By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is one of my favourite herbs for its wonderful medicinal properties along with its delicious use in cooking. I add it to many of my dishes and it works well in most cuisines including Greek, Italian, Mexican, Spanish and Western dishes along with being a simple addition to many basic savory meals. Oregano means in Greek, Mountain Joy and has been used for thousands of years.
Oil of oregano is something that many people are familiar with, it comes in drops for internal use, an essential oil for topical use, in capsules, and mixed in herbal blends for its many health promoting benefits. Oregano contains many natural occurring essential oils, which include carvacol, thymol, pinene, limonene, ocimene, and caryophyllene.
Some of its valuable uses include:
Carvocol and thymol have been found to play a strong role in oregano’s anti-microbial activity, research has shown these compounds from oregano may kill up to 41 strains of the foodborne pathogen Listeria.
A team of UK researchers found oregano has also been shown to kill the superbug MRSA and was shown to be more effective than 18 different types of antibiotics, making it an excellent antiseptic to use in cleaning products, disinfectant sprays, hand washes, topical and internal use or vaporized for airborne germs. The tests showed that the essential oil from oregano kills MRSA at a dilution 1 to 1,000. It also shows that the oil kills MRSA both as a liquid and as a vapor and its antimicrobial activity is not diminished by heating in boiling water.
Medicinally oregano is used for respiratory tract infections including influenza, common cold, croup, earaches and sinusitis. It is also used for respiratory conditions such as cough, asthma, and bronchitis.
Oregano has been shown to inhibit the growth of Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus, which may cause respiratory infections.
To use as an inhalation, drop 2-3 drops in a diffuser or vaporizer to help with a cold or flu. Gargle 3-5 drops in warm water and spit out if you have a sore and irritated throat. To ward off upper respiratory infections add 3-6 drops to water or juice and drink. It’s important that this is not something to be taking on a long-term basis in many cases.
Oregano is also used for intestinal parasites and infections due to its naturally potent anti-microbial effects. Studies in Italy have also found essential oils of oregano to be useful against certain yeasts such as Candida.
A small study demonstrated that oregano was able to kill enteric parasites such as Blastocystis hominis, Entamoeba hartmanni and Endolimax nana, after 6 weeks of treatment on 600mg of emulsified oil of oregano daily.
Oregano oil has been shown to be more effective against the parasitic amoeba Giardia than the drug tinidazol, this parasite can be consumed in food and in contaminated water and causes a range of gastrointestinal symptoms.
From these studies it is easy to conclude that taking oregano for any type of gut infection may offer a myriad of benefits along with killing any unwelcomed guests.
Oregano contains numerous phytonutrients including thymol and rosmarinic acid, that have been shown to function as potent antioxidants that can help to prevent free radical cellular damage throughout the body. Scientists at Bonn University, Germany, and Zurich, Switzerland, identified an active ingredient in oregano known as beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP) – which has shown potential against osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis.
Biologists at the United Arab Emirates University reported that oregano exhibits anticancer activity by encouraging cell cycle arrest and apoptosis where the breast cancer cells destroy themselves. It was described as a promising chemopreventive and therapeutic candidate that may modulate breast cancer growth and metastasis. Oregano extract has been shown to lead to growth arrest and cell death in a dose – and time-dependent manner in colon cancer cells.
There are a number of studies that identify oregano having the potential to slow some types of cancer development along with possibly reversing the condition to some degree, more research is needed into its potential therapeutic benefits in the fight against cancer.
Oregano oil can be used topically for the treatment of acne, bites, skin infections, athletes foot, nail infections, cold sores, jock itch, canker sores, gum infections, ringworm, warts and as an insect repellent all due to the powerful phytocompounds such as carvacol’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.