Oregano is a very familiar Mediterranean herb. It has a strong, herbaceous flavor and is a staple in many cuisines. There are also several very potent health benefits of oregano that make it much more than just a culinary herb.
The leaves of oregano are rich in powerful essential oils and compounds that are there to protect the plant. They also happen to be very good for human health and have strong antimicrobial properties. In fact, these compounds are so strong that oregano was once used to preserve meat, along with other herbs like rosemary and thyme.
Here's more about oregano and its health-boosting potential.
All About Oregano
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a member of the mint family and native to the Mediterranean and southern Asia. Its name comes from two Greek words: oros and ganos. Put together, they basically translate to "mountain joy."
Though oregano is a very popular herb worldwide, it's especially central in Greek and Italian cooking. It has also been used medicinally for at least 2500 years. In different traditional medicinal practices, oregano has mainly been used for indigestion, colds, and infections. (1)
If you want to try growing oregano yourself, it's fairly easy to do. The plants are perennial in most areas and easy to maintain once you get them established.
Oregano usually grows as a groundcover, although some varieties will grow a foot or two tall. The fresh leaves are small, oval, and slightly fuzzy. Plants will bloom with tiny white or pink flowers that are edible and can be used in herbal preparations.
Researchers think that many of the health benefits of oregano come from the volatile oils found in the leaves. Two of the main ones are carvacrol and thymol, which have both been the subject of many studies.
What About Oregano Oil?
Oregano oil is one form of oregano that is very concentrated and powerful. It has more potency than the leaves do on their own and has shown some impressive effects in research studies.
To make things confusing, oregano oil can refer to one of two things.
It could refer to the essential oil, which is made by steam distilling the leaves and shoots of the plant. This is probably the most highly concentrated version of oregano.
It could also mean an extract of oregano using alcohol or some other medium. Technically, if you see something labeled "oil of oregano," it should be an extract rather than the essential oil. The extract is slightly less powerful than the essential oil but still very potent.
Top Health Benefits of Oregano Herb & Oil
Strongly Antibacterial & Potential Alternative to Antibiotics
Oregano oil has made the biggest splash in the news because of research demonstrating its potential as a "natural antibiotic."
Normal antibiotics work by killing bacteria in your body: both the good and the bad. Overuse of antibiotics, especially the broad-spectrum kind, can have a serious negative impact on your health and the good bacteria in your body. It can also lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (2)
In animal studies, oregano oil has proven almost as effective as regular antibiotics against Staphylococcus aureus. It has also shown effectiveness against some specific antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (3)(4)
Several other studies have confirmed oregano's effect against more types of pathogenic bacteria. (5)
Now, this doesn't mean that oregano oil can simply replace antibiotics. But it does mean that there is a lot of potential for something natural like oregano to help reduce our overdependence on conventional antibiotics. It also confirms a very traditional use of this herb for fighting various infections.
Supports Your Body During Colds & Infections
There are more health benefits of oregano for infections than just its antimicrobial power.
Oregano can boost your immune system and provide your body relief, especially if you have a cold or respiratory infection. Two compounds in the leaves and oil- carvacrol and rosmarinic acid- are natural decongestants. They can help to clear your chest and improve lung function. (6)
You can rub the oil (diluted) on your chest, or inhale oregano steam by steeping the leaves or oil in hot water and holding your face over it. Breathe in (carefully), filling your lungs with the herbal steam.
Helps Soothe a Sore Throat
Oregano contains some pain-relieving properties that seem to come from its carvacrol content. (7)
There are other herbs that have stronger action against pain and inflammation, but oregano can be especially soothing for a sore throat. A warm tea made with the leaves is one of the best ways to take it. You can also infuse it into honey and take a small spoonful as needed.
Fights Fungus and Yeast
Oregano, especially the oil, also contains strong antifungal properties.
It has proven to be particularly effective against the yeast Candida. Yeasts are a type of fungus. They are naturally found in our bodies and are harmless unless an overgrowth occurs. Candida is a specific type that is the most common cause of yeast infections, which can be very nasty.
Studies show that oregano works against at least five different strains of yeast. This includes Candida albicans (the most frequent culprit behind yeast infections). (8)
In fact, oregano essential oil was the most effective against Candida out of all the oils tested.
Besides yeast, oregano oil can also fight the fungus that causes athlete's foot. Once again, it was found to be the most effective out of all the oils tested. (9)
Try it for yourself in combination with other herbs in this Fungus Fighter extract.
One of the traditional health benefits of oregano is digestive support. As you've already seen, it can fight bacteria and yeasts that may cause digestive problems, which is a good start.
Besides that, oregano oil can also be effective against parasites that cause gastrointestinal symptoms. In one study, participants taking oregano oil all experienced a reduction of parasites. About 77% of participants were completely cleared of parasites. (10)
Some preliminary research also indicates that oregano has protective properties for your gut. It may be able to prevent damage to your gut wall, which is the main cause behind what's usually called "leaky gut" syndrome. (11)
Keep in mind that oregano oil has shown the strongest digestive benefits, but using it in tea form is still a great way to help with milder digestive upset.
Helps Reduce Inflammation
Oregano is full of powerful antioxidants (including carvacrol) that are great for your overall health. They can also help to reduce overall inflammation in your body, which is a contributing factor to many diseases. (12)
Acute inflammation is not a bad thing. It's actually your body's natural response to injury or infection and is important for your survival. However, chronic inflammation is another story and can have very damaging effects. Consuming a high amount of antioxidants from foods and herbs like oregano is one of the best ways to lower this kind of inflammation.
Using Oregano for Health Benefits
Even if you regularly cook or season food with oregano, you'll need to take a larger amount to notice any serious health benefits.
Oregano oil is probably the easiest way to get the most out of this potent herb. It's a concentrated source of the key compounds that benefit your health and fight pathogens. You can take it internally or diffuse the essential oil.
However, you might not always want something as strong as oregano oil. You may prefer to make a tea with the fresh or dried leaves by steeping them in hot water. Adding raw honey can taste good and is also soothing for your throat.
Oregano can be used externally as well. The essential oil can be applied to your skin after being diluted, or you can use the fresh leaves to make a poultice or paste for minor skin wounds.
There are few precautions for using oregano as an herb. The oil, however, is very powerful and should be used with respect.
Make sure you dilute oregano essential oil before applying to your skin. It's a very "hot" oil and may need more dilution than other essential oils. If you want to take oil of oregano internally, be sure you buy a quality supplement that's approved for internal use.
While the right amount of oregano can help your digestion, too much can irritate you stomach. This isn't likely if you are just using the leaves, but stop taking the oil if you notice irritation.
Finally, oregano oil is not recommended for use during pregnancy. Culinary amounts of the herb are fine.
The Power of Oregano
You may want to start keeping a good supply of oregano on hand for its health benefits as well as to cook with. It can be used in specific situations, like to soothe a sore throat or ease your lungs, or used consistently for digestion and overall health. And don't forget to learn more about the benefits of other "common" herbs like sage and rosemary!