Oregano is a hugely popular dried herb in Greek cuisine (a staple in many dishes) and is produced from a plant in the same family as mint. This herb possesses a richly aromatic flavour tinged with an ever-so-slight bitterness, and its taste can vary greatly depending on where it was produced, with Greek oregano said to be some of the best in the world (a statement we can definitely vouch for).
The name oregano actually comes from the Greek for “Brightness of the Mountain”, and it is as prized by the Greeks as sideritis, which is also known as Greek mountain tea. It contains a plethora of polyphenols, compounds that are said to be responsible for a slew of health benefits, making this one of the healthiest herbs around.
Keep reading to learn more about it.
The Health Benefits of Oregano
We have discussed turning basic culinary herbs into healthy teas before, including sage tea, which is known as faskomilo in Greece and is considered as a panacea. However, oregano doesn’t make for a very appetising tea, not at all, and the best way to benefit from this herb is to simply add it to your food. If you’re stuck for recipes that use oregano, try your hand at Greek cuisine, as it’s used in many popular dishes.
1. It Could Help Prevent Chronic Disease
Oregano contains an abundance of antioxidants, which are compounds thought to reduce the risk of chronic disease by fighting free radicals. One of these compounds is thymol, which we discussed in our guide to the benefits of thyme. In one study, several varieties of oregano were inspected and found to contain large concentrations of these compounds, with oregano oil potentially containing even more. (1)
Some extracts of this herb have been sold as cancer remedies, which is dangerously misleading. Research does not suggest that it is in any way that effective, but it could slightly reduce the risk of such diseases developing if consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet.
2. It is Nutrient Dense
Many of the claims made about oregano’s health benefits come from its nutrient composition, which is a particular pet peeve of ours. Bloggers will claim that something can improve energy levels because it contains trace amounts of B vitamins, or that it can boost the immune system because it contains a little vitamin C. The truth is, there is rarely enough of a particular nutrient to do what they claim, and unless you’re deficient in that nutrient, it likely wouldn’t do anything.
Oregano is more nutrient dense than other herbs, though, and this is not a bad thing, not at all. A sprinkling of this herb here and there can actually help you meet your nutrient RDAs, which can support overall health and wellbeing. One of the highest concentrated nutrients is vitamin K, something that is also found in herbs like parsley, as well as leafy greens.
You’ll get more than three-quarters of your RDA of this vitamin with a single 10g serving of oregano. You’ll also get between 15% and 50% of calcium, iron, and manganese, with smaller amounts of several B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin E. It also contains the amino acid tryptophan, albeit not in a concentration large enough to make a difference.
3. It is Antibacterial
Oregano has shown a lot of promise as an antibacterial agent, with one study showing that it could inhibit the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria like E.coli. (2) The antioxidant thymol may come into play here, as well, as an abundance of research suggests that extracts of this compound can help fight bacteria. In fact, it is often used in mouthwash for this very reason.
4. It Could be Antiviral
Not only can it help fight bacteria, but oregano could be just as effective in fighting viral infections, as a 2014 study found when using an extract of oregano oil against the norovirus. (3) The oil basically rendered the virus inactive after an hour of exposure, warranting further research and suggesting that many of the claims made about oregano oil’s efficiency could have some basis in truth.
5. It Could Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is thought to be the root of most known diseases, which makes the consumption of herbs and spices like oregano essential since they can fight inflammation.
They don’t do this in the same way that an NSAID would, which is to say that oregano definitely won’t kill pain and bring down swelling with the same speed and efficiency as ibuprofen. But they could help reduce chronic inflammation that occurs as a result of ill health, poor diet, and other environmental factors. It may also play a role in reducing swelling if used in large enough doses and for a prolonged period of time, as one study found when using oregano to reduce paw swelling in rodents, but we’re a long way from making such conclusions and a lot more research needs to be done. (4)
Oregano versus Oregano Oil
Oregano oil is an extract made from oregano. It is an essential oil sold for its apparent health benefits, and it can be consumed and used topically. The health benefits of oregano oil are the same as the ones discussed above, but it’s easier to consume larger amounts of this herb when taking it in this extracted form.
There is a lot of exciting research out there for both the herb and its extract, and there is really no “better” way to consume it. On the one hand, oregano oil makes it easier to take large amounts, but on the other hand, extracts aren’t always as clean as they should be and it isn’t always easy to verify how they were made or what they contain.
We personally love the taste of oregano and are happy to consume it as a dried herb added to a host of dishes, but if you don’t like the taste of oregano and want to see if you can benefit from its consumption, oregano oil might be the best way forward.