Oregano is a member of the mint family. It is closely related to marjoram even though the flavors are very different. Although oregano is known as a common ingredient in foods around the world, surprisingly more is used in perfumes than is consumed.
Oregano grows wild around the world, especially in the mountainous areas of Greece and Turkey. The Greeks were the first to record the use of oregano and they credited Aphrodite, the goddess of love, with creating it with the purpose of bringing joy to mankind. The word “oregano” is from two Greek words, oras, which means mountain, and ganos, the word for joy. “Joy of the mountains.”
Ancient Greek physicians prescribed oregano for infections, wounds, headaches, respiratory disorders, seizures, snakebite, and other kinds of poisonings. Wreaths of oregano were used to crown brides and bridegrooms to bring blessings on their wedding celebrations. Oregano was also left on graves to bring peace to the departed. Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic, as well as for the treatment of stomach pains and respiratory problems.
The Romans added it to food and wine and discovered that it could prevent food from spoiling. The Chinese recognized oregano as a medicinal herb and used it for fever, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin irritations.
The highest medicinal grade oregano comes from Greece and Turkey. Medicinal oregano contains high amounts of folate, which is crucial for fetal development and lowering the risk of neural birth defects; vitamin A, for maintaining both skin and eye health; magnesium, for muscle contraction and blood pressure; and potassium, for optimizing heart health.vitamins C and A and niacin. Just one teaspoon of dried oregano can fulfill about 8% of your daily vitamin K needs.
Oregano oil is produced from the leaves and flowers of wild Origanum vulgar picked at its peak, and distilled by a natural process that ensures the key medicinal activities are preserved. It takes a lot of oregano to distill a small amount of oil. About 1,000 pounds would be needed to make one pound of oil.
Compounds in oregano may help manage type 2 diabetes. Authors of a 2016 rodent study concluded that Origanum extract may help:
- improve insulin resistance
- regulate the expression of genes that affect fat and carbohydrate metabolism
- restore damaged liver and kidney tissues
Several studies have found that oregano and oregano oil are high in antioxidants. Oregano essential oil is especially high in carvacrol and thymol, two antioxidants that can help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals. These antioxidants compose up to 90% of the pure oregano oil. They have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal power. Carvacrol and thymol can help lower cholesterol. Preliminary studies have shown that carvacrol, the most abundant compound in oregano oil, inhibits cancer cell growth and causes cell death in lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.
Rosmarinic acid gives oregano its anti-inflammatory action. It can help reduce inflammation related to allergies and treat acne, insect bites and canker sores, and skin irritations like rosacea.
Oregano oil contains natural compounds that combat bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. It can be used for ailments ranging from athletes foot to food poisoning. Oregano is an incredibly efficient “bug killer” and, according to research, destructive microbes do not build up a resistance to oregano oil as they often do with pharmaceutical treatments.
Oregano oil can be used topically, diluted with olive or coconut oil. But, it is very effect internally. In its pure state, the oil is very potent, so never put it directly on mucous membranes because it can burn. Use 1-5 drops of the oil in warm water or add it to soups or stews.. Oregano oil capsules are also available.
Add a few drops to your shampoo or bath. Bad breath, body odor, and foot odor can be prevented with regular use of oregano oil.
Oregano oil is a powerful antiseptic cleaner. Use a few drops of oil to wipe down counters, clean the baby’s room, or wipe up spills to prevent the growth of bacteria.
People with an allergy to plants belonging to the Lamiaceae family, which include oregano, basil, lavender, mint, and sage, should take care, as they may also develop an allergic reaction to oregano. Avoid oregano products for 2 weeks before surgery, as it can increase the risk of bleeding.
How to Buy
Oregano is easily grown in the garden at home but grocery stores typically carry fresh oregano in the produce department.
In most cases, fresh oregano in the grocery store will be packaged in a plastic clamshell. Peer into it to make sure that the oregano is still looking fresh. Purchased fresh oregano branches should be rich green in color and not the least bit limp.
How to Store
Fresh oregano must be used quickly. Whether it’s homegrown or purchased, oregano should be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. If you wrap the bunch in a slightly damp paper towel, it may extend the life up to one week. You may also extend the shelf life of fresh oregano by storing whole stems with leaves in a glass of water.
Fresh oregano can also be frozen. Before doing so, though, wash and dry the fresh oregano sprigs. Strip whole leaves from stems and place in plastic bag loosely without crushing, but remove all air. Freeze and keep in a location where it will not get crushed. No need to thaw before using. You can also mix chopped leaves with a small amount of water or puree them and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out the cubes into a plastic bag and seal tightly. Use frozen oregano within one year
Unlike other herbs, dried oregano is often preferred over the fresh herb. To dry fresh oregano, tie sprigs into a bunch and hang in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Once dried, seal tightly and store away from sunlight. In general, dried common oregano sold in the grocery stores is actually a mixture of different varieties of oregano combined with marjoram and thyme. You could also pull all the oregano leaves off the stem before drying, spread them across a baking sheet, and let them dry.
As with all dried herbs, dried oregano should be kept in a cool, dark place in a tightly-sealed container and used within 6 months for the freshest flavor.
How to Cook
Whether it’s fresh or dried, oregano is one of the foundations of Italian cuisine, probably because of its ability to draw out the flavor of tomato-based dishes and any other ingredient it’s blended with
The stems are thick enough that branches will hold together when cooked, even through long braises or simmers. Where cilantro, dill, or basil will turn brown and wilt away when introduced to heat, oregano holds its form.