Oregano may be a tiny little herb, but it packs big health benefits. Perhaps that they knew something way back when they named this herb oregano, meaning “mountain joy.” It was even a tradition for the happy couple in Greek and Roman weddings to be crowned with a laurel of oregano.
Revered as a symbol of happiness by the ancient Greeks and Romans, it has long been a staple in Italian and Greek dishes, adding all it’s health benefits to the Mediterranean diet.
What is oregano?
For those that don’t know, it is a small shrub with multi-branched stems covered with small grayish-green oval leaves and small white or pink flowers. You can buy it fresh or dried. Strangely, the aroma and flavor of the leaves is greater when oregano is dried than when fresh, which is unusual for an herb.
Most people think of it a spice to go on their pizza or in their spaghetti sauce, but really can be used all lots of places. It goes well with meat, potatoes, and even as a light garnish on a salad.
Growing up in Texas, I never used the herb. It just wasn’t part of our diet. But if I had known all these amazing health benefits, I might have started.
1. When it comes to anti-oxidants, it’s better than blueberries!
Oregano is powerhouse full of anti-oxidants, you know, those things that protect our cells from free radicals and cell damage and are thought to help slow aging, possibly reduce the risk of cancer, and other benefits.
In laboratory studies, oregano has demonstrated stronger antioxidant capacity than either of the two synthetic antioxidants commonly added to processed food. 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
4 times more than blueberries.
It is one of the top five spices in the world with one of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scores meaning it will more effectively neutralize free radicals.
Ready to sprinkle a bit more on your food?
2. It even kills superbugs!
Oregano has amazing antibacterial properties, containing both thymol and cavacol, phytochemicals which act as powerful antimicrobials. A Georgetown University studied these ingredients and found they may help to inhibit the growth of many kinds of bacteria and fungus, including some that cause serious food-borne illnesses.
They also found that it killed germs just as well as prescription antibiotics like penicillin and streptomycin! It has even been shown to inhibit the growth of yeast which can cause infections like vaginitis.
Researchers in Mexico have found it to be more effective against an amoeba Giardia than the normally prescribed drug.
Even the superbug MRSA doesn’t seem to stand up to oregano. British and Indian researchers reported the essential oil had such strong antibacterial properties it could kill the superbug.
Some believe these factors can help defend the body against a wide range of bacteria that can affect the skin, the gut, and other parts of the body. They also say it acts as a stimulating agent, which increases the production of white blood cells and speeds up metabolism making you recover from sickness faster.
According to research by Georgetown University, oregano’s essential oils and its ingredients thymol and carvacol may help to inhibit the growth of many kinds of bacteria and fungus, including some forms of bacteria that cause serious food-borne illnesses. The study showed that oregano killed germs just as well as prescription antibiotics like penicillin, streptomycin and vancomycin. In addition, the oil of oregano has been known to inhibit the growth of yeast, including Candida albicans, the yeast that can cause infections like vaginitis and oral thrush.
In Mexico, researchers have compared oregano to tinidazol, a commonly used prescription drug to treat infection from the ameba Giardia lamblia. These researchers found oregano to be more effective against Giardia than the commonly used prescription drug.
3. It’ll help you breathe easier
Oregano helps with respiratory infections. his one seems to be a job for oregano oil or than oregano the herb. Though some say ingesting oregano can encourage sweating and help you get rid of unwanted phlegm in your lungs.
But the essential oil is the real star when it comes to respiratory infections as you can use it in as spray or vapor. Essential oils are the concentrated oils distilled from the herb itself, essentially creating a concentrated form of oregano.
One study shows that a spray containing aromatic essential oils from five plants, including oregano, was found to significantly relieve symptoms “immediately” in those with upper respiratory infections.
If you have a respiratory infection, you can put one drop of oil of oregano and a couple drops of eucalyptus in a bowl of steaming water, put a towel loosely over your head and inhale the steam for about 5 minutes. Keep doing this until you feel better.
Note, this is not as easy as it sounds as I can speak from personal experience. It will sting a bit and the hot steam is not the most pleasant thing on your face when you’re sick, not to mention trying to hold your head down with a drippy nose. But keep at it, it does help!
4. It may kick cancer in the you-know-what
Researchers at the United Arab Emirates University reported that oregano exhibits anticancer activity by encouraging cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (cancer cells commit suicide) of a form of breast cancer. Leading them to believe oregano may help slow or prevent the progression of breast cancer.
Oregano extract has also been shown to “lead to growth arrest and cell death” in colon cancer cells, while a phytochemical in oregano, carnosol, has also been “evaluated for anti-cancer property in prostate, breast, skin, leukemia, and colon cancer with promising results.”
Sounds like the research on this is just beginning, but wouldn’t it be great if it was at good at fighting cancer as it is at fighting bacteria?
5. It’s got nutrients coming out its wazoo — if it had a wazoo
Oregano is very nutrient dense. Below are the highlights from my research on the nutrients in oregano. Just 2 g can provide a lot of your recommended daily allowance:
Vitamin K, 12.43 mcg 14%
Manganese, .1mg 5%
Iron, .74mg, 4%
Fiber .85g 107%, 3%
Calcium, 31.94mg 3%
The full profile can be found here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=73#nutritionalprofile
The fiber one surprised me, though I think you’d have to eat a ton to get any real benefit. Still, ever little bit helps as fiber helps with a healthy digestive track which is shown to help keep the body healthy and happy.
The calcium, iron, and manganese also help with bone health.
And oregano is also a natural form of omega-3 fatty acids. Who knew?! So it may improve your heart health on top of everything else.
So hopefully these helped inspired you to use oregano a little more often.
It can add a ton of flavor to any dish, but it can be strong. So use just a bit and then taste, especially if you are using the dry ingredients.
It well with tomatoes, eggplant, and any meat. And adds a nice touch to salads or salad dressings.
And, yes, a quick plug for our own oregano. It’s pretty amazing if I do say so myself. We use mostly the flowers, which are a lot more fragrant and tasty than the leaves. It’s 100% Italian and truly delicious. If you want, you can buy some click here: https://villacappelli.com/products/italian-oregano
Do you know of any other benefits I missed? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!