It is not just a great pizza seasoning. Oregano is a medicinal herb-cum-spice.
The Greeks used its leaf extracts to ease pain, menstruation, indigestion, and microbial infections. That is why it is commonly added to Mediterranean foods (1).
Modern research reveals the presence of polyphenols in oregano leaves (1). In the right doses, these polyphenols can give you dandruff-free hair and scar-free skin! Here’s an exclusive read on oregano and its benefits, cooking and storing tips, and side effects.
In This Article
What Is Oregano?
Strictly speaking, oregano is more of a flavor than an herb. Approximately 60 plant species that share a similar flavor and color are often labeled ‘oregano’ (1).
This flavor is primarily derived from several species of Origanum and Lippia plants. The Origanum species is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean countries. The Lippia species can be found in Mexico (2).
Traditional Chinese and European medicine used oregano to heal cough, asthma, diarrhea, stomach ache, and menstrual inflammatory disorders. It is said that the Greeks used oregano creams on sores and aching muscles (1), (3).
Therefore, oregano is widely used in present-day Mediterranean cuisine. The bioactive ingredients in these plants give them antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. These herbs are used as a natural flavoring agent and preservative in several foods.
Based on its origin and biochemical composition, oregano is classified into several varieties that are sold under different names.
What Are The Different Types Of Oregano?
The two major varieties of oregano are European and Greek.
European oregano (also known as wild marjoram or winter marjoram) is derived from Origanum vulgare. Greek oregano (also known as sweet marjoram or pot marjoram) is derived from Origanum heracleoticum (2).
Another popular variety is the Mexican oregano. It is derived from Lippia graveolens and commonly known as Mexican sage, Mexican marjoram, or Mexican wild sage (2).
European oregano is primarily produced in Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. And Mexican oregano is (obviously!) native to Mexico.
All the oregano varieties are rich in essential oils. These oils contain bioactive ingredients that give the spice its flavor and medicinal properties.
Hence, European and Greek oregano variants are known to possess digestive, stimulant, and disinfectant properties.
In the section coming up, you will find out how oregano benefits your health, along with scientific evidence. Keep scrolling!
How Does Oregano Benefit Your Health?
With its abundant flavonoids and phenolic acids, oregano is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It relieves menstrual discomfort, muscular pain, and respiratory diseases.
1. Relieves Pain And Inflammation
Nitric oxide, prostaglandins, and free radicals are common pro-inflammatory factors that your body produces. Fresh and dried oregano extracts have been proven to control the production of such compounds (4).
Caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, luteolin, and their derivatives in oregano play an active role in reducing pain and inflammation. Carvacrol, a major component in its essential oil, can heal wounds, cuts, gastric ulcers, and cancers (4), (5).
Therefore, oregano may help relieve inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual cramps, muscle pain, toothache, and insect bites. You can also make oregano-based topical formulas – like cream, lotion, or diluted oil – for external use (6).
2. Treats Microbial Infections
Oregano essential oil has potent antimicrobial activity. Carvacrol and thymol – its active components – are responsible for this effect. They alter the permeability of bacterial and fungal cells. This leads to a leakage of their cellular contents, leading to their death (7), (8).
Another mechanism oregano employs is releasing free radicals. Your body releases these reactive molecules to destroy these pathogens. This mechanism takes place primarily in your gut. However, these free radicals are toxic to your body (8).
Since oregano and its oil are rich in antioxidants, consuming either of them eliminates these toxins from your system (8). Thus, this spice doubles up as a food preservative as well as an antimicrobial agent (7), (8).
3. Clears Dandruff And Scalp Issues
Oregano leaves are reservoirs of essential oil. Using oregano leaf extracts on hair and scalp has shown positive effects in some studies. The subjects showed a remarkable reduction in dandruff within 7 days of treatment (9).
Oregano oils have antifungal activity. Their components can kill fungi belonging to Penicillium and Fusarium species. You can make a cheaper anti-dandruff shampoo or an oil using oregano leaves (9).
