Oregano and Health

Discover how this common culinary ingredient can also be an herbal treatment for asthma, arthritis, and other common ailments.

  • Oregano
    Oregano is a versatile herb that's easy to grow and useful for health as well as cooking.
    Photo by iStock
  • Ground Oregano
    Oregano can be used to fight infection and emphysema.
    Photo by iStock
  • Italian Cooking
    Oregano is a quintessential flavor in Greek and Italian cooking.
    Photo by iStock
  • Oregano Plant
    Oregano is a hardy, drought-tolerant perennial that’s easy to grow.
    Photo by iStock

  • Oregano
  • Ground Oregano
  • Italian Cooking
  • Oregano Plant

Today, with our access to foods from all over the world and technologically advanced modern medicine, it can be hard to remember that, until very recently in our human history, people have relied on regional plants for wellness. That’s probably why so many humble herbs we sometimes take for granted today were revered by ancient peoples, who used their critical healing abilities to enhance health, treat illness and ailments, and live longer lives. Indeed, the ancient Greeks believed the goddess Aphrodite invented oregano to make the lives of humans happier, and they used it as a culinary and medicinal staple. One of the ancient Greek names for oregano means “mountain joy.”

While we tend to think of herbs in categories of use, such as culinary or medicinal, oregano proves the significant crossover between them. Today, research bears out the folk uses of many culinary herbs, including oregano, proving the adage “food is the best medicine.” A research-proven antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal medicine, oregano is also a powerful antioxidant — and that’s just the beginning of the amazing health benefits of this delicious and pungent herb.  

A Brief History of Oregano

If you’re familiar with its role as a signature flavor in Greek cuisine, it will probably come as no surprise that oregano was first used by the ancient Greeks. In Greece, oregano is commonly combined with olive oil and lemon juice and used to flavor meat and fish dishes. Along with eating it in a huge variety of dishes, ancient Greeks also crowned newlyweds with wreaths of the herb and placed it on the graves of the deceased to help bring peace to their spirits. These ancients were also aware of oregano’s medicinal properties and prescribed the herb regularly to aid in the treatment of many afflictions, including as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments; for bacterial skin infections and wounds; to treat and prevent food poisoning; and in creams used for aching muscles.

Oregano has become popular around the world, although it’s often confused with other plants. These include oregano’s milder-flavored cousin, marjoram, as well as Mexican oregano, which is actually a completely different plant (from the genus Lippia). Oregano is especially prominent in Italian cuisine, where it is a quintessential flavor in tomato-based sauces, lamb dishes and garlic-flavored dishes. The herb didn’t become popular in North America until after World War II, but it quickly gained popularity — today, more than 14 million pounds of oregano are consumed each year in the United States alone.

Arthritis Antidote:

Because of its anti-infectious and antioxidant properties, oregano may be helpful in the treatment of arthritis. The bacteria Prevotella copri has been linked with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. While few substances have been tested for effectiveness against this bacteria, oregano’s potent antibacterial compounds may be helpful. I have used oregano with many arthritic clients with great success. While adding oregano to meals is a good start, arthritics tend to need higher doses in the form of tincture taken internally on a daily basis. Buy a high-quality oregano tincture from a company you trust, and follow package directions for the specific product. For more information, consult my book Arthritis-Proof Your Life: Secrets to Pain-Free Living Without Drugs.

Asthma Aid:

According to the research of renowned botanist and author of The Green Pharmacy, James Duke, oregano contains four anti-asthma substances, making it an excellent choice for the treatment of this condition. Because oregano has a strong smell, be careful not to breathe too deeply when using the oil of this herb as it can initiate a cough reflex that can temporarily aggravate asthma. Oregano works best against asthma when taken internally in tincture or oil form on a daily basis. Follow package directions.

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