The name of the herb comes from the Greek words "oros," meaning mountain, and "ganos," meaning joy. It typically grows around 50 cm tall and has purple leaves around 2 to 3 centimeters in length.
The chemicals that give the herb its unique and pleasant smell are thymol, pinene, limonene, carvacrol, ocimene, and caryophyllene.
It is believed to contain potent antioxidants and to have anti-bacterial properties.
Here are some key points about oregano. More detail is in the main article.
- Oregano is a Mediterranean herb that is used for cooking and medicinal purposes, ranging from treating infections to repelling insects.
- Active ingredients in oregano could one day help treat osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes.
- Use it to flavor sauces, make herby bread rolls, and in marinades for meat.
- People with an allergy to mint should take care when consuming oregano.
Oregano is available fresh, or dried for cooking, and oregano oil can be used to treat infections.
Oregano was used in herbal medicine as long ago as the Ancient Greeks.
Hippocrates used it as an antiseptic.
Possible medicinal uses of oregano include treating respiratory tract disorders, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders.
1) Antibacterial properties
Oregano oil contains an essential compound called carvacrol, which has antimicrobial properties.
The herb has shown antimicrobial activity in a number of studies. One group of researchers found that Origanum vulgare essential oils were effective against 41 strains of the food pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.
"We have done a few preliminary tests and have found that the essential oil from the oregano kills MRSA at a dilution 1 to 1,000. The tests show that the oil kills MRSA both as a liquid and as a vapor and its antimicrobial activity is not diminished by heating in boiling water."
Prof. Vyv Salisbury, the University of the West of England, Bristol
The project won an award from the United Nations in 2008.
2) Anti-inflammatory properties
Scientists from Germany and Switzerland identified an active ingredient in oregano, known as beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP), which may help treat disorders such as osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis. E-BCP is a dietary cannabinoid.
3) Protecting against cancer
Research published in the journal PLoS ONE in 2013 suggested that oregano exhibits anticancer activity. The scientists concluded that Origanum majorana could help prevent and treat breast cancer by slowing or preventing its progression.
In 2014, food scientists discovered that the popular culinary herbs oregano, rosemary, and marjoram contain compounds that may have the potential to manage type 2 diabetes in a similar way to some currently prescribed drugs.
Other possible health benefits
According to The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, oregano can be used for the following illnesses and conditions:
- cold sores
- muscle pain
- heart conditions
- intestinal parasites
- sore throat
- repelling insects
- menstrual cramps
Oregano essential oil, made from Origanum vulgare or Thymus capitatus, may help with the following problems:
- Foot or nail fungus: Put a few drops in water and soak the feet in it, or apply diluted oil topically to the affected area.
- Sinus infections and colds: Use a few drops in a steam bath and inhale.
Any essential oil should be diluted before use, either with a carrier oil, such as olive oil, or in water, as for a steam bath.
More research is needed to confirm oregano's effectiveness as a treatment.
Oregano contains some important nutrients.
One teaspoon of dried oregano contains:
- energy: 5 calories
- fiber: 0.8 grams (g)
- calcium: 29 milligrams (mg)
- iron: 0.66 mg
- magnesium: 5 g
- manganese: 0.09 mg
- potassium: 23 mg
- vitamin E: 0.33 mg
- vitamin K: 11.2 micrograms (mcg)
Vitamin K is important for bone growth, maintaining bone density, and the production of blood clotting proteins. Calcium is necessary for the formation of bones and teeth.
Oregano is also a rich source of dietary antioxidants, which help protect cells against the effects of free radicals and improve the body's ability to fight infection.
Oregano is a Mediterranean herb that goes well with pizzas and pasta sauces.
Other ideas include:
- sprinkling meat or chicken with oregano for flavor
- using it in marinades or stuffings
- chopping and mixing it in bread dough to make herby rolls
- adding it fresh to salad
Here are some more tips:
- Add it toward the end of the cooking process for maximum flavor
- The smaller you chop or grind it, the more flavor will be released
- Start with a small amount, as too much can make the food bitter
- One teaspoon of dried oregano is equivalent to one tablespoon of fresh oregano
It is available dried or fresh in grocery stores, or you can grow it in a pot on a windowsill or balcony or in the garden. It is a perennial, which means it can grow all year.
Eating oregano can cause stomach upsets in some people.
In addition, those who are allergic to plants belonging to the Lamiaceae family, which include oregano, basil, lavender, mint, and sage, should be cautious, as they may also develop an allergic reaction to oregano.