Oregano

Oregano has been used since ancient times for both its appealing flavor and its antiseptic properties – while its tea can soothe menstrual cramps.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Oregano, wild majoram
  • Common name(s)Oregano, wild majoram
  • Scientific nameOriganum vulgare
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionSouthern Europe
  • Main producer(s)New Zealand
  • Main Economic UseCulinary
Oregano

Oregano is a popular spice widely used across a variety of cuisines, particularly Mediterranean. Not only has it been used to season food, but it also has medicinal properties. Traditionally, it was believed to cure rheumatism, digestive problems, fevers, and more.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Digestive
  • Key constituentsLimonene, thymol, ocimene
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Essential oil, Dried
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Oregano

Health Benefits of Oregano

Beyond its well-known culinary applications, oregano has a long history of medicinal uses. It has been traditionally valued for:

  • Relieving joint inflammation. Beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP), a compound found in oregano, is an anti-inflammatory.

  • Regulating digestive function. Oregano may have the ability to kill some problematic digestive tract bacteria.

Over the course of European history, oregano has also been found effective for relieving rheumatism, digestive problems, toothaches, fevers, menstrual cramps, and respiratory problems, since it has expectorant properties that help remove phlegm and clear airways.

Modern researchers believe it may have antiseptic and antifungal benefits; however, further studies are necessary to corroborate these claims.

How It Works

Oregano extract contains a large amount of limonene, thymol, and ocimene, volatile oils that are responsible of oregano's antiseptic and antispasmodic properties.

Oregano also possesses many antioxidants, most importantly carotenes. It also contains a significant amount of essential minerals, like potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Other herbs with anti-inflammatory properties are peony and rose, while cloves and cardamom also improve digestion.

MODERN RESEARCHERS BELIEVE OREGANO MAY HAVE ANTISEPTIC AND ANTIFUNGAL BENEFITS.

How to Consume Oregano

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsLeaves
  • Edible usesFlavoring

Oregano is most widely known as a culinary ingredient, and its aromatic qualities are particularly used in a variety of Italian dishes. However, the healing benefits of oregano are more concentrated in medicinal forms.

Medicinal Preparations

Main preparations: Fresh, dried, tea, capsules, oil

Despite it being used as an ingredient in many different types of meals, it is still uncommon for people to eat raw oregano, as it is easier to find when it already dried than raw. When raw, it has an aromatic, slightly bitter, and warm taste. 

Oregano supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores. In addition, there is a wide variety of oregano supplement choices available through online retailers. They are commonly found as tablets, capsules, and essential oil.

Food

Main preparations: Fresh, dried, oil

Nowadays, oregano is a staple food, found in most spice racks around the world. It has been an important flavor enhancer used by many home cooks since the Middle Ages, when it was one of the few spices available in certain regions. In addition to its gentle, pleasing taste, its scent has been highly prized for centuries, and it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Italian cuisine worldwide.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Raw oregano is easy to find in most grocery stores or local markets around the world. It usually comes as fresh oregano branches, which should be rich green. Dried oregano can also be purchased in most supermarkets, and it usually consists of a mixture of varieties of oregano mixed with thyme.

Oregano supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores and online retailers. They are commonly found as tablets, capsules, and essential oil.

RAW OREGANO IS EASY TO FIND IN MOST GROCERY STORES OR LOCAL MARKETS.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F)), 10a (From −1.1 °C (30 °F) to +1.7 °C (35 °F)), 10b (From +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F))
  • Potential insect pestsAphids
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot

Oregano is one of the most popular Mediterranean herbs because of its many culinary and medicinal applications. This hardy perennial is highly adaptable to a wide range of conditions; however, it prefers sunny, temperate climates.

Growing Guidelines

  • Like other herbs native to the Mediterranean, oregano needs full sun exposure and a median soil temperature of 70°F (21°C).

  • While a loamy soil with a good drainage system is required, oregano does not require much rainfall or watering, and excess soil humidity should be avoided because the plant has a tendency towards root and stem rot.

  • Although it is fairly resistant to pests, it can fall victim to spider mites and aphids.

  • Oregano should be harvested when the plant has reached about 5 inches (12.5 cm) tall, and before it flowers in order to reap the most essential oil of the highest nutrient content.

  • After four years, oregano plants tend to produce leaves of reduced quality, at which time it is suggested that they be replaced with newly-planted specimens.

More detailed information about growing oregano can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesRepellent

Plant Biology

Sometimes called wild marjoram or winter marjoram, Origanum vulgare is an aromatic herb native to the dry, rocky soils in the mountainous areas of southern Europe, southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean basin. Oregano plants can reach up to 31 - 39 inches (0.8 - 1 m) and have thin but hardy stems with oval, dark green leaves and white or purple flowers.

  • Classification

    Oregano is a member of the Lamiaceae family, which 6,900 - 7,200 species of flowering plants spread out over 236 genera. This family is often referred to as the mint or deadnettle family. It contains many other popular, well-known, and economically-important herbs, such as sage (Salvia officinalis), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and basil (Ocimum basilicum).

  • Subspecies and Cultivars of Oregano

    There are two notable subspecies of oregano. The first is O. vulgare subsp. gracile, originally from Kyrgyzstan, which is often grown more for its ornamental value than for its culinary, as it has a pungent and spicy flavor. The second is O. vulgare subsp. hirtum, which originated in Italy. It is considered the best all-purpose culinary subspecies, and it has a very vigorous and hardy growth, producing dark green, hairy foliage.

    Several oregano cultivars have also been developed. The most distinct and distinguished are 'Aureum', which has golden foliage and a mild taste, and 'Nana', a dwarf cultivar.

Historical Information

Archeological findings show that oregano was already widely cultivated as a food crop in Ancient Greece, approximately around the 9th century BCE, before written records began.  It was valued for its medicinal purposes, with Hippocrates using it for its antiseptic properties and as an antidote for some poisons.

When the Roman Empire conquered Greece, the Romans adopted oregano into their diet, and the vastness of their empire allowed its use to spread throughout the world, as the herb eventually found its way through the entire Eurasian continent, from China to the British Isles.

Popular Beliefs

According to Greek mythology, oregano was created by the goddess Aphrodite and given to humankind in order to spread happiness. The term origanum comes from the Greek words oros or "mountain", and ganos, meaning "ornament". 

Oregano has been used by different cultures to crown married couples, placed on graves to give peace to departed spirits, and as a good luck charm.

Economic Data

Oregano's main economic importance is its trade as a spice, and it is in high demand worldwide. New Zealand is currently the world's biggest producer of oregano. As this herb increases in popularity, its export industry is also gathering pace. In 2009, oregano exportation from Peru alone increased 31%, amounting to a net worth of $1.75 million USD in the first two months of that year alone.

Other Uses

Oregano can be used as an effective mosquito and insect repellent. Some cultures consider it a natural aphrodisiac.

Bibliography

  • USDA Plants Database, Natural Resources Conservation: Origanum vulgare, 2013
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine
  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of essential oils isolated from Thymbra capitata L. (Cav.) and Origanum vulgare, 2005
  • Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine - An unexplored lore of in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs, 2013
  • Wisconsin State Herbarium, Origanum vulgare L.
  • Farmers' Almanac, Oregano: planting, growing and harvesting
  • Purdue University, Oregano