Most people associate oregano with Italian and Hispanic dishes, but actually, the herb originates in Northern Europe where it grows in the wild. Its scientific name is Origanum vulgare, and to the ancient Greeks it was considered the “joy of the mountain”. In fact, it gets its name from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy).
Oregano is also known as Winter Sweet, Pot Marjoram, Mountain Mint or Winter Marjoram. It is a perennial plant that thrives in well irrigated loamy soil in Zones 5-10. Plant seeds in the early spring after the last frost, or grow them indoor in plugs then transplant the new plants 12-18 inches apart in the spring garden.
After four weeks, the plants will flower. It is best to harvest the leaves before when the plants reach 4-5 inches in height to avoid it returning to seed. Always clip the stem near the ground instead of plucking only the leaves. This stimulates more growth and also will allow the plant to more easily hang to dry.
To dry oregano, tie the branches together and hang upside down in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight for five or so days. Then, seal the dried plants in an airtight container. Oregano has a shelf life of about one year.
Oregano Nutritional Content
A serving is one gram.
Vitamin A 1% RDA
Vitamin C 1%
Dietary Fiber 2%
Vitamin K 8%
Omega 3 fatty acids 1.5%
Oregano Health Benefits
Hippocrates, the great Greek philosopher and scholar, used oregano for medicinal purposes. He used it as both an anesthetic and for digestive problems. Oregano’s key chemical components are Acetate, Borneol, Bisabolene , Carvacrol, Caryophyllene, Cymene, Geranyl, Linalool, Linalyl Acetate, Pinene, Terpinene and Thymol. All of these chemicals are present in the leaves and in the oils, so they have both topical and internal benefits.
It has been thought to be an effective treatment for bacteria and parasite infestation in the colon and intestines. In fact, Mexican researchers have found it effective in combating giardia, an intestinal infection caused by a microscopic parasite. See this medical publication on the study: Oregano kills Giardia intestinalis trophozoites in vitro.
Because of its anti-parasitical affect, its oil has been used in head lice treatments. Herbalists recommend it for the treatment of E-coli.
Oregano also has anti-inflammatory benefits. Some people rub the oil on inflamed joints and muscles. Topically, it can also be used as an antiseptic and anti-bacterial spread to relieve acne, cold sores, and minor cuts and scrapes.
It has been used in the treatment of allergies and even to regulate menstrual periods. Some cultures use it as a powerful pain killer. A few drops of the oil in juice consumed for 3-5 days may help clear up a sinus infection.
Oregano also has a large amount of antioxidants in its oil and leaves. It has 42 times the antioxidants as a medium sized apple, 30 times more than a white potato and 12 times more than an orange.
Ways to Prepare Oregano
Oregano is most commonly used as a seasoning in stews, pizzas and tomato based sauces. Fresh oregano leaves can enhance the flavor of salads and soups as well as Mediterranean dishes.
It is labor intensive to squeeze the oils from the leaves and stems.
Oregano Cautions and Concerns
Not everyone should take oregano. Especially women who are pregnant should avoid digesting or absorbing oregano. It can weaken the lining of the embryonic sack.
If you are allergic to mint, sage, basil or thyme, you might also be allergic to oregano. Though used in the aid of digestive problems, it can cause the opposite effect in some people.
Oregano oil may reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron, which is another reason women and children in particular should not consume large amounts of oregano. Seek medical advice about an iron supplement if oregano is a staple in your culture’s cuisine.