It’s not just for pizza anymore! The ancient Mediterranean herb we know as oregano (Origanum vulgare) is gaining new fame for its myriad health benefits. In fact, everything old is new again, because oregano was once revered for its medicinal properties as well as its culinary uses. One key difference? Modern scientists have been able to pin down the unique compounds that make oregano such a beneficial herb.
Oregano is packed with properties that kill bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. Studies using dried oregano or oregano oil found the plant can kill parasites in the intestinal tract. It also destroyed 23 strains of infection-causing bacteria.
Some people take diluted oregano essential oil internally, but it’s best to consult a doctor or herbalist before consuming this extremely potent liquid. Until then, you’ll likely have good results including dried oregano in your tea blend — and adding more of the dried herb to your recipes, of course!
Along with warding off illness by consuming oregano in culinary and tea form, you can apply it topically for problems such as sinusitis, athlete’s foot, and toenail fungus. Mixing a semisolid carrier like coconut oil or Vaseline with oregano oil gives you a multi-purpose topical treatment with natural medicinal properties.
Menstrual cycles and menopause often bring similar symptoms, including hormonal swings and painful cramps. Oregano tea, which eases muscle spasms, can decrease the uterine and pelvic cramping that some women experience just before their periods, and even during perimenopause and menopause. Because oregano is an anti-spasmodic, it helps ease uterine and pelvic floor spasms.
You can also try oregano as a topical cramp reliever. Add a few drops of essential oil to a carrier base. A semi-solid oil such as coconut oil or shea butter is probably your least messy option. A generous spoonful of this carrier base, blended with 2 to 3 drops oregano essential oil, is ideal. Gently rub the oil into the lower part of your abdomen.
To make the treatment even more soothing, lay a clean cloth over your stomach, then a heating pad over the towel. This warm compress will help the blend’s healing properties penetrate even more deeply, with the heat itself providing more comfort.
Vegetables aren’t the only game in town when it comes to antioxidant benefits. Herbs such as oregano also help boost your immune system. Antioxidants work by targeting various free radicals — the harmful compounds that can destroy healthy cells. Free radicals can cause damage ranging from lowering your ability to fight off colds and more serious illnesses, to aging your skin prematurely.
Specifically, oregano is rich in the antioxidants thymol and carvacrol. Carvacrol is linked to fighting off the norovirus, a particularly nasty stomach bug. In addition, carvacrol and thymol help you resist viruses such as herpes simplex, which causes cold sores.
While including herbs in your diet is obviously no substitute for regular cancer screenings, research shows promising results involving oregano extracts and the ability to shrink cancer cells. This is attributed to the carvacrol antioxidant in oregano. Researchers have also noted that people in the Mediterranean region who consume plenty of aromatic herbs such as oregano have been shown to have lower rates of certain cancers.
By including fresh and dried oregano in your diet, along with drinking oregano tea, you can add these two antioxidants to the dozens of others you take in through consuming a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
How can you incorporate oregano’s health-giving properties into your daily life? Given the herb’s many available forms, the answer is surprisingly wide-ranging.
1. Add oregano to your patio garden. This Mediterranean herb loves hot conditions and poor soils. Stick in the rocky, parched patch where few other plants will thrive. Or grow it in a terra cotta pot on a sunny windowsill. Snip sprigs of the herb whenever you need it for cooking.
2. Preserve home-grown oregano — or big bunches from the farmers’ market — for use throughout the colder months. Fresh oregano can be infused in both olive oil and vinegar. Drizzle oregano vinegar over Italian-style salads and cooked vegetables. The infused oil adds intense flavor when brushed onto meats, savory baked goods — and, of course, homemade pizza dough — before going into the oven.
Alternatively, place oregano sprigs in a dehydrator or low oven. Once they’re drained of all moisture, strip off the leaves and use them on a variety of savory dishes.
3. Keep your home free of harsh cleaning agents while still retaining the antimicrobial, antiseptic properties you need. Create a nontoxic, multi-purpose spray cleaner by combining 20 drops of oregano essential oil for every 1 cup of water. Add a couple squirts of mild liquid dish soap for sticking power.
For use as a floor cleaner, fill a bucket about ¾ full of water. Add ¼ cup white vinegar and up to 15 drops oregano oil. (You may choose to add a citrus fragrance by substituting some of the oregano essential oil with lemon essential oil, which is also a superior, nontoxic cleaning agent.)
4. Concoct a natural medicinal ointment made with oregano essential oil. Gently heat coconut oil or shea butter in a saucepan until it liquifies. To about ¼ cup of this carrier, add 10 drops oregano essential oil. Pour it into a small jar before it re-thickens. (If you prefer, use a Vaseline-like product, and mix a spoonful of this with a few drops oregano oil.)
This topical treatment can be dabbed on the bottoms of your feet or on your toes for fungal infections, or on your chest and below your nostrils for sinus infections. Always test a small amount of your homemade ointment on the skin before applying it liberally. Never put oregano oil directly to the skin without diluting it with a carrier.
5. Buy oregano tea from the health food store, or make your own using dried or fresh leaves from your garden. Use a generous handful if using fresh sprigs, which are less concentrated in both flavor and therapeutic value than dried oregano. Brew this tea as you would traditional black or green tea. If you dislike the taste of oregano-only tea, blend it with another type of herbal tea.
6. Toss fresh sprigs of oregano on vegetables, chicken, or fish before cooking. Similarly, sprigs can be added to the stew pot. Remove the sprigs before serving. The flavor and beneficial properties will still be infused in your dish.
Because oregano has so many healthy applications, it’s not surprising that it’s been used for centuries for cooking, tea blends, homemade cleaning products, and natural medicines. Chances are, you’ll be thinking of new ways to use this antioxidant-rich, potent herb at every turn.