Ordering Flavor With Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial culinary and medicinal herb that belongs to the mint (Lamiaceae) family, along with basil, beebalm, giant hyssop, ground ivy, lavender, marjoram, perilla, rosemary, sage, savory, skullcap, spearmintthyme, and wild bergamot. The family also (surprisingly) includes chia, and (even more surprisingly) coleus and teak.

Oregano is native to northern Europe, although it grows throughout many regions of the world, and was first used by the Greeks. The word “oregano” is actually derived from the Greek phrase, “joy of the mountains.” In Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite gave oregano to mortals to make their lives happier. Brides and grooms were crowned with wreaths of it. It was also put on graves to give peace to departed spirits. Ancient Greek physicians prescribed oregano for a variety of ailments. Hippocrates used it, as well as its close cousin, marjoram, as an antiseptic.

The Romans later conquered Greece and adopted much of its culture. The ease of oregano’s cultivation coupled with the Roman thirst for Empire spread oregano’s use throughout Europe and much of Northern Africa. In these regions it was used to flavor food and even wine.

In the middle ages, oregano cultivation had reached what is now France. It became one of the few strong flavorings available to give variety to the otherwise bland daily diet. People chewed oregano leaves as a cure for rheumatism, toothache, indigestion, and cough.

Oregano found its way to China probably via the spice road through the Middle-East during the Medieval period. Chinese doctors prescribed oregano to relieve fever, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and itchy skin.

Later, the English used oregano as an additive to snuff and as a perfume in sachets. Oregano was relatively unknown in the United States prior to the Second World War. Soldiers returning from Italy brought home an increased demand for it.

Oregano contains an impressive list of phytochemicals, including essential oils such as carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene, that have disease-preventing and health-promoting properties.  The leaves and flowering stem of oregano are strongly anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative (anti-gas), cholagogue (help gall bladder secretion), diaphoretic (sweat-producing), expectorant, stimulant, and mildly tonic properties. It is taken for the treatment of colds, influenza, mild fevers, indigestion, stomach upsets, and painful menstrual conditions.  The active phytochemicals in oregano may also improve gut motility in addition to improving digestion power by encouraging enzyme secretions. 

Oregano can:

  1. Fight infections: The volatile oils in oregano include thymol and carvacrol, both of which can inhibit the growth of bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. In Mexico, researchers found oregano to be more effective in treating infection from the amoeba Giardia lamblia than the commonly used prescription drug tinidazol. Thymol has also been found to have anti-fungal activity.
  2. Fight free radicals: Oregano contains the poly-phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals thymol and rosmarinic acid, which function as potent antioxidants that can prevent oxygen-based damage to cell structures throughout the body that cause diseases and aging. Oregano is also rich in  other antioxidants, including hydrocinnamic acids, vitamin A, carotenes, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. Oregano has stronger antioxidant capacity than either of the two synthetic antioxidants commonly added to processed food, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated bydroxyanisole). Oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.
  3. Fight inflammation: Oregano contains rosmarinic acid, carvacrol, caffeic acid, and luteolin, which are all known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
  4. Provide essential nutrients: Oregano is an excellent source of vitamin K, a very good source of manganese, iron, fiber, vitamin A, and calcium, as well as a good source of vitamin E and tryptophan. 

Nutrients in 2 teaspoons (3.6 grams) of Oregano

Nutrient

Amount

DV

vitamin K

22.38 mcg

28%

manganese

0.18 mg

9%

iron

1.32 mg

7.3%

fiber

1.53 g

6.1%

vitamin A

150 IUs

6%

calcium

57.49 mg

5.7%

vitamin E

0.66 mg

3.3%

tryptophan

0.01 g

3.1%

Calories

9.54

0.4%

Oregano is available throughout the year. Whenever possible, choose fresh, orgainic oregano over the dried form of the herb, because it tastes better. The leaves of fresh oregano should look fresh and vibrant green, while the stems should be firm. They should be free from dark spots or yellowing. When purchasing dried oregano, try to buy organically grown, because this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated. 

Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp towel. You can also freeze it, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the oregano in ice cube trays covered with either water or vegetable broth that you can then add to soups or stews. Keep dried oregano in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place, where it will keep fresh for about six months.

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. Oregano is particularly used widely in Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines. Its leaves have a characteristic aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste. The intensity varies; however, good-quality oregano is so strong that it almost numbs the tongue.

Next time you enjoy a slice of pizza, garnish it with some fresh oregano. Oregano goes great with sautéed mushrooms and onions. Fresh oregano makes an aromatic addition to scrambles and frittatas. Sprinkle some chopped oregano onto homemade garlic bread. Add oregano to salad dressings.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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