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The Scientific and Technical Profile of the Genus Thymus, by Wudenah Letchamo, PhD.
The Scientific and Technical Profile of the Genus Thymus

The Scientific and Technical Profile of the Genus Thymus. by Wudenah Letchamo, PhD. Wudeneh Letchamo, publisher; New Jersey; 2001. 305 pp., softcover, includes photos, figures, tables, graphs, references. $100 ISBN 0-971262-50-0.

In general, books that deal with a single herb in excrutiating detail do not end up on anyones best-seller lists. Sometimes this is unfortunate, at least insofar as the herbal community is concerned, as the lengthy, detailed monographs like the present title can add an enormous amount of information to the knowledge of a particular plant, especially one with medicinal and other economic importance.

Anyone familiar with French cuisine knows the taste of thyme, as does anyone who uses Listerine® brand mouthwash, which owes most of its particular taste to the presence of thymol, the primary active compound in oil of thyme. Thyme is one of the herbs in what ethnobotanist Jim Duke calls the "Scarborough Quartet" (i.e., parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme the herbs forming the title of the famous Simon and Garfunkel song of the 60s) and one of the most commonly used culinary herbs in the European and U.S. markets.

The present volume is a self-published manuscript containing what is probably the most comprehensive treatment of the botany, chemistry, pharmacology, and agronomics of this plant anywhere in the English literature. The author is an expert on the commercial cultivation of medicinal plants, having extensive experience in the cultivation of chamomile, echinacea, thyme and many relatively exotic medicinal plants. Dr. Letchamo has conducted research for more than a decade on the chemical, physiological, and genetic studies of thyme, and has developed high-quality thyme cultivars for commercial field and greenhouse cultivation under North American growing conditions.

The genus Thymus, in the family Lamiaceae, consists of more than 315 species. Thyme is perennial, with wide natural distribution extending from the Mediterranean to the coasts of Greenland, Canary Islands, North Africa, highlands of Ethiopia, the southwestern Arabian highlands, Sinai Peninsula, arid regions of West and East Asia, Himalayas, and Northern Europe extending to Siberia. Thyme species such as T. serpyllum, T. vulgaris, T. pulegioides, T. cotroidora, and T. zygis are known to thrive well upon introduction to new growing areas, such as South and North America (including Canada), South and West Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Thyme has an integral place in Western culture and folklore, and has been used since ancient times not only as a traditional medicine, but also, the author notes, as a tonic and libido enhancer. The essential oil or the alcohol extract from its leaves are used as natural preservatives in conventional food, beverage, cosmetic, and personal care products. Thyme oil and extracts are among the top 10 natural products that have demonstrated antibacterial, antimycotic, antioxidative, and even some potentially anti-aging properties. Due to an increasing number of chemical studies, genetic improvement in the plant, and widening of the areas of its applications, thyme has been growing in international trade as a commodity of increased commercial importance.

This book summarizes the chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, ethnobotany, cultivation, analysis, methods of extraction and processing, international standards, commercial aspects, and ecological and aesthetic values of different thyme species. It discusses in detail the therapeutic applications of thyme together with its mode of action on different biological systems. It also suggests various product formulations based on thyme extracts and essential oils. With the recent findings about its therapeutic properties, libido-enhancing, anti-fatigue, and memory-enhancing activities, thyme has earned much medicinal importance, especially as a potential addition to herbal supplements and nutraceutical products.

This book contains 10 chapters, with illustrations, tables, chromatograms, and graphs. All aspects of thyme, including recent research findings from many foreign language sources, are included.

It includes updated information on botany, ethnobotany, pharmacology, toxicology, chemistry, biosynthetic pathways of the volatile oils, harvesting, post-harvest handling, industrial processing, formulations for dietary supplement, nutraceutical and personal care products, color and chemical differences in essential oil, chemical differences between females, male or hermaphrodite thyme, and the agricultural and ecophysiological aspects of the genus Thymus. In all, this is a highly useful reference for researchers, formulators, growers, and others with an interest in determining commercially useful applications of this somewhat important medicinal and culinary plant.

Mark Blumenthal