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Mediterranean Medicinal Plants: Thyme, Sage, Oregano and Sweet Marjoram

This is a handout for a talk given at the Madison Herb Society’s Herb Faire.

Most Mediterranean plants are quite similar. We can connect them through their taste, which is pungent, aromatic and sometimes bitter. These plants are warming, tingling, and stimulating. They may moisten or balance the water content in tissue, like thyme and sweet marjoram, be very drying, such as rosemary, or dry water to allow oil to come up in tissue, like sage.

Pungent aromatic plants have the unique ability to move like a vapor in the body. This vapor warms and penetrates internal tissue that is cold, stagnant, swollen and/or depressed. The effect is enlivening, and uplifting to circulatory and digestive function, tissue and mood, but can also relax the tense nervous system that has suffered from cold. One can envision these effects as being beneficial for certain folks with a chronic cold condition with poor circulatory function, and acute illness, (which is typically driven by cold in the blood and immune system.)

Since it is getting colder now, these are great plants to cook with, and keep around for teas. They can warm the blood and stimulate circulation, as well as support the immune system.

Other things thyme, marjoram oregano and sage have in common through their taste:

  • Shared energetics/actions: carminative, digestive stimulants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, antioxidant,
  • Can directly affect these organ systems or processes: lungs, heart, circulation of blood, mucous membranes, nervous system, liver/gallbladder, stomach
  • Shared core functions: warming and stimulating tissue to enliven, or, as warmth does when cold is relieved, to relax; thinning cold thick fluids and separating that which has been bound
  • When used in formulas: for respiratory illnesses, as antioxidants, to penetrate stuck and immovable tissue and relieve a condition of cold, and to raise someone’s spirit and balance or stimulate their vital force when depressed function has lead to depression.
  • Topically: they may all be used as tea baths, steams and as essential oils for all infections of the respiratory tract where there is congestion; as infused oils and essential oils they also work beautifully in salves for spastic coughs, and to relieve pain and inflammation in muscles, bursa, and joints, or to local injury

Now that I have addressed the plants in their likenesses, lets look at each one individually. Below you will find a brief outline of each plant in it’s energetics, organ system affinity, uses, sample formulas, and more.

The Plants

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) Taste: pungent, aromatic, herbaceous, warm, stimulating to immunity but relaxing to tissue, thereby penetrating and loosening Energetics: expectorant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, carminative, antioxidant, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, diffusive Organ System Affinity: lungs, stomach, immune system, mucous membranes, skin

  •  Contraindications: none known
  • Part of plant used: flowers with leaves
  • Plant family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
  • Used fresh, dried or both: both fresh or dried
  • Best menstruums for extraction: water, honey; alcohol or oil
  • Medicine Making Dilutions: fresh tincture 1:2; dried 1:5 (75% alcohol, 25% water); tea- 1-2 tsp. steeped in 8 oz. of hot water covered for 10 min.
  • Dosage: tincture- 3-10 drops 3-4 times daily; tea- 1-2 cups daily

The name thyme has an interesting origin, and people don’t necessarily agree what the name means. In some circles, I hear that it is derived from the Greek word thumus, meaning courage. Maude Grieve makes note of this origin. But she also states that the word “thyme” translates as ‘to fumigate’. Seeing as the plant was recognized for its pleasing scent, but also for its stimulating effect, it’s possible both translations are correct.

Uses:

  • Relaxes the autonomic nervous system, and tissue in mucous membranes.
  • Culpepper says it is a “noble strengthener of the lungs”.
  • I have used it successfully in formulas for damp coughs, and for dry coughs.
  • An exceptional plant in formulas for RSV, whooping cough, bronchitis and pneumonia. It combines especially well with garlic for these illnesses. You may also use thyme for symptom relief with antibiotics.
  • Colds, flu and respiratory illnesses with stuck and stagnant mucous. It loosens thick mucus and relieves congestion, as it is penetrating. While it is warming, it is diffusive, meaning it helps to move heat.
  • Intestinal spasms and general gastrointestinal problems. It has been historically viewed as having a strong affinity for the gastrointestinal tract when there is spasms, gas, colic, bloating, poor digestion and elimination.
  • Topically, thyme as an infused oil or essential oil is an excellent remedy for fungal infections, rheumatic and joint pain, sprains and strains.

Sample Formulas:

  • Topical pain and inflammation-
  • Cold and flu
  • Wet coughs- tincture of osha, thyme, elecampane, wild cherry bark
  • Dry coughs – syrup of garlic, thyme; tincture of thyme, elecampane, Solomon seal, lobelia
  • Gastrointestinal distress, general- tea of thyme, peppermint, holy basil

 

Sage (Salvia officinalis) Taste: pungent aromatic, warm, stimulating, dries water/moisture and brings up oil Energetics: diaphoretic, carminative, astringent, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-gallactagogue, cholagogue, emmenagogue Organ System Affinity: stomach, immune system, hormonal/milk ducts, lungs, sinuses, lymph glands, liver

  • Contraindications: pregnant or nursing
  • Part of plant used: leaves and flowers
  • Plant family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
  • Used fresh, dried or both: either fresh or dried
  • Best menstruums for extraction: water, or honey; alcohol or oil
  • Medicine Making Dilutions: tincture fresh 1:2; dried 1:5 (75% alcohol, 25% water); tea- 1 tsp. steeped in 8 oz. of hot water covered for 10 min.
  • Dosage: tincture 5-10 drops 3-4 times daily; tea- 1-2 cups daily

Maude Grieve tells us that Salvia comes from the Latin salvere, ‘to be saved’. But I have also learned that the translation also means ‘whole’ or ‘sound’.

