Oregano: Zest for Your Dinner and Your Herbal Medicine Chest

Reader Contribution by Lori Osterloh-Hagaman
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The smell is one of familiar culinary delight. Ah! Oregano! It’s pungent aroma lends zest to sauces, Italian dishes, and tomato products of all kinds. But what of the medicinal qualities of this oft forgotten aromatic?

Oregano is a member of the huge mint family, Lamiaceae. Its name has a base in Greek (they all do, it seems). Oros, meaning mountain, and ganos, meaning joy, are combined to express what the people of the time must have thought of the plant. It is a mountain joy. It can be found cultivated throughout the world. As with many modern “kitchen herbs,” it has a great many varieties. Typically, it typically grows 50 cm tall and has purple leaves around 2 to 3 centimeters in length. The variety I have in my garden grows leaves a bit smaller and more of a deep green, however, that may be due to the climate in which we live. I am still investigating this.

The smell of oregano is distinctive. Thymol, pinene, limonene, carvacrol, ocimene, and caryophyllene all work together to give off that wonderful aroma. It’s flavor is impossible to mistake in Mexican and Italian dishes.

Oregano as Antifungal

A gentlemen approached me once, and request a rather large amount of essential oil of oregano. I had used quite a bit of different oils, but the quantity in which he asked for the oregano oil seemed quite outlandish at the time. Really, it wasn’t. He only asked for five 5 ml bottles, but I was a newbie and no idea why he would need so much at one time. He enlightened me.

It turns out that oregano oil acts as a vigilante against fungus. He was a long time sufferer of repeated sinus infections. Since he worked in a nursing home environment, and the research from the CDC suggesting that recurrent sinus infections may be a result of a fungal overgrowth instead of an infection, he was ready to try anything. He also shared with me, that he had long been battling toe nail fungus. This gave him the idea that perhaps his body was just dealing with too much fungus and not so much bacterial invaders.

He suggested the following use for oregano oil (in addition to applying topically in a carrier oil, such as olive or sweet almond oil):

Add 3-5 drops of oregano essential oil to a pot of approx. 1 quart of boiling water. After the water is removed from heat (and source of flame), bend over the pot and tent yourself with a towel over the vapors. Inhale deeply through the nostrils. The gentleman also added 1-2 drops of the essential to a nettie pot (see note at bottom of post) containing a teeny amount of sesame oil in body temperature water* to fully bathe the sinus cavities in the wonderful oil.

Oregano as Antibiotic

After some research, I was convinced the gentleman would be just fine using oregano. It turns out that not only is this oil antifungal, but it has antibiotic effects, too. Carvacrol, a phenol in oregano, is being looked at for its powerful ability to kill bacteria. Tests at Georgetown University suggest it may stack up even when compared to streptomycin and penicillin. Portuguese researchers found that Origanum vulgare essential oils were effective against 41 strains of the food pathogen Listeria monocytogenes2. I would love to see if this plant could pack a punch against some of the modern day antibiotic resistant infections rampant in the U.S. A team of British and Indian researchers reported that the essential oil of Himalayan oregano has strong antibacterial properties that can even kill the hospital superbug MRSA.

Oregano as Antioxidant

In the U.S. the push is to be young forever. We all seem to be chasing the easiest way to appear younger, feel more energetic and live longer. Adding oregano may be a component to your formula. It contains thymol and romarinic acid. These work to reduce free radical damage in the body. In fact, research done at the USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, a tablespoon of fresh oregano contains as much antioxidant power as a medium sized apple. Now, I know the FDA won’t acknowledge such a thing, but another arm of our government clearly shows that it works. The situation is truly half a dozen of one and twelve of another, if you ask me.

Oregano as a Digestive Aid

There is no coincidence that these herbs found in heavy, fatty meat laden dishes, help to stimulate the flow of digestive secretions. It makes the saliva flow, and this is the beginning of digestion. The more your food can be broken down, the less gas it can create. And in case any gets past the digestive juices, no fear! It contains various chemical components that relax the gut, allowing the expulsion of gas without pain.

Other Historical Uses

Oregano “juice” is said to soothe venomous spider bites, bee stings and mosquito bites. While I never intend to find out, it also said to treat venomous snakebite. I would prefer to error on the side of caution on that last one, and get to a hospital in that instance.

Oregano tea (from Medicinal Health Guide)
wash fresh or dried oregano leaves
chop then add in 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of oregano leaves
let it boil for 10 to 15 minutes
let it steep then strain the leaves
Drink half cup of Oregano three times a day
oregano concoction can be stored in suitable glass container for later consumption.

*Please use care when utilizing a nettie pot. This is wonderful tool, but the water used should be distilled and warmed to body temperature ONLY. The sinus tissues are very sensitive and can be burned easily. A tiny bit of sesame oil added to the warmed water will help from drying the sinus tissues, as well. Oregano: zest for your dinner and your herbal medicine chest.

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