The Power of Oregano
Even for an Italian I have been overusing oregano for my whole life as a spice, but I didn’t know anything about it! It was just one of those condiments like salt and pepper. Actually I don’t even remember having salt and pepper on the table, but I sure remember the garlic powder and oregano and of course the olive oil. I used to put so much oregano on a slice of pizza that the pizza man wanted to charge me for an extra topping.
When I first encountered oil of oregano, I thought, I love oregano and I took a healthy sip. Wow. My eyes bugged out, my tongue burned and I didn’t know whether to swallow or spit it out! Well I swallowed it and then coughed my brains out. I got it as a sample at a health fair or something and I only read the label afterwards. It said take at the beginning of a cold to abort it. My thought : Yeah that’ll kill anything!
Well now I know that I was supposed to take “drops” of it as it is 10 times the strength of the spice. It is not to be confused with the essential oil of oregano which is obtained by steam distillation of the dry herb which is not as strong in some of the oils but contains more of the aromatic oils.
Oil of oregano is an extract of oregano oil from the plant. There are many methods of extraction and then it is mixed with a carrier oil to dilute for use. That’s where a large part of the quality comes in. What kind of oil is it mixed with and what is the ratio? At Herbal Roots we use 70% oil of oregano to 30% pure organic olive oil. So it is very high quality. And it is in a very convenient gel capsule so you can take a lot of it without experiencing what I did. Ha Ha.
Origins of Oregano
Did you know there are like 60 plants that have been referred to as Oregano? Some are completely different plants but have similar taste and aroma and some are actually a subspecies of a recognized species of oregano created to alter some characteristic of the plant such as taste or smell or resilience or color for the ornamental plants, etc. The plant recognized by most as the true Oregano is called Oregano vulgare. It is the one used in the Mediterranean. The subspecies Origanum vulgare hirtum is considered the best culinary spice. It is more vigorous in growth, a darker green with a slight hair on the leaves and very hardy and has a strong taste, but not too strong. It is less piercing with a more pleasant herby taste. The name hirtum refers to the little silvery hairs. This is the refined Italian and Greek oregano used in fine restaurants all over the world.
Where did the name Origanum vulgare come from? Well the Greeks and Romans associated oregano with joy. The name comes from “oros,” meaning mountain, and “ganos,” meaning joy. So it translates to joy of the mountain where it was originally found. And vulgare means coming from the common people. So although 60 things are called Origanum what most people mean when they refer to it is the vulgare species.
Everywhere you read about oregano it says it’s part of the mint family Lamiaceae. This makes you think that oregano is more related to mint than it is all the other spices. It must have been that mint was the first plant in that family because so many of the savory herbs you know are from that family including thyme, basil, sage, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. Also the common houseplant, coleus with those colorful leaves is from that family as well. The Lamiaceae family contains about 7,000 species.
Oregano gained popularity in the US after World War II because soldiers came home and they missed the "pizza herb". So I guess with demand comes supply. Good pizzerias have that bottle of oregano right on the counter along with the garlic powder and olive oil. At least I hope they still do. Sadly I haven't been to one in so long, since the Western United States and the Eastern United States have completely different concepts of what constitutes a good pizza. It is pretty humorous listening to the various pizza wars. I can appreciate all the variety, but you know you always love the kind you grew up with the most and I am from the NY, NJ, CT area known as the Tri-State area of the North East which is loaded with Italians that came directly from Italy and that sure isn’t here. (Los Angeles).
But as I grew up eating tons of oregano, I never knew that it was a "health food" or that people took it as a supplement until that fated day mentioned earlier. So what does it do for the health?
Oregano is loaded with antioxidants. The most common compounds are carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene and caryophyllene and rosamarinic acid. Those aren't all the useful compounds, but those mentioned have the spotlight. These also contribute to the flavor and smell of oregano.
These compounds are also potent against biological growths that are unwelcome. In fact there are quite a few studies that support the idea that oregano should be included in foods as a natural food preservative in place of chemical preservatives with the extra argument that it is good for improving intestinal health.
So, oregano promotes gut health, helps the immune system with intruders, protects the heart and lungs, helps sugar utilization problems and even helps menstrual symptoms all besides being delicious. Who knew?
Oil of oregano is a potent extract 10 times stronger than the spice. It should be kept on hand in the event of any biological challenges, but it is also good for overall health. Anything that helps protect the heart and lungs is a keeper. You never know how many problems can be prevented by using it regularly at this potency. We provide convenient little gel caplets containing 150mg (like 1500mg of the herb) of oregano oil in organic olive oil. Click below and get yourself some.