A Brief History Of Oregano– The Benefits Of Adding Oregano In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Oregano– Oregano Effects – Are There Any?
Herbs and spices will always be part of anyone’s kitchen. Aside from the usual salt and pepper, you will often find thyme, rosemary, basil leaves, and oregano in the kitchen cabinet. These herbs and spices give every dish a certain oomph and add more flavor to the food.
As it turns out, herbs and spices are more than just a flavoring agent. Most, if not all, of them comes with tons of health benefits that could help combat various diseases.
Today, let’s focus more on oregano and find out what it can do for your body.
Oregano, In A Nutshell
From pizza to pasta to beef dishes, you will often find the herb “oregano” in the list of ingredients. This is because oregano is among the widely-used herbs around the world.
What exactly is it?
Oregano, which is also known as a “pizza herb,” is a herb that comes from the mint or Lamiaceae family. It is closely related to other herbs like marjoram, sage, thyme, basil, and lavender.
Physically, it can grow between one and three feet tall with tiny olive-green leaves. When the oregano plant blooms, it has pink or purple flowers, which are also edible. It is best to plant this in early spring because it cannot survive winter.
Did you know that oregano comes in varieties, too? Here are some of the popular variants:
- Common Oregano – This is botanically known as Origanum vulgare, which means “joy of the mountains” in Greek. This is commonly found in Mediterranean countries and often their “herb of choice.” It is also known as “wild marjoram” or “Spanish thyme.”
- Mexican Oregano – This variant is botanically known as Lippia graveolens but popularly known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage.It is the strongest-flavored variety of oregano, which is why it is used when making chili powder. The leaves are also bigger and has a darker shade of green.
Other lesser popular variants are Spanish oregano (Origanum vivens)and Greek oregano (Origanum heraclites), which don’t have enough depth in terms of flavor.
In terms of flavor, oregano has a slightly woodsy with warm, earthy, and aromatic taste. You might also notice hints of mint and hay that are slightly bitter.
If you want to get the most out of oregano’s flavor, then go for the fresher variant. Fresh oregano will give you the flavor and aroma compared to the store-bought ones.
Tracing the history of oregano can be challenging because it is closely related to marjoram. Although oregano is heavily associated with the Italian cuisine, it turns out that the Greeks and the people from the Mediterranean region first used this herb. In fact, ancient Greeks believed that cows grazed on oregano fields, thereby producing tastier meat.
Because of this, experts believed that oregano originated from warm climates, particularly in the Mediterranean region and western and southwestern Eurasia. Greeks believed that oregano was created by the goddess Aphrodite as a symbol of joy in her garden; hence the literal meaning of “joy of the mountains.”
Eventually Romans learned about oregano and found out that it was easy to grow. They also loved the taste, thereby making this herb a staple in many of their dishes. Later on, oregano spread through the rest of Europe and Northern Africa.
During the Middle Ages, oregano was also used medicinally. People would chew oregano leaves to treat conditions like cough, toothache, indigestion, and rheumatism.
As the year progresses, oregano found its way to China. It was used for medicinal reasons as a cure for fever, upset stomach, and vomiting.
As the whole world get to know oregano, more people used it for almost anything. Aside from being a kitchen ingredient and a treatment for various diseases, oregano was also used to encourage good luck and good health. It was also used for spells for happiness, good luck, protection, and even helping you let go of a loved one.
Right now, oregano is among the widely used herbs around the world. Countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and Turkey are also among the top producers of oregano worldwide.
Oregano Nutrition Facts
Oregano is a pizza’s favorite because of its flavor and aroma. Apparently, it comes with an impressive nutritional profile. In fact, one teaspoon of oregano leaves could give you the following nutrients:
- Calories for energy
- Vitamin K
Oregano is also loaded with antioxidants including:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E (tocopherol)
- Phenolic acids
What can these nutrients do to your overall health? Read the next section to find out.
Are you still not convinced to include oregano regularly in your diet? Then here are evidence-based health benefits you need to know about oregano:
You Will Never Run Out Of Antioxidants
Many herbs are known for its antioxidant properties. Thankfully, oregano did not disappoint.
Similar to its cousins, oregano contains essential compounds and high levels of antioxidants that are also effective in fighting free radicals in the body. This means oregano is also capable of stopping the buildup of free radicals that could reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer.
What kinds of antioxidants?
One is four known homologues of tocopherol, which includes alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gamma-. Another types of antioxidant found in oregano are thymol and carvacrol.
According to a Russian study, oregano essential oil is capable of inhibiting oxidation process. In fact, the oil’s antioxidant activity increased when the concentration of oregano essential oils increased.
If you prefer essential oils, then don’t worry because according to a study published in Food Chemistry journal, oregano essential oil has higher antioxidant activity, too.
Here comes the best part: you can combine oregano with other high antioxidant fruits and vegetables to boost your health. It is easier to add, too.
