediterranean atmosphere or the combination of all embodied in the plants… I was cheerful as a bee flying around flowers. It was around this time too, that I started to grasp the quality issue and see the gap in variable qualities of dried herbs you find around. When I started to make infusions from the thyme I brought with me from Spain, my intuition got confirmed by empirical use as the oil content showed its power in terms of strength, aroma and visual appearance. What else? Well, around this time, I also started using thyme honey from Crete which found its way to my tea, lemonade, bath, sauces, salad dressings, face masks, henna… just to name a few areas where thyme honey, and thyme as a herb in general became an indispensable member of my herbal family.
Research and experience
Wait a minute! Before my dear readers educated in aromatherapy frowned at me digging for the worlds thyme and bath combined. Very well the thoughts, as I have myself come across contradictory propositions in various international publications. Just to mention one that I consult often gladly is the book by the French Philippe Mailhebiau titled Portraits in Oils: The personality of aromatherapy oils and their link with human temperaments. He warns us saying “never put essence of Thymus vulgaris ct. thymol in a bath or inhale with a micro-diffuser, as with all phenolis essential oils, there is a risk of serious irritation.” Well, as part of a complex therapy for endometriosis, I used to apply this thyme essential oil in bath, in a way that thyme was first put into salt, then mixed with sodium bicarbonate. In a separate bowl, I diluted Bulgarian rose (Rosa damascena) and bay leaf (Laurus nobilis) essential oils in olive oil. Finally, mixing them all together and adding the mix slowly to the bath water. This way, there was no irritation, while the ingredients could bring along their positive effects on the immune, lymphatic and hormonal system as well. And obviously, during the 30-minute bath sessions that I took daily (sometimes twice a day), I got rested and my soul got fed by the indulging aromatic pose as becoming part of a busy daily routine. I thought this very short case-study from my pretty extensive real-life practises can be an illustration for what is possible beyond impossible, in case aromatherapy wisdom is applied carefully with the guidance of a well-trained and thoroughly experienced professional.
Protecting shield and driving force
Now that I mentioned Monsieur Mailhebiau who painted the characteristics of essential oils as if they were actual human beings… I would visualise thyme as a noble armoured knight. It is indeed considered that during the Middle Ages ladies would offer to their adorers a handkerchief or a scarf as good-luck talisman for protection, stamina and courage during the manly expeditions. They embroidered the cloth with a thyme motif, or even set some fresh leaves inside. Referring back to the poem where I started, it is exactly that kind of energy full of passion and enthusiasm, that flashed into my vision as a leading motif when writing about thyme. That energy I hold within, or rather encompass, and that of which is available to anyone else too. Since we all source it from the same universal energy, all we need to do is reach out and go for it! Only that we need to perceive it and let inside! Indeed, with that kind of opening, for instance, it became a reality that after being in search for the secrets of health and well-being for so long, I have found the building blocks and methods of whole-ness. This is the kind of driving force that lead me to the land of Crete where I started my aromatic journeys. The same driving force that made me reach incredible heights, both in physical and metaphorical terms. Guess what? Among the notes in my agenda for the last week of June 2013 is this: cleaning thyme.
Way beyond my premier Spanish experiences, my freshers’ days on Crete were in the scented clouds of herbal times. Especially when on day 10 I moved up to the mountains to take my share in the daily life of my new aromatic mentors. There in Kallikratis, in this beautifully protected mountain plateau, where the house shared the garden with an essential-oil distillery, I lived in a thyme-scented guest room. A cosy upper-floor living area which was occasionally used as a drying room for wild herbs. The same very room that you had to climb up to though a wooden staircase of a ladder type.
On the road all the thyme
As I got up early in the mornings, filled with all this incredible energy, I tuned in to this blessed capacity, and to continue maintaining this dynamic I often welcomed the day by going for a morning jogging. The unparallalled aesthetics in the solitude of majestic mountains took my breath away, while taking me higher and higher on the road and in my feelings, opening complete new dimensions for me. In my early photo essays at that time, I tried to sum up my experiences as follows: “Just run and run. Can’t stop but to say: Hello Universe! Wow! Scented purple everywhere – wild thyme makes my day! Over a few twists and turns now on a long and winding road… Maybe I can reach out where the Earth meets the Sky… To overcome heights and change perspectives…” And then I continue: “Thyme is all around! And it is about thyme now…. so what it takes is just to look at the world from high above and you get the Big Picture! … Then go backwards and discover the path from the opposite direction! This is when you feel to be so much more richer and experienced by escalating your horizon and seeing things from a different view. And this different light will lead you to enrich your inner light.” (See my breath-taking pictures from my original post Run & hike – Fragrant mountains of Crete.)
Well, so visitors arriving to Crete in the middle of summer might have this kind of joy and nourishment to all their senses when discovering the purplish shrubs of thyme firmly grounded on the rocks, finding their way to clamp their roots from within cracks of the resistant, sturdy parts of Mother Earth. I wonder if visitors in marvel come to a slight thought and understanding what it takes to ethically collect wild thyme from the slopes of these mountains? Sweaty, to say the least. And acrobatic… in the heat of mid-summer, around June-July. An experience of its own kind, brings a nice reward though, in the form of a great essential oil yield.
According to Janina Sorensen from Wild Herbs of Crete, their experiences show that steam distilling wild Cretan thyme (thymus capitatus) gives a yield of around 2% essential oil of very high quality, rich in carvacrol (see chemical composition separately). As it is, the oil is never to be used undiluted neither on the skin nor internally. At their workshop in Kallikratis, Janina and her partner Babis make fantastic natural soaps and shampoo, that I know more than that of my experience as a enthusiastic user. A couple of times I had a chance to join in and help them in the production, measuring parts, loading and mixing ingredients. Their exquisite thyme essential oil can be found in their natural goodies, quite understandably, since in this way it is a perfect cleaner, tonic and stimulant to both the scalp and the whole body.
We could go on and on describing the many blessing ways and forms of using thyme, and hopefully my writing could help spicing up your day and giving a taste of it with some other ideas for life. Just as pondering over the closing part for this chapter, a thought flashed across my mind. Yesterday I went for a walk by the sea with my Greek friend Christina. She tends to feel cold, and this time she had a sore throat developing. Of course, she knows very well what to do, and she usually reaches out for thyme to make a tea. However - believe it or not - momentarily she does not have any left in her plentiful Cretan spice kitchen. I offered to give her some of mine, but, by the time we returned from our walk, we simply forgot about it… Therefore, I must go now and deliver some thyme to my dear friend. Be well, my dear readers!
Composition of the essential oil of Thyme (thymus capitatus) collected and distilled by Wild Herbs of Crete: Our oil is mainly composed of Carvacrol (50%), thymol (8%), γ-terpinene (7%), p-cymene (13%), terpinen-4-ol (4%), β-myrcene (2%), α-pinene (1.5%), α-terpinene (1.4%), endo-borneol (1%) and linalool, limonene, β-phellandrene, camphene and α-thujene (0.3-0.7% each), along with other minor components, like the sabinene-hydrate isomers, L-α-terpineol, 1-octen-3-ol, α-terpinolene, sabinene, β-pinene and Δ-carene. The poem of the Hungarian poet Mihály Váci is an edited version here, as presented in the film titled Made in Hungária.