Oregano

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The warm, balsamic and aromatic flavor of oregano makes it the perfect addition to Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines. This popular herb whose name means “mountain joy” is available throughout the year.

Oregano is known botanically as Origanum vulgare and is called wild marjoram in many parts of Europe since it is closely related to the herb that we know as sweet marjoram. It is a small shrub with multi-branched stems covered with small grayish-green oval leaves and small white or pink flowers. In Mediterranean climates oregano grows as a perennial plant, but in the harsher climates of North America, they grow as annuals.

Health Benefits
Description
History
How to Select and Store
Tips for Preparing and Cooking
How to Enjoy
Individual Concerns
Nutritional Profile
Oregano can help prevent a host of illnesses, including metabolic syndrome and cancer
Oregano Components
Anti-Cancer Properties
Antiseptic Qualities
Making Tea
Antioxidants
Antibacterial Properties
Anti-Fungal Abilities
Other Healing Properties
References

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Health Benefits

You may have seen a bottle marked “oil of oregano” in a health food store. There are good reasons why!

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An Effective Anti-Bacterial

The volatile oils in this spice include thymol and carvacrol, both of which have been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus . In Mexico, researchers have compared oregano to tinidazol, a commonly used prescription drug to treat infection from the amoeba Giardia lamblia. These researchers found oregano to be more effective against Giardia than the commonly used prescription drug.

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Potent Anti-Oxidant Activity

Oregano contains numerous phytonutrients—including thymol and rosmarinic acid—that have also been shown to function as potent antioxidants that can prevent oxygen-based damage to cell structures throughout the body. In laboratory studies, oregano has demonstrated stronger anti-oxidant capacity than either of the two synthetic anti-oxidants commonly added to processed food—BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated bydroxyanisole). Additionally, on a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano has demonstrated 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.

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A Nutrient-Dense Spice

Our food ranking system qualified oregano as a good source of fiber. Fiber works in the body to bind to bile salts and cancer-causing toxins in the colon and remove them from the body. This forces the body to break down cholesterol to make more bile salts. These are just some of the reasons that diets high in fiber have been shown to lower high cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Oregano also emerged from our food ranking system as a bountiful source of many nutrients. It qualified within our system as an excellent source of vitamin K, a very good source of manganese, and a good source of iron and calcium.

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Description

While many people think of pizza when they think of oregano, this wonderful herb can add a warm, balsamic and aromatic flavor to many different dishes, especially those of the Mediterranean cuisine.

Oregano is known botanically as Origanum vulgare and is called wild marjoram in many parts of Europe since it is closely related to the herb that we know as sweet marjoram. Its name is derived from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy) since not only was it a symbol of happiness, but it made the hillsides on which it grew look beautiful.

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History

Oregano is native to northern Europe, although it grows throughout many regions of the world. It has been recognized for its aromatic properties since ancient times, with the Greeks and Romans holding oregano as a symbol of joy and happiness. In fact, it was a tradition for Greek and Roman brides and grooms to be crowned with a laurel of oregano.

Oregano has been cultivated in France since the Middle Ages and has come to be an important herb in Mediterranean cooking. Oregano was hardly known in the United States until the early 20th century when GIs returning from Italy brought word of this fragrant and delicious herb back to the United States.

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How to Select and Store

Whenever possible, choose fresh oregano over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor. The leaves of fresh oregano should look fresh and be a vibrant green in color, while the stems should be firm. They should be free from darks spots or yellowing.

Even through dried herbs and spices like oregano are widely available in supermarkets, you may want to explore the local spice stores in your area. Oftentimes, these stores feature an expansive selection of dried herbs and spices that are of superior quality and freshness compared to those offered in regular markets. Just like with other dried herbs, when purchasing dried oregano, try to buy that which has been organically grown since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated.

Fresh oregano should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the oregano in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried oregano should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

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Tips for Preparing and Cooking

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Tips for Preparing Oregano

Oregano, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor.

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How to Enjoy

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A Few Quick Serving Ideas

Next time you enjoy a slice of pizza, garnish it with some fresh oregano.
Oregano goes great with healthy sautéed mushrooms and onions.
Adding a few sprigs of fresh oregano to a container of olive oil will infuse the oil with the essence of the herb.
Fresh oregano makes an aromatic addition to omelets and frittatas.
Sprinkle some chopped oregano onto homemade garlic bread.
Add oregano to salad dressings.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

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Individual Concerns

Oregano is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of oxalates or purines.

