As Americans, we typically associate oregano with Italian dishes (mmmm, pizza), however this aromatic herb is popular all around the world for its flavor; not only in Italy, but also the Philippines, Spain, Latin America, the Middle East and Greece. Did you know that oregano is actually a Greek word that means "joy of the mountains"? Shepherds in Greece used to encourage their sheep to eat this herb to improve the flavor of their meat.
You too can improve the flavor of many dishes with oregano! It's not only tasty, but also packs an excellent nutrient profile with plenty of vitamins E and K, along with minerals like manganese, iron and calcium. Most significantly, oregano contains powerful antioxidants and antiseptic properties to fight off bacteria and illness.
The Antioxidant Benefits
The phytochemicals within Oregano, called polyphenols, give this herb a strong antioxidant effect. This helps your body to resist the effects of free radicals and other damaging compounds.
Oregano's antioxidant effect is so powerful that it even cancels out the reactive chemicals produced by cooking. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cooking foods like hamburgers with polyphenol-rich spices can greatly reduce the heat-related production of unwanted carcinogens [I].
The Antibacterial Benefits
Two specific phytochemicals in oregano, called caravol and thymol, work as antimicrobials to kill bacterial pathogens. They can work wonders to help rid the body of such things as parasites and candida. While the medicinal quantities of these oils aren't present in the amount of oregano used for cooking, it's likely that you'll still get a bacteria-fighting boost by adding it to your foods.
If you are interested in using oregano for its medicinal properties, oil of oregano is the way to go.
- It can be taken in supplemental form to help kill off intestinal parasites.
- Add a few drops to steaming hot water to breathe in for respiratory issues.
- Apply topically for athlete's foot or nail fungus.
- Add a few drops to salt water to gargle with for a sore throat.
As always, it is best to speak with you healthcare provider before trying any of these remedies, as oil of oregano is incredibly potent and should be used with caution.
Cooking With Oregano
There are two main types of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. Although they have somewhat similar flavors, the Mediterranean variety is slightly sweeter, as the Mexican variety is more pungent (it is more closely related to lemon verbena). As a general rule of thumb, Mediterranean oregano is the go-to, as it doesn't overpower other tastes as easily. Mexican oregano works best in very spicy dishes.
While oregano is most beneficial when it's fresh, most of us tend to keep the dried version on our spice rack which is perfectly fine, and still retains its health benefits and flavor. Don't hesitate to grow some in your backyard though!
Oregano tastes great with many foods. It is obviously essential on our beloved pizza, but it can also be used to spice meat or added to sauces, stews, salads, garlic bread and more. If you are looking to extend your reach with oregano, here are a few recipes to get your started:
- Moroccan Chickpea Salad
- Chili Con Carne with Sweet Corn
- Zucchini Noodles with Garlic Marinara Sauce
- Crisp and Tender Baked Chicken Thighs
How do you use oregano in your home?
[I] Zhaoping Li, Susanne M Henning, et al . "Antioxidant-rich spice added to hamburger meat during cooking results in reduced meat, plasma, and urine malondialdehyde concentrations". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 2010; vol. 91 no. 5: 1180-1184. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854897/>.