Physicians don’t usually learn much in medical school about herbs, home remedies or even dietary supplements. As a result, they often tend to be skeptical of these unconventional approaches to healing. That’s appropriate in many situations, as the evidence to support the use of home remedies or even botanical medicines can be weak.
Can Home Remedies or Botanical Treatments Be Helpful?
Sometimes, though, doctors take the opportunity to learn something from their patients. We heard a fascinating tale recently from a semi-retired dermatologist in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who is a strong advocate for self care. Here is what he wrote:
“There is an old adage in medicine that I presume is still being taught in medical school. When dealing with self-limited diseases, like viral colds, insect bites and skin abrasions, the main treatment is ‘tincture of time.’
“About three decades ago I told one of my older patients with a self-limited skin disease that everything would be fine with just a little ‘tincture of time.’ “The next day my nurse received a call from the old patient’s wife. She asked how much of that ‘thyme’ does he need? My nurse and I had a laugh at the old people’s expense. Didn’t they understand I was talking about ‘time’–not ‘thyme?’
“That old patient had the last laugh on me! Let me explain:
“I returned yesterday from Barcelona, Spain, on a 13-hour flight. Towards the end of it, I started getting a sore throat.
“As I drove home, I developed a full-blown head cold with a severe sore throat, runny nose, watery eyes and a barking cough. I felt like crap.
“When I tried to sleep, I couldn’t breathe. About 3 am I got up and made myself some thyme tea. I put 2 teaspoons of thyme, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and an herbal tea bag with rose hips, orange peel extract and roasted chicory in the bottom of my French press coffee maker and added 2 cups of boiling water. I let it steep for four minutes and then poured it into a mug to which I had added a teaspoon of manuka honey from New Zealand. As it cooled, I inhaled the vapors. Then I slowly sipped, swished, gargled and drank it.
“Within minutes, and I mean literally minutes, my throat was not sore, my cough was much better and my nose even cleared up. I slept five hours and awoke feeling 80 percent better. I had a couple more cups of thyme and honey tea with breakfast, and six hours later I felt well enough to ride my mountain bike.
“Thyme and honey tea is an old treatment for sore throat and cough. One of the active ingredients in thyme is thymol, also found in Listerine mouthwash. So the tea literally contains a tincture of thyme.
“Over the last 65 years I’ve had quite a few bad colds. The one I was developing last night was one of the worst. The speed with which most of my symptoms resolved was truly astounding. I cannot imagine my improvement was coincidental.
“Will this treatment work so fast in the future? Only thyme will tell.”
We too are enthusiastic about the benefits of thyme tea to calm a cough and help a cold sufferer feel better, at least for a while. Although we have seen no double-blind controlled trials, we suggest a little thyme tea the next time a cold keeps you awake with coughing.