Oregano, scientifically named Origanum vulgare, is a perennial herbaceous herb belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae). It is a native plant of the Mediterranean region but can grow anywhere in the world as long as the basic environmental conditions are met. It has alternate pair of leaves (1-4 cm long), hairy stems, and purple flowers (3-4 mm long). It grows from 20 to 80 cm tall. The word “oregano” was derived from the Greek word “origanum” which means “an acrid herb.”
Origanum vulgare has different subspecies with different flavor and aroma. These include Origanum vulgare hirtum (a.k.a Greek oregano and Italian oregano), Origanum vulgare onites (a.k.a. Turkish oregano and Cretan oregano), Origanum vulgare syriacum (a.k.a. Syrian oregano and Lebanese oregano) and Origanum vulgare gracile. There are many species of oregano including those that do not belong to the genus Origanum but still possess the distinct acrid aroma. Other known varieties include the Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) and Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus). These two herbs don’t actually belong to the mint family but have the aroma of oregano.
Oregano has been a very important herb in Mediterranean cooking for many centuries. It gives distinctive aroma and spicy flavor to foods. It is typically used in tomato sauces, grilled meat, and fried vegetables.
The chemical contents of oregano include carvacrol, thymol, pinene, ocimene, limonene, pinene, ocimene, caryophyllene, phenolic acids, flavonoids, triterpenoids, and sterols. Vitamins and minerals are also found in oregano.
- Compounds in oregano, like thymol and carvacrol, were found to kill and inhibit the growth of multiple strains of bacteria including those that cause food poisoning. Historically, oregano is used as food preservative. The compounds also demonstrate antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties.
- Phenolic compounds and flavonoids in oregano act as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help the body get rid of harmful free radicals, which are unstable and highly reactive atoms/molecules that damage cells. Free radicals are associated to neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, premature aging, and metabolic disorders.
- Antioxidants in oregano also strengthen the immune system to fight infection.
- Oregano helps increase menstrual flow and relieves menstrual cramps. This use of oregano is popular in rural Philippines.
- Oregano relieves muscle spasms.
- Oregano is used as herbal remedy for indigestion and flatulence.
- Oregano is traditionally used to treat various respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, sinus, cough, and lung congestion.
- Oregano oil is topically applied to treat skin infections.
- Oregano has anti-inflammatory properties, so it may help in easing pain and swelling associated to arthritis.
- Oregano leaves are rich in fibers, which aid digestion.