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Nutritional Profile

Oregano is an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of manganese. It is also a good source of iron, dietary fiber, and calcium.

For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Oregano.

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In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Oregano is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

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Oregano can help prevent a host of illnesses, including metabolic syndrome and cancer

These same compounds can also help prevent oxidative damage in cells, effectively protecting the body against chronic illness. Individuals with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and various other markers of metabolic syndrome or heart disease, for instance, stand to gain substantially from the inclusion of more oregano in their diets.

The same goes for people with dirty colons, chronic inflammation, osteoporosis, allergies, chronic fatigue and headaches. Numerous studies have identified oregano as containing active compounds that target each of these maladies and more, all without triggering any harmful side effects. Oregano is also a highly effective preventative food against cancer.

One particular study out of United Arab Emirates University found that oregano targets cancer by specifically triggering cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, which is another way of saying cancer cell suicide. In other words, consuming oregano can help the body get rid of malignant cancer cells, while at the same time protecting healthy cells.

“Whenever possible, choose fresh oregano over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor,” adds Foster, noting that dried oregano is also suitable, so long as it is organic or nonirradiated. “Just like with dried oregano, try to buy that which has been organically grown since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated.”

To learn more about the benefits of oregano, be sure to check out Foster’s full report:
http://preventdisease.com.

You can also check out the NaturalNews archive of stories pertaining to the health benefits of oregano:
Natural News .

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Oregano Components

Oregano leaves contain more than 40 different compounds, according to a study published in the April 2011 issue of the “Journal of Food Science.” Researchers found that many of these compounds belong to phytonutrient classes called polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are all recognized for their antioxidant qualities. Antioxidants help protect your cells from free radicals, which are unstable chemicals that form as byproducts of digestion, form in your skin when you’re in sunlight and form in your organs when you’re exposed to environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke. Over time, free radicals can damage cellular components such as membranes and DNA, raising your risk of chronic diseases that include cancer and heart disease.

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Anti-Cancer Properties

A number of studies conducted in the laboratory suggest that compounds in oregano might be potentially therapeutic against cancer. For example, a study published in 2009 in “Nutrition and Cancer” found that cultured colon cancer cells slowed their growth and eventually died when exposed to an oregano extract, compared to control cells. Another study published in the June 2008 issue of the “Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology” found that oregano extract improved indicators of cancer in laboratory animals who had colon cancer, an effect the authors attributed to oregano’s antioxidant properties. Although these findings from the laboratory are encouraging, they still need confirmation in clinical studies with human subjects.

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Antiseptic Qualities

Oregano may also have significant antiseptic properties, and may help prevent or slow the growth of potentially harmful microorganisms. The study published in the “Journal of Food Science” found that compounds in oregano leaves have anti-malarial properties and slow the growth of microorganisms that cause malaria. Another paper published in the January-March 2010 issue of the “Brazilian Journal of Microbiology” found that an oregano extract stopped growth in the laboratory of several types of Candida fungi that cause vaginal yeast infections. Although these are encouraging, the fungi studied were obtained from laboratory animals and more work is still needed to determine if oregano compounds are equally effective against these and other pathogens from human subjects.

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Making Tea

You can prepare oregano tea from either fresh or dried leaves, which are available at most grocery or health-food stores. Cutting or bruising the leaves before brewing may release more of the herb’s compounds into the water. Steep 3 teaspoons of fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Oregano tea can be somewhat bitter, but adding sugar or sweetener can counteract this. The herb is generally considered safe and without any negative side effects, although no minimum effective dose has been identified. It might cause a rash or other reaction if you’re allergic to the herb, and its safety during pregnancy or breast-feeding hasn’t been established. Talk to your doctor about oregano to decide if it might be helpful for you.

