I love to cook Italian food, so I usually have a pot or two of oregano growing in my garden this time of year and in my kitchen year-round. Also known as wild marjoram, the word “oregano” means “mountain joy” in Greek. A member of the mint family, oregano thrives year-round as a perennial in the Mediterranean region, but is an annual in harsher climates.
Mediterranean oregano plants are small shrubs with tiny leaves that have a distinctive, strong aroma. The plant bears pretty pink or purple flowers, which are also edible. Mexican oregano has a more pungent aroma and is a frequent addition to Mexican cuisine. Oregano can be used in cooking in either its fresh or dry form, and its unique flavor goes particularly well with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, pasta dishes, eggs, fish and meat.
Oregano contains the following chemicals: thymol, ocimene, limonene, carvacrol and pinene, which combine to give it both flavor and health benefits. In fact, people have used the herb for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In addition to flavoring your food, here are some of the uses and benefits of oregano:
- Oregano is rich in vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and for bone health, and Vitamin A, which is key to a healthy immune system.
- Oregano is an important source of iron, potassium and manganese.
Antibacterial properties. Oregano contains thymol and carvacrol, which help fight bacteria. A research study recently found that oregano is a better treatment for giardia – a parasite that can cause intestinal infections — than the drug commonly prescribed to treat the problem.
Antioxidant powerhouse. Oregano contains thymol and rosmarinic acid, which are strong antioxidants. Gram for gram, oregano has 42 times more antioxidant than apples, 12 times more than oranges and even four times more than blueberries.
In addition, oregano is a rich source of fiber and of Omega-3s. As with most foods, the fresher the food, the more the benefits. While dried oregano has some benefits, you gain the most benefits by consuming fresh oregano leaves.
Now let’s look at some of the unexpected uses for the herb and for it in the form of an essential oil, that can actually save you a trip to the doctor and, therefore, save you money:
1. Relieve congestion: When you are feeling the stuffy nose of a cold, try adding three drops of oregano oil to a glass of juice or warm water. Stir and sip daily for four or five days.
2. Reduce cramps and indigestion. The same solution will help ease menstrual cramps and mild indigestion.
3. Ease itchy skin. Mix one drop of oregano oil per one tablespoon of olive oil or coconut oil. Rub gently on skin to ease itching and irritation.
4. Treat a sore throat. Mix three drops of oregano oil into a fresh fruit glass juice and drink daily to relieve the pain of a sore throat.
5. Fight acne. With its antifungal and antiseptic properties, oregano can be effective in fighting acne and pimples. It is a common ingredient in foot creams, face masks and face cleansers.
6. Prevent dandruff and itchy scalp. Mix three drops of oregano oil into your mild shampoo and apply to hair, allowing it to set for several minutes. Then rinse your hair thoroughly with lukewarm water. Repeat. Be careful to avoid contact with your eyes. For an itchy scalp, mix a few drops of oregano oil with olive oil, coconut oil or almond oil and apply to your scalp. Let it sit for about 45 minutes before shampooing and thoroughly rinsing.
7. Reduce anxiety. Research findings, including a study by the University of Maryland Medical Center, have revealed that people who eat food rich in omega-3 fatty acids two to three times a week have experienced a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Rather than eat a large amount of fish, most people use fish oil supplements, but these oils can leave a bad aftertaste. Ask your doctor about taking oregano oil as an alternative.
8. Pain reliever. Because of its carvacrol content, oregano can act as an anti-inflammatory and as a pain reliever. Rub oregano oil directly onto painful joints and muscles for relief, or, if you have sensitive skin, mix a drop of oil with a tablespoon of olive oil.
Here’s how to prepare your own long-lasting dried oregano:
- Cut fresh oregano stalks and hang them upside down in a dry, cool airy room away from sunlight for about a week.
- Separate the flowers from the leaves.
- By running your hand up and down the branch, separate the leaves from the stalk. Discard the stalk.
- Crush leaves in your palm to create a powder.
- Pour powder into an airtight container. Dried oregano can be used for up to six months.
How to store fresh oregano
- Cut oregano stalks when leaves are bright green in color and not limp.
- Tie the stalks together at the base with a piece of thread.
- Place stalks in a plastic bag and store in a refrigerator for up to three days.
- If you place a slightly damp paper towel in the bag with the oregano and allow some air to enter the bag, you may be able to extend the freshness to up to a week.
Another idea is to place the whole stalks with their leaves in a glass of water with a plastic bag tented loosely over the glass.
You can also prolong the life of fresh oregano by freezing it. First, wash and dry the oregano sprigs. Then strip the whole leaves from stems and place them in a plastic bag. Gently remove air in the bag without crushing the leaves. Place in the freezer in a spot where it will not get crushed. You do not need to thaw the leaves before using them. Another freezing option is to mix chopped oregano leaves with a small amount of water and then pour the mixture into ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, pop them out and place them in small zippered bags to use as needed. The frozen cubes will stay fresh for one year.
As with any essential oil, you should check with your doctor before use if you are pregnant or nursing a baby. Some studies have shown that oregano oil may reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron. Also, if you are allergic to mint, you should avoid oregano since they are both in the same plant family.
Oregano is sometimes called the “pizza herb” because of its common use as a pizza topping. Even though it is one of the world’s most commonly used herbs today, it was almost unheard of in the United States until soldiers who had served in Italy during World War II brought home their taste for pizza. From 1948 to 1956, oregano sales in the US increased by 5,200 percent!
Whether you use it for its taste on pizza or in your favorite recipe or for one of its health benefits, why not try some oregano today?
Do you have any oregano tips? Let us know them in the comments section below.