The smell is one of familiar culinary delight. Ah! Oregano! It’s pungent aroma lends zest to sauces, Italian dishes, and tomato products of all kinds. But what of the medicinal qualities of this oft forgotten aromatic?
Oregano is a member of the huge mint family, Lamiaceae. Its name has a base in Greek (they all do, it seems). Oros, meaning mountain, and ganos, meaning joy, are combined to express what the people of the time must have thought of the plant. It is a mountain joy. It can be found cultivated throughout the world. As with many modern “kitchen herbs,” it has a great many varieties. Typically, it typically grows 50 cm tall and has purple leaves around 2 to 3 centimeters in length. The variety I have in my garden grows leaves a bit smaller and more of a deep green, however, that may be due to the climate in which we live. I am still investigating this.
The smell of oregano is distinctive. Thymol, pinene, limonene, carvacrol, ocimene, and caryophyllene all work together to give off that wonderful aroma. It’s flavor is impossible to mistake in Mexican and Italian dishes.
Oregano as Antifungal
A gentlemen approached me once, and request a rather large amount of essential oil of oregano. I had used quite a bit of different oils, but the quantity in which he asked for the oregano oil seemed quite outlandish at the time. Really, it wasn’t. He only asked for five 5 ml bottles, but I was a newbie and no idea why he would need so much at one time. He enlightened me.
It turns out that oregano oil acts as a vigilante against fungus. He was a long time sufferer of repeated sinus infections. Since he worked in a nursing home environment, and the research from the CDC suggesting that recurrent sinus infections may be a result of a fungal overgrowth instead of an infection, he was ready to try anything. He also shared with me, that he had long been battling toe nail fungus. This gave him the idea that perhaps his body was just dealing with too much fungus and not so much bacterial invaders.
He suggested the following use for oregano oil (in addition to applying topically in a carrier oil, such as olive or sweet almond oil):
Add 3-5 drops of oregano essential oil to a pot of approx. 1 quart of boiling water. After the water is removed from heat (and source of flame), bend over the pot and tent yourself with a towel over the vapors. Inhale deeply through the nostrils. The gentleman also added 1-2 drops of the essential to a nettie pot (see note at bottom of post) containing a teeny amount of sesame oil in body temperature water* to fully bathe the sinus cavities in the wonderful oil.
Oregano as Antibiotic
After some research, I was convinced the gentleman would be just fine using oregano. It turns out that not only is this oil antifungal, but it has antibiotic effects, too. Carvacrol, a phenol in oregano, is being looked at for its powerful ability to kill bacteria. Tests at Georgetown University suggest it may stack up even when compared to streptomycin and penicillin. Portuguese researchers found that Origanum vulgare essential oils were effective against 41 strains of the food pathogen Listeria monocytogenes2. I would love to see if this plant could pack a punch against some of the modern day antibiotic resistant infections rampant in the U.S. A team of British and Indian researchers reported that the essential oil of Himalayan oregano has strong antibacterial properties that can even kill the hospital superbug MRSA.