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Antioxidants

According to “The Cure is in the Cupboard,” a book written by Cass Ingram, M.D., oil of oregano is a powerful antioxidant, meaning it might destroy free radicals that cause cancer, strokes and heart disease. Oregano oil works as an antioxidant because of several potent compounds, including rosmarinic acid, hydroxycinnamic acid, p-hydroxyhydrocaffeic acid and labiatic acid. The American Cancer Society adds that the oregano herb contains about 30 times more antioxidant capacity than oranges and 42 times the antioxidant power of apples.

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Antibacterial Properties

According to Medical News Today, scientists at the University of West England in Bristol, England, discovered that oregano oil has stronger antibacterial properties than many prescription antibiotics. The report states that oil of oregano might even kill the powerful bacteria that causes the “superbug” called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Drugs.com adds that oregano oil effectively kills other bacteria, including E.coli, Salmonella, Proteus and the Helicobacter pylori bacterium thought to cause gastritis and peptic ulcers. Dr. Ingram claims that oregano oil offers such potent antibacterial properties because it contains thymol and carvacrol, two phenols that also act as powerful antiseptics.

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Anti-Fungal Abilities

The thymol and carvacrol found in oregano oil also appear to have antifungal properties. According to Drugs.com, even small concentrations of oregano oil can inhibit the growth of the Aspergillus and the Penicillium fungi. Dr. Ingram adds that the two phenols also effectively kill the Candida albicans fungus, which causes various kinds of yeast infections. While Candida albicans naturally occurs in the human body, its growth can become excessive due to various factors, including antibiotic medications, a high sugar intake, chemotherapy and stress. To treat topical yeast infections, apply oregano oil directly to the infected site several times a day. To treat internal yeast infections, Dr. Cass Ingram recommends placing several drops of oregano oil underneath your tongue two or three times a day. Check with your medical practitioner before treating vaginal yeast infections with oregano oil.

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Other Healing Properties

Dr. Cass Ingram reports that the carvacrol and thymol phenols can help kill various intestinal parasites, including tapeworm, pinworm, hookworm and roundworm. Drugs.com notes oregano oil’s antispasmodic effects, stating that carvacrol and thymol seem to stabilize muscle membranes. Oregano oil also seems to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. The Wolfe Clinic suggests oil of oregano can help reduce the inflammation and pain caused by fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Dr. Ingram agrees, adding that oil of oregano can also help those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). You can help reduce inflammation by directly rubbing oil of oregano on your affected joints or muscles.

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References

  • Akgul A, Kivanc M. Inhibitory effects of selected Turkish spices and oregano components on some foodborne fungi. Int J Food Microbiol 1988 May;6(3):263-8. 1988. PMID:12430.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California. 1983.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York. 1996.
  • Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications, New York. 1971.
  • Lagouri V, Boskou D. Nutrient antioxidants in oregano. Int J Food Sci Nutr 1996 Nov;47(6):493-7. 1996. PMID:12400.
  • Lambert RJ, Skandamis PN, Coote PJ, Nychas GJ. A study of the minimum inhibitory concentration and mode of action of oregano essential oil, thymol and carvacrol. J Appl Microbiol 2001 Sep;91(3):453-62. 2001. PMID:12450.
  • Martinez-Tome M, Jimenez AM, Ruggieri S, et al. Antioxidant properties of Mediterranean spices compared with common food additives. J Food Prot 2001 Sep;64(9):1412-9. 2001. PMID:12440.
  • Takacsova M, Pribela A, Faktorova M. Study of the antioxidative effects of thyme, sage, juniper and oregano. Nahrung 1995;39(3):241-3. 1995. PMID:12410.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. 1988. PMID:15220.
  • Zheng W, Wang SY. Antioxidant activity and phenolic compounds in selected herbs. J Agric Food Chem 2002;49:5165-70. 2002.
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Additional Sources

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=73
http://www.naturalnews.com/oregano.html
http://science.naturalnews.com/oregano.html
http://science.naturalnews.com/oregano_oil.html
http://science.naturalnews.com/O/Oregano_and_Antimicrobial.html
http://www.naturalpedia.com/Oregano-13.html
http://www.supplementreference.com/oregano_oil.html
http://www.livestrong.com/article/160032-symptoms-of-oregano-oil-overdose/
http://www.livestrong.com/article/547478-oregano-tea-benefits/
http://www.livestrong.com/article/153766-the-healing-properties-of-oregano-oil/

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