How to use thyme to combat winter ills: Thyme Tonic and Sore Throat Tea

herbal tonic for colds

Kristina finds her garden has the cure for what ails her.

Words Kristina Jensen

A while ago, I had a wee heart scare. It’s usually nothing major, just an atrial flutter where my heart decides to do a quick samba. It leaves me breathless and slightly giddy, unfortunately without the romance and passion of dancing.

Usually I calm my heart rate down quite quickly by putting my head between my knees and taking a few deep breaths.

But this time it didn’t. I ended up taking an emergency flight to hospital early one Sunday morning.

In the last 18 months I’ve had vertigo and have been nursing a sore shoulder. I began to wonder if turning 50 had somehow set the downhill gears in motion.

Upon closer examination, it seems it’s not necessarily the physical things I am doing but mostly to do with the Mind. Mine appears to require some stern talking-to in the department of future thinking.

I am a micro manager. There are five calendars adorning the walls. Lists are scattered here and there. I wake up in the morning and am immediately bombarded with all these ‘to-dos’.

Vertigo made me stop in my tracks and lie down, sometimes for hours at a time. Now it seems this little heart of mine is reminding me again to pay attention to my mind and to the people and things around me.

I’m starting to sound like Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual author whose most popular work is The Power of Now. He is an advocate for emptying the mind of the clutter, that incessant chatter. This is what I am learning to do and it’s great!

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At the heart of what I’m writing about is finding time to be in the ‘now’. As soon as I start thinking that I don’t have enough of it, things start to go downhill.

It’s a good thing I have my garden to retreat to, the piece of earth that helps me attain the power of now.

It is through gardening that I also acquired a love of thyme. As a culinary herb, it adds unparalleled aroma and flavour to a dish, but it’s also full of pun-potential.

Thyme and thyme again, it’s my go-to for ailments. Got a sore throat? Gargle a mouthful or two of a thyme infusion. Need a pick-me-up? Try a cup of thyme tea. Feeling a cold coming on? Inhale it, eat it, drink it.


I love making my own cough and cold remedies. I think it comes from my mother, who could somehow turn your illness into a delightful opportunity to make a special remedy.

If we were truly sick, we had to go to bed and stay in bed. She would then brew a drink of onions in honey and hot lemon. Just one whiff would make me feel better.

My latest experiments have been centred around making a ‘master tonic’. There are many recipes for this online, each with its own special character.

I used thyme as the base of my version.

I dry my own thyme for this recipe, hanging the sprigs in a net bag for a month in a warm dry place. It seems to make the flavour stronger than when using the fresh plant.

homemade flu tonic

This drink is strong, hot and spicy, and chases away my winter blues.

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1 cup dried thyme
6 garlic cloves
2 hot chilli peppers, the hottest you can find (wear gloves when handling)
10-15 generous slices of root ginger
2 tbsp turmeric powder or 3 slices of turmeric root
700ml organic apple cider vinegar


Mix all the ingredients except the vinegar in an Agee-sized jar (1 litre). Pour in the apple cider vinegar. Close, then shake. Keep the jar in a cool, dry place for about two weeks.

Invert the jar every day or, even better, several times a day. After two weeks, strain the liquid through a thin cloth, squeezing the solids in the cloth so the mixture can release its juices.

Keep the tonic in the fridge. Gargle a tablespoon a day for a few seconds, then swallow.

Makes 1 litre
Ready in 2 weeks

Kristina’s tips
• Be careful when you open the jar – this tonic is strong and hot on the sinuses.
• Never dilute the tonic or its effects are reduced.
• Have a slice of orange, lemon or lime on hand to eat after you drink this tonic to help reduce the burning sensation and heat.


If you are working hard to achieve a difficult goal, I find a cup of thyme tea can help you keep a positive attitude. Maybe the Scottish highlanders knew this when they drank thyme tea to increase courage.

Thyme (active ingredient, thymol) and sage have excellent antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, making them ideal for a soothing tea for sore and inflamed throats. Ginger is both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory.

It is best to make this tea fresh as it will become bitter if the herbs are left to steep for too long.

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½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried thyme
OR a couple of sprigs of fresh sage and thyme
1-2 slices fresh root ginger
honey or stevia


Add the sage, thyme and ginger to one cup of boiling water and steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain if you don’t like floaty bits. Add a sweetener like honey or stevia if you wish.

Note: sage should not be used while pregnant or breast-feeding.

Makes 1 cup
Ready in 5 minutes


A simple method for relieving congested sinuses.


1 handful fresh thyme
boiling water


Add a generous handful of fresh thyme to a large heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over it. Place your face above the bowl with a towel over your head and inhale the steam.

Note: steam can burn you so start with your face high above the bowl and then move it down slowly.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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