Oregano is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae) with a host of familiar relatives like Thyme, Lavender and Rosemary. Oregano thrives in dry, well-drained soils.
Origanum vulgare is sometimes called wild marjoram in Europe as it is closely related to sweet marjoram. Origanum comes from the Greek words oros meaning mountain and ganos, meaning joy and has been historically associated with good luck and happiness. It was found to be used to fashion crowns adorning Greek and roman brides and grooms on their wedding day.
Medicinally, an infusion of the herb is useful for feverish conditions and for treating coughs, colds and influenza due to its ability to improve the removal of phlegm from the lungs and relax bronchial muscles. It has also served traditionally as an herb for the gut, relieving flatulence and improving digestion. Oregano possesses strong antimicrobial and antiseptic constituents and is therefore a good choice for treating intestinal infections.
The essential oil of oregano has shown potent antimicrobial and antioxidant properties due to the presence of thymol and carvacrol. Clinical evidence is lacking, yet oregano oil products have been used to treat conditions ranging from respiratory to gastrointestinal.
According to Herbarium:
“Medicinally, oregano’s first documented use dates back 50,000 years to Iraq where archeologists discovered the grave of an apparent noble woman who had small bag of wild oregano tied around her neck. Researchers have also found oregano-infused olive oil in an ancient Grecian ship in the Aegean Sea and theorize that it was most likely used as a therapeutic rub and as a food preservative (Bagchi, Preuss & Swaroop, 2016).
The Greeks also used oregano for fomentations and as a remedy for narcotic poisoning, convulsions, and dropsy, while the Turks routinely used oregano to make what is known as kekik water. Used to aid in digestion and regulate blood sugar, kekik water is made by removing the essential oil from the distillate of oregano herbs (Grieve, 1931/1971; Kintzios, 2002).
In the Middle Ages, people often carried posies of fresh oregano or used oregano vinegar to protect themselves against the black plague (Crocker, 2005). And by the 17th century, the British herbalist Culpeper lauded wild oregano for its effectiveness against lung and ear infections, intestinal complaints, stomach aches, tuberculosis, and even hepatitis (Bagchi, Preuss & Swaroop, 2016).
Oregano has also been used medicinally as an astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, emmenagogue, stimulant, and stomachic. As a folk remedy, oregano has been used to relieve colic, cough, headaches, nervousness, and toothaches. And more recently, oregano has been used as an oral antiseptic, to treat viral and bacterial infections, and as an anti-cancer agent (Kintzios, 2002).
Ship logs from the eighteenth century reveal that aromatic spices were commonly used to preserve food on long journeys across the sea. Though these savvy sailors didn’t know the precise mechanism at work in these spices, they knew that aromatics were essential to a seaman’s survival. In the case of oregano, we now know that it’s the herb’s antioxidant and anti-microbial properties that help preserve food, which slow lipid peroxidation and keep pathogens at bay (Bagchi, Preuss & Swaroop, 2016; Preedy, 2016).
Sixty-percent of the world’s wild Organum grows in Turkey, and it seems that oregano was the Mediterranean’s best kept secret until the early twentieth century, when North Americans began to show an increased interest in oregano. In the years between 1940 and 1985, oregano consumption rose an astounding 3800 percent in the United States, though this increase was owing more to its culinary uses, rather than medicinal ones (Kintzios, 2002).
While Americans were busy adding oregano to their spaghetti and pizza, serious research was underway on its curative properties. In 1910, W.H. Martindale found that oregano oil had 26 times more phenol than synthetic sources and touted it as “the most powerful plant-derived antiseptic known” (as cited in Bagchi, Preuss, & Swaroop, 2016, p. 668). In 1919, a researcher at the Pasteur Institute studied the effects of oregano oil in septic water. Studies revealed that even small concentrations of the oregano oil had a significant germicidal effect on microbial growth. Despite a growing body of research, however, oregano largely remained an under-utilized medicinal herb in the United States well into the twentieth century (Bagchi, Preuss, & Swaroop, 2016).
Today, oregano is one of the most widely used and researched herbs on the planet. Worldwide production of oregano is estimated at 10,000 tons per year, and a wide range of studies have established oregano as a powerful antioxidant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antiseptic (Kintzios, 2002).
The antioxidant content of oregano is particularly noteworthy. In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, oregano ranked higher than any other fruit or herb in antioxidant activity. Oregano has 42 times more antioxidants than apples, 12 times as much as those found in oranges, and 4 times the antioxidant content of blueberries (Murray, Pizzorno, & Pizzorno, 2005).
With its high antioxidant content, oregano may prove useful in combating the free radicals responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders (Heo et al., 2012). Other studies suggest that oregano’s antioxidant effects are capable of modulating cancer growth and preventing metastasis (Al Dhaheri et al., 2013; Ayesh, Abed, & Farris, 2014 ). What’s more, oregano has proven an effective antimicrobial agent against both Gram-negative and Gram-positive microorganisms and may prove vital in the fight against antibiotic resistant infections (Dorman & Deans, 2000; Nostro et al., 2004).”
Capsules: 450 mg 2x/day with meals
Powder: 0.5 – 1 teaspoon with food
Tincture: Standard extract: 260 mg a day
Oil: 90mg daily
Oregano is generally regarded as safe. There is some discrepancy among research, but there is some evidence that oregano can cause uterine contractions so it should not be used therapeutically during pregnancy. Oregano oil can cause irritation to skin and mucous membranes and therefore should be diluted. Oregano essential oil shouldn’t be used topically for children under the age of two.
My path to herbalism began years ago in my garden. I had no idea then that I would fall in love with this blending of nature, science and art. Gardening is my respite, my retreat from the stressors surrounding me. I go to my garden or to our surrounding forest behind our house to leave the world behind and be with what revives me, plants.
Several years ago, my eldest daughter was diagnosed with some severe health issues and had to be heavily medicated. This inspired me to look to the gifts in my garden, the plants that had become my daily companions, to see what solutions we could find. Her goal was and still is to get off of allopathic medications and use holistic medicine instead. This was my initial motivation and it has now become my passion.
Over the years, my family members have been my guinea pigs, patiently taking tinctures, rubbing themselves with ointments and salves, applying poultices and ingesting tea upon tea. I am truly grateful to them for the many hours they have spent with me picking red clover, comfrey, St John’s wort and yarrow. It gives me great joy to see my daughters reach for a plantain leaf to apply as a poultice for a sting or bite, or when they ask me what salve they should put on a rash.
Though this journey began as a desperate measure to save my daughter, it has become a life’s journey. I humbly invite you to come and sojourn with me.