The carvacrol and thymol found in them are responsible for this property. Add coconut oil, camphor, hibiscus leaves/flowers, and oregano leaves to these preparations to prevent microbial scalp infections and maintain healthy hair (9).
4. A Potent Antioxidant
Oregano has phenolic compounds and vitamins that inhibit the formation and accumulation of free radicals. Water-based extracts of this spice can eliminate up to 70% superoxide (harmful) ions (10), (11).
They also chemically trap (chelate) metal ions, like iron. An excess of these metal ions has deleterious effects on your metabolism.
Chemical analyses revealed the presence of vitamin E (tocopherol derivatives) in oregano leaves. These active molecules inhibit lipid peroxidation. This may stop inflammation in the vital organs, ultimately protecting you from obesity, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and Alzheimers’s disease (11), (12).
5. May Treat Skin Diseases
The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial property of oregano aids in wound healing. Some studies claim that this spice can treat psoriasis, eczema, rashes, and several skin conditions. However, there is insufficient evidence to prove this application (9).
Oregano oil is known for its antiseptic properties. Topical use of creams, ointments, and lotions containing this oil may relieve skin infection and inflammation (13).
It can also repair and remodel damaged tissues. With further research and trials, oregano extracts could be used in skin care products for children and adults (5).
6. Treats Flu And Viral Diseases
The carvacrol in oregano extracts demonstrates antiviral properties. Clinical studies report that this active molecule directly targets the RNA (genetic material) of certain viruses. This impairs their process of infecting a human host cell (14).
One of the most common and frequent viral infections we experience is the common cold. Ingesting oregano during a flu bout can reduce the severity of cough, sore throat, and fever. Having freshly brewed, hot oregano tea works the best in this case (15), (16).
Mexican oregano oil could inhibit other human viruses like HIV and Rotavirus. Further research is needed to establish its antiviral effects on herpes simplex virus (HSV), hepatitis viruses, and human respiratory viruses (17).
The active molecules in oregano leaves – like carvacrol and thymol – are responsible for these benefits. But, it is not just these two compounds. This spice has a rich nutritional profile containing polyphenols and micronutrients.
Scroll down to know more about its full nutritional profile.
Phytonutritional Profile Of Oregano
|OREGANO (Dried leaves)|
|Nutrient||Unit||1 tsp, leaves = 1.0g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||0.04|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||0.69|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||0.4|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||0|
|Vitamin A, RAE||µg||1|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||17|
|Lutein + zeaxanthin||µg||19|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.18|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||6.2|
Different varieties of oregano have different concentrations of phenolic compounds. The commonly found classes are phenolic acids, esters and its glycosides, flavonoids, and steroids (18).
Phenolic acids include rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, protocatechuic acid, and lithospermic acid (18).
Terpenoids/terpenes like sabinene, 1,8-cineole, cymene, cadinene, ocimene, caryophyllene, germacrene D, limonene, bisabolene, linalool, spathulenol, carvacrol, and thymol were also identified in oregano (18) (19).
Flavonoids – including apigenin, luteolin, chrysoeriol, diosmetin, quercetin, eriodictyol, cosmocide, and vicenin-2 – are also abundant in these leaves (18).
Since it has such a potent and loaded biochemical profile, oregano has been classified as a spice. No wonder it is integral to so many global and local cuisines!
Don’t you also want to know how to use it in cooking? Read the next section to find out how!
How To Use Oregano in Cooking
Fresh oregano can be used towards the end – like a cilantro garnish. Dried leaves should be added in the beginning so that the heat releases all its flavors.
You can use fresh/dried oregano in the following ways:
- Sprinkle it as a topping on pizzas, salads, soups, and
- Use it to flavor omelets, frittatas, and sautéed vegetables (stir-fry).
- Marinate meat and chicken with fresh, chopped oregano and other spices.
- Add it as a finishing touch to home-made garlic bread.
- Put a few sprigs of fresh oregano in a container with olive oil. Oregano-olive oil infusion is ready! You can cook, dress salads, and also apply it as a topical antiseptic/moisturizing agent.
