Oregano for Flavor, Nutrition and Healing

Reader Contribution by Marlene Adelmann

Oil of Oregano is derived from the wild oregano plant (Oreganum vulgare), a member of the mint family (Lamiacae or Labiatae). The name oregano originates from two Greek words: oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). It grows throughout many regions of the world, but is native to northern Europe. This shrub grows to approximately two feet and has multi-branched stems with oval leaves and small white or pink flowers that grow in erect spikes. In warmer climates such as the Mediterranean region, oregano grows as a perennial, while in other colder regions it is grown as an annual.

Oregano is well known as a culinary herb.The oregano herb has a warming and aromatic flavor which can be bitter due to the volatile oil content, especially when harvested fresh. The leaves of the oregano plant contain vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, boron, manganese, vitamins A and C, and niacin. Oregano is also important medicinally, with its distilled oil highly regarded for its strong antibacterial properties. 

While oil of oregano has been used throughout history long before any scientific research was available, today we know that the major active chemicals found in oregano oil are phenolic terpenoids (terpenes have potent antibacterial components and give off the scent of pine). The two key terpenes thought to work synergistically in oil of oregano are carvacrol and thymol. PubMed, one of the world’s most reliable resources for medical research, lists many references regarding the healing potential of carvacrol. Studies have shown that carvacrol and thymol have powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial activity, as well as being strong antioxidants that help prevent cell damage from free radicals. Rosmarinic acid, also found in oregano, is also an antioxidant.

In numerous clinical trials, oil of oregano has shown great promise in treating many illnesses, including colds, flu, muscle pain, GI problems, respiratory illnesses, skin conditions and urinary tract infections. The constituents found in oil of oregano may even help lower cholesterol, promote cardiovascular health, fight cancer, reduce symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease and serve as a natural antibiotic. This oil has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria, including Staphyloccus aureus, and may also give the immune system a boost in fighting viruses, fungi, and parasites.

The volatile oil of oregano is obtained by a distillation process wherein it takes approximately 100 pounds of wild oregano to make one pound of volatile oil! This oil is clearly very different than a culinary oil, which is made by infusing the fresh herb in olive oil. The medicinal volatile oil is very strong and must be used appropriately to prevent irritation and harm. 

As a topical application for skin disorders, oregano oil must be added to a carrier oil (such as olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, or grape seed oil) with a ratio of one drop oregano oil to one teaspoon of carrier oil, or 10-12 drops per ounce of carrier oil. This oil can then be applied directly to the affected area. 

While most essential oils are not safe for internal ingestion, oregano oil is classified by the FDA as “generally regarded as safe” for human consumption (learn more about essential oil safety at the Herbal Academy of New England website). A drop of the oil may be added to four ounces of liquid in the form of water, juice, or food (dilute further for children, and children under the age of 6 should not ingest oregano oil at all). Oregano oil is also available in capsules, liquid leaf extract, and tablets.

For respiratory illness, a few drops of oregano oil can be added to a diffuser or a small pot of boiling water. To inhale the vapors, remove the pot from the heat source and place a towel over your head and lean over the pot just close enough to inhale the steam (don’t get too close!). This can be done several times a day to relieve symptoms.

For those preferring to use the whole plant instead of the oil, oregano tea may be made by using one teaspoon of fresh leaves to one cup of boiling water. Crushed fresh oregano leaves and flowers can be used as an antiseptic for minor wounds and burns, while a paste made by blending crushed oregano leaves with oats and hot water can be applied to areas of swelling and itching.

Interested in learning more about herbs for nutrition and healing? Join the Herbal Academy of New England’s new membership website, The Herbarium.

Marlene is the Founder and Director of the Herbal Academy of New England, the home of the Online Introductory Herbal Course and the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and meeting place for Boston area herbalists. Through the school and online herbal classes, Marlene has brought the wild and wonderful world of plant medicine to over 1,000 students across the globe. Photos provided and copyrighted by Herbal Academy of New England.


A Closer Look at Essential Oils and Safety
Essential Oils 101: Oregano
Essential Oils 101: All Your Questions Answered
FDA regs on essential oils “generally recognized as safe”

• Jeremy J. Johnson. Carnosol: A promising anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agent  2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
• Eran Ben-Arye et al. Treatment of upper respiratory tract infection in primary care: A randomized study using aromaric herbs. Hindawi Publishing Company Volume 2011
• Mark Force, William S. Spark and Robert A. Ronzio. Inhibition of enteric parasites by emulsified oil of oregano in vivo. Health Exploration Trust, Scottsdale AZ, USA and Biotics Research Corporation

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