Oregano is an important culinary and medicinal herb that has been used in medicine and cooking for thousands of years - with a number of health benefits. It is a species of Origanum, belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae).
Its name comes from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy).
Oregano typically grows 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
Not only does oregano provide food flavor, there are also a substantial number of health claims associated with its potent antioxidants and anti-bacterial properties.
Oregano is a rich source of:
- vitamin K - an important vitamin which promotes bone growth and the maintenance of bone density and the production of blood clotting proteins.
The herb is used to treat respiratory tract disorders, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders.
What are the health benefits of Oregano
Excellent source of dietary antioxidants - a report published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that oregano contains very high concentrations of antioxidants (i.e., >75 mmol/100 g).
Antioxidants are important in protecting your cells against the effects of free radicals and improving your ability to fight infection.
Packed with nutrients - oregano is very rich in fiber - which is known to reduce high cholesterol levels and lower the risk of colon cancer. In addition, the herb is an excellent source of vitamin E, iron, calcium, omega fatty acids, manganese, and typtophan.
Antibacterial properties - oregano has shown antimicrobial activity in a number of studies. A group of Portuguese researchers found that Origanum vulgare essential oils were effective against 41 strains of the food pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.
Oregano oil is a powerful antimicrobial, because of an essential compound called carvacol.
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.
Professor Vyv Salisbury, who was part of the research, said
"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."
Effective against inflammations - scientists at Bonn University, Germany, and the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, identified an active ingredient in oregano - known as beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP) - which may possibly be of use against disorders such as osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis.
Anti-cancer properties - biologists at the United Arab Emirates University reported in the journal PLoS ONE that oregano exhibits anticancer activity by encouraging cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (cancer cells commit suicide) of the MDA-MB-231 breast cancer line.
The scientists concluded "Our findings identify Origanum majorana as a promising chemopreventive and therapeutic candidate that modulate breast cancer growth and metastasis." Put simply, they believe components in oregano may help slow down or prevent the progression of cancer in patients with breast cancer.
Oregano may be effective for the following (although more evidence is necessary):
- Heart Conditions
- Intestinal parasites
- Repelling insects
- Menstrual cramps
Side effects and precautions
Eating oregano may cause stomach upset in some susceptible people. Individuals who are allergic to plants belonging to the to Lamiaceae family (such as including basil, lavender, mint, and sage) should be cautious as they can develop an allergic reaction to the herb.
Written by Joseph Nordqvist