Bacteria Is Among Its Worst Enemies
Oregano is loaded with antioxidants. This follows that it is also rich in antibacterial properties, right?
The answer is yes. Oregano contains essential compounds that are rich in antibacterial properties.
According to a study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Science, oregano can work against gram positive bacteria. Some of these bacteria include:
- Staphylococcus saprophyticus
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Bacillus megaterium
- Bacillus circulans
- Micrococcus roseus
- Micrococcus luteus
In another Polish study, experts found out that oregano essential oil was effective in inhibiting 20 clinical bacterial strains of E. coli. Consequently, it can also inhibit the growth of 20 clinical strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. As a result of this inhibition, the possibility of developing an infection is lower.
Another study published in the Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease revealed similar results. In fact, experts acknowledged the antimicrobial activities offered by oregano essential oils against various bacteria like E. coli and Klebsiella strains.
Still, take note that these studies were limited to test tube studies only using concentrated amounts of oregano. Nonetheless, the results are promising.
So Does Viral Infection
Aside from fighting bacteria, oregano is also helpful against viruses. When it comes to antiviral properties, oregano’s carvacrol and thymol take the spotlight.
According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, carvacrol deactivated norovirus, a type of viral infection that causes nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. The best part is this compound took effect within one hour from treatment.
In another study published in Planta Medica, experts revealed carvacrol and thymol’s antiviral effects, too. In the said study, these two compounds inactivated 90 percent of herpes simplex virus within one hour.
These two studies show promising results that oregano is effective against various viral infections.
Don’t Forget, It Is Anti-Inflammatory, Too
Inflammation happens when the body could sense an illness or injury. Although inflammation will fade in time and with the help of medicine, chronic inflammation can contribute to the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, autoimmune conditions, or heart disease.
How can oregano help against inflammation?
For starters, oregano is rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants could help not only neutralize free radicals but also reduce inflammation.
Carvacrol is also essential. In a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, it turns out carvacrol helped reduce swelling in the mice’s paws by up to 57 percent.
Another study published in the Mediators of Inflammation showed that oregano and thyme essential oils reduced inflammatory markers on mice with an inflamed colon.
Although promising, keep in mind that these are studies conducted on animals with highly concentrated amounts. Experts need to look examine the effects on humans as well as the recommended dosage of oregano to ensure safety.
Oregano Can Protect Us From Cancer
According to the CDC, new cases of cancer could go as high as one million cases every year. Melanoma, prostate, breast, and thyroid cancers are also among the type of cancers that are expected to increase over the years.
Thankfully, advancements in medicine and technology enabled medical professionals to conduct effective treatments against cancer. As the older generation say, prevention is always better than cure.
Here is where oregano comes in. Because of its antioxidant properties, oregano is capable of neutralizing free radical damage, which could also help in preventing cancer.
In one test-tube study published in the Nutrition and Cancer journal, experts found out that oregano extract stopped the growth of cancer cells in the colon. Consequently, it also helped kill cancer cells.
In another study published in Anti-Cancer Drugs journal, experts discovered that carvacrol, one of the essential components found in oregano, suppressed the spread and growth of cancer cells in the colon.
These are only test tube studies with high doses of oregano. As of this writing, experts have yet to carry out human trials to determine the proper dosage for oregano’s anti-cancer properties.
More Importantly, Oregano Is Easy To Add In Your Diet
There is a reason why oregano is among the popular herbs in the market. It is so versatile, which means you can easily include this in any of your favorite dishes – pizza, pasta, soup, stew, homemade sauce, chili, and the list goes on. You can even make your own pesto or salad dressing and even use oregano to season your meat.
Since it is easy to incorporate in your everyday life, this means you will be able to enjoy these health benefits. You are also assured that your body gets sufficient nutrients based on oregano’s nutritional profile.
Oregano Side Effects
Oregano is a herb and a natural treatment for many illnesses. This means it doesn’t have any side effects, right?
Generally, oregano is safe and will rarely lead to side effects. Still, precaution is necessary. Allergic reaction is possible, especially if you are allergic to plants that belong to the Lamiaceae family. This includes mint, basil, lavender, and sage.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also strongly advised to be careful when using oregano products. Experts have not yet examined the safety of oregano on this group, especially if taken in large amounts.
Do you have diabetes? Then you need to be extra careful on your oregano intake as well. There is a possibility that oregano will lower blood sugar; hence precaution is a must.
If you have a bleeding disorder, then take it easy on your oregano intake, too. Oregano might increase the risk of bleeding, so being careful is a must. If you will undergo a surgery, then don’t take oregano at least two weeks before the scheduled operation to reduce the risk of bleeding as well.
Take it easy on oregano oil, too. Concentrated oregano oil may lead to skin irritation or allergic reaction. Make sure to dilute the essential oil first with a carrier oil or water before applying on your skin. Never swallow essential oils, too.