- Vinaigrettes with oregano add great depth to Italian dishes.
Here’s a quick and delicious recipe using oregano. Why don’t you give it a shot right away?
Sizzling Barbeque Chicken – Italian style
What You Need
- Lemon juice: 1 cup
- Vegetable/olive oil: ¼-½ cup
- Vinegar: ¼ cup
- Dried oregano: 1 tablespoon
- Garlic powder: 2 teaspoons
- Whole chicken: 1, cut into pieces
- Salt: to taste
- Pepper: to taste
- Mixing bowl: large sized
- Outdoor grill or similar grilling equipment
Let’s Make It!
- To a large mixing bowl, add lemon juice, vegetable oil, vinegar, oregano, and garlic powder. Mix the contents well. (If you manage to get fresh oregano leaves, finely chop them before adding.)
- Add the chicken pieces to the mixture.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Toss the pieces in the marinade thoroughly to coat evenly.
- Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.(Overnight marination will give best results)
- Preheat an outdoor grill on high heat/temperature. Grease the grill grates lightly.
- When the grill is prepared, carefully place the marinated chicken pieces on the grates.
- Brush the chicken periodically with the remaining marinade while cooking.
- Cook the chicken until no longer pink and juices run clear.
- Transfer the cooked pieces to a serving dish.
- Enjoy this Italian style barbeque chicken with rice or by itself with dips of your choice.
Just reading this made my stomach growl with hunger! This recipe will leave you craving more – thanks to the zest and punch that oregano packs.
As it adds a blast of flavor to your food, it is best to stock some oregano in your pantry.
Before heading out to buy some, read the next section. The tips may come in handy.
How To Pick And Store The Best Oregano
- Choose fresh oregano over the dried form. It has a deeper flavor.
- The leaves of fresh oregano should look bright and vibrant green. The stems should be firm.
- Discard the ones with dark spots or yellowing.
- When purchasing dried oregano, try to pick the one labeled ‘organically ’ These products are free from irradiation, pesticide, etc.
- To store fresh oregano, wrap the bunch in a damp paper towel and place it in the refrigerator.
- You can also freeze the leaves – whole or chopped – in airtight
- Another interesting way to freeze oregano is in ice cube trays. Place fresh oregano leaves in each of the cubes. Fill them with either water or stock and freeze. Use these frozen oregano cubes when preparing soups or stews.
- Store dried oregano in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place. It keeps for about 6months when stored this way.
With its excellent shelf life and storage options, oregano is here to stay!
But, is it healthy to eat oregano frequently? Is there an intake limit and are there any side effects linked to this herb? Scroll down to find out.
How Much Oregano Is Safe To Eat? Are There Any Side Effects Of Eating Oregano?
Oregano and its oil are likely safe when taken orally in food.
When taken by itself in medicinal amounts as a supplement, it is possibly safe. But the evidence is insufficient to prove its effectiveness (20).
However, oregano is a potent emmenagogue. It stimulates menstruation and uterine contractions (abortifacient). Hence, pregnant women and new mothers should avoid consuming it in high amounts (20).
If you are allergic to herbs like basil, mint, sage, or lavender, you may be allergic to oregano too. Watch how your body reacts to it (20).
An overdose of this herb may cause stomach ache and digestive issues. Also, applying concentrated or oxidized oregano based oils or creams may induce irritation. Though these side effects have not been proven yet, it is better to be safe than sorry (21).
Oregano is a staple herb in the Mediterranean diet. Its antioxidant and antimicrobial activities enhance its value as a food additive and therapeutic agent. Traditional and modern alternative medicine use oregano to treat flu, cough, fever, and menstrual cramps.
But before you use oregano or its extracts, consult your healthcare provider to understand its safety and dosage for your body. With medical consent, you can ingest and apply this herb to get healthy skin and hair too.
If you have any queries about oregano, please use the comments section to reach us. We would also love to hear honest feedback and suggestions from you.
Until next time, enjoy cooking with this OG of spices!
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