Uses:

  • As a hot tea for colds with profuse runny nose and wet cough.
  • Laryngitis with excess nasal secretions.
  • Gargle for sore throat, tonsillitis, and laryngitis.
  • Drink sage tea or take the capsules of sage to wean from nursing. It will dry up your milk (sage dries moisture). You can make your own capsules by purchasing sage in the cooking herb section and unfilled capsules in your local health food store. Yes, it works powerfully well for this.
  • Used topically- as an infused oil for abscesses; in salve preparations for arthritis; on moist skin that lacks oil, and is therefore slightly dry but damp
  • As a hair rinse for alopecia.
  • Specific indications for sage as a tonic from the Eclectic physician, Dr. John King (practiced in KY in the late 1800’s): skin has relaxed, is moist, circulation poor with cold, copious amounts of sweat

Sample Formulas:

  • Cold and flu tea for wet runny conditions- sage, ginger, osha
  • Hot flash formula- tincture of sage, motherwort, kava
  • Abscess salve (for drawing out pussy infection)- sage and St. Johns wort infused oil, essential oil of clove and lavender, tinctures of yerba mansa or pine, blood root, echinacea

 

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) Taste: pungent, aromatic, warm stimulating, diffusive of energy and heat Energetics: diaphoretic, antimicrobial, expectorant, carminative, emmenagogue, antispasmodic, diuretic Organ system affinity: immune, digestive, blood, lungs

  • Contraindications: none
  • Part of plant used: flowers with leaves
  • Plant family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
  • Used fresh, dried or both: both fresh or dried
  • Best menstruums for extraction: water, honey; alcohol or oil
  • Medicine Making Dilutions: fresh tincture 1:2; dried 1:5 (75% alcohol, 25% water); tea- 1-2 tsp. steeped in 8 oz. of hot water covered for 10 min.
  • Dosage: tincture- 3-10 drops 3-4 times daily; tea- 1-2 cups daily

Oregano is sometimes referred to as wild marjoram. It’s Latin name, Origanum vulgaris, is said by Maude Grieve to have been derived from two Greek, oros (mountain) and ganos (joy), “in allusion to the gay appearance these plants give to the hillsides on which they grow.”

Uses:

  • As a hot tea or in a tincture formula for lung infections with a spastic cough- croup, bronchitis, pneumonia
  • Tooth aches (applied topically)
  • To increase warmth and circulation
  • Lifts the spirits, stimulates the mind, and warms the blood
  • As an essential oil of infused oil in salves for joint and muscle pain
  • Excellent plant in fever teas for cold and flu
  • Culpepper calls it an excellent “remedy for the spleen”, and an excellent remedy for anger and frustration
  • For poor digestion with dyspepsia and colic

Sample formulas:

  • Salve for coughs and rheumatic/joint pain: infused oils of choice, essential oils of marjoram, thyme, lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary
  • Upper respiratory infection tea for cough- oregano, thyme, catnip, licorice root
  • Toothaches- as a tincture with spilanthes
  • Digestive tincture- equal parts of oregano, yellowdock root, and fennel
  • Stimulating diaphoretic (fever reducer) tea- yarrow, oregano, thyme

 

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) Taste: sweet, aromatic, pungent, warm and stimulating, relaxing to muscles and nerves Energetics: antispasmodic, antimicrobial, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, emmenagogue Organ system affinity: immune, digestive, blood, lungs

  • Contraindications: none
  • Part of plant used: flowers with leaves
  • Plant family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
  • Used fresh, dried or both: both fresh or dried
  • Best menstruums for extraction: water, honey; alcohol or oil
  • Medicine Making Dilutions: fresh tincture 1:2; dried 1:5 (75% alcohol, 25% water); tea- 1-2 tsp. steeped in 8 oz. of hot water covered for 10 min.
  • Dosage: tincture- 3-10 drops 3-4 times daily; tea- 1-2 cups daily

I love sweet marjoram. How many evenings did my daughter cough with croup that I used this plants essential oil rubbed on her chest with lavender to help her breath easier? The scent and taste are aromatic and sweet with just a hint of pungent.

Uses:

  • For water retention with stomachaches and poor digestion.
  • Externally as an infused oil or essential oil for rheumatism and joint pain.
  • Used internally and externally for spastic and tight coughs, and chest infections.
  • Fever reducer
  • As an infused oil externally around the ear for earaches, or dropped into the ear as an ear oil.
  • Used in Ancient Greece for nervousness.

Sample formulas:

  • Nervousness with fatigue: tea of sweet marjoram and peppermint
  • Ear ache oil: infused oils of sweet marjoram, St. Johns wort, and garlic
  • Salve for coughs or joint/rheumatic pain: infused oils of choice, essential oils of marjoram, thyme, lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary
  • Tincture for chest infections: sweet marjoram, thyme, elecampane, peppermint (if dry)

 

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