Overall, make sure you consult your doctor first before you take any form of oregano, especially if you have a certain condition or taking any medications. This way, oregano won’t result to any adverse effects that could compromise your health.
Similar to other herbs, oregano comes in fresh and dry variant. When it comes to storage and prolonging the shelf life, it all depends on the type of oregano you will get.
Fresh oregano has shorter life span and must be used quickly. Place it inside a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator to prolong its like for up to three days. If you want to make it last for a week, then you can put a slightly damp paper towel inside the bag. Don’t forget to leave some air in the bag.
To extend the life of fresh oregano to more than a week, make sure to store the whole stems with leaves in a glass of water. Then, loosely tent a plastic bag over the glass.
Can you freeze oregano? The answer is yes. Just make sure to remember these pointers:
- Wash and then dry fresh oregano sprigs.
- Strip whole leaves from the stems.
- Place the leaves inside a plastic bag. Make sure there is no air inside the plastic bag.
Here is another freezing technique:
- Chop oregano leaves and mix with small amount of water. You can also puree them.
- Pour it in ice cube trays and the freeze.
- Once frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and place it inside a plastic bag. Seal tightly.
Believe it or not, this method lets you use oregano for a year.
If you prefer the easier way, then dried oregano leaves sold in the market could save the day. Just make sure to place it inside a tightly-sealed container and keep it in cool, dark place and away from direct sunlight. Good ventilation is also a must if you want to keep your oregano for at least six months.
Does this mean you can throw dried oregano after six months? The answer is no. Dried oregano will not spoil but it will lose its potency and flavor over time.
Oregano is a common herb with a long list of uses inside the kitchen. You can easily grow it in your own backyard or buy from the market.
Just in case you ran out, these herbs can be an alternative:
- Marjoram – This is the best substitute for oregano. Both marjoram and oregano belong to the mint family, with oregano often called as “wild marjoram.” However, marjoram’s flavor is more floral and milder, which means you need an additional spoon of marjoram for ever spoon of oregano needed according to the recipe. Also, keep in mind that marjoram is more delicate, which means cooking it too long isn’t recommended. Add marjoram towards the end of your cooking to preserve the flavor.
- Thyme – This is another popular oregano substitute. Thyme is recommended for tomato-based dishes, dishes with beans and potatoes, and even for salad dressings. The best part is no adjustment is needed. You can use the exact same amount that the recipe requires for oregano.
- Sage – For poultry dishes and fatty food, sage is a great alternative. It also works well with soups and vegetable dishes in case you ran out of oregano. Still, the fresh variant of sage is advisable because it has the ability to give you its ultimate flavor compared to the dried form. No adjustment needed as well, which means you can use the exact amount of oregano needed according to the recipe. S
- Basil – This herb is another popular alternative for oregano since it also belongs to the mint family. The aroma and flavor are similar, although basil is milder compared to oregano. It is excellent for tomato-based pasta sauce and beef dishes.
- Italian Seasoning – This substitute contains oregano, thereby an effective replacement.
- Parsley – If the tomato-based recipe calls for oregano and you happen to ran out of it, then parsley can be your best bet. It has a dynamic flavor with strong taste and aroma that can give the dish the required oomph factor. Thanks to parsley’s savory characteristics, it can enhance any dishes, too.
- Dill – If you are looking for anise-like characteristics in your dish but your oregano jar is empty, then dill can be a great alternative. It will also give your dish that bitter taste; hence a recommended replacement. Still, dill can be overpowering because it has stronger taste and aroma. Make sure to use less compared to the required oregano measurement to avoid overpowering taste.
Not to worry because oregano is readily available. You can see it in small bottles in the spice section of the supermarket or in the produce or fresh herb section if you prefer the fresh ones. Just make sure you get the ones in rich green color. Any signs of limp must be avoided.
Oregano Usage / Recipes
One of the benefits of oregano is that it is easy to incorporate in your diet and everyday life. The next concern now is how do you add this?
Oregano can work well with onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, and basil. These ingredients could be an excellent sauce or marinade for your meat and chicken dishes.
You can also add oregano in baked goods, veggie dishes, fish, and anything with chili by using it as a marinade or stuffing or to give your dish an herby flavor. You can even add oregano when you make a dough for bread or pizza.
If you’re a tea lover, then oregano won’t disappoint, too. Put a spoonful or two of dried oregano leaves in a cup of boiling water. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then drink. This could be a great natural remedy for cough or stomach issues.
The Bottom Line
Herbs are non-negotiable. Aside from the taste and aroma they bring to the dish, they are also rich in nutritional profile.
This is same with oregano. It has high level of antioxidants, thereby making it an effective treatment against bacteria, virus, and inflammation. It can potentially protect yourself against cancer, too.
The best part is oregano is versatile and easy to incorporate in your daily diet. Add it to your favorite dishes and get to enjoy what this herb can offer.