Oregano is an important culinary and medicinal herb that has been used in medicine and cooking for thousands of years. It belongs to the mint family. Its name comes from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy)!
In folk medicine, oregano is used to treat respiratory problems, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders. It is also applied topically – as oregano oil - to help treat a number of skin conditions, such as acne, dandruff, skin infections and athlete’s foot. (Full disclosure – I use it on my sore fungal toes, and it’s helping.)
Oregano contains a fair amount of vitamin K - an important vitamin which promotes bone growth, the maintenance of bone density, and the production of blood clotting proteins. Although dried basil, thyme and oregano contain high levels of vitamin K, a teaspoon of these herbs in their fresh form contain only a small amount and can be used by people taking Coumadin. Check with your doctor on this.
Oregano, allspice and garlic essential oils (EOs) can be effective, natural barriers against E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, according to a study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists. The study from government researchers revealed that oregano oil was found to be the most effective antimicrobial used in cooking, followed by allspice and garlic. While this information can make you happy to include these herbs in your dishes, you should never forget the important rules about food safety to prevent bacterial contamination. .
Researchers at Long Island University (LIU) have found that an ingredient of oregano could potentially be used to treat prostate cancer. Dr. Supriya Bavadekar, PhD, RPh, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at LIU is currently testing carvacrol, a constituent of oregano, on prostate cancer cells. The results of her study demonstrate that the compound induces apoptosis in these cells. Apoptosis, is programmed cell death, or simply "cell suicide." Dr. Bavadekar and her group are presently trying to determine the signaling pathways that the compound employs to bring about cancer cell suicide. "We know that oregano possesses anti-bacterial as well as anti-inflammatory properties, but its effects on cancer cells really elevate the spice to the level of a super-spice like turmeric," said Dr. Bavadekar. Though the study is at its preliminary stage, she believes that the initial data indicates a huge potential in terms of carvacrol's use as an anti-cancer agent. "A significant advantage is that oregano is commonly used in food and has a 'Generally Recognized As Safe' status in the US. We expect this to translate into a decreased risk of severe toxic effects. Some researchers have previously shown that eating pizza may cut down cancer risk. This effect has been mostly attributed to lycopene, a substance found in tomato sauce, but we now feel that even the oregano seasoning may play a role," stated Dr. Bavadekar. "If the study continues to yield positive results, this super-spice may represent a very promising therapy for patients with prostate cancer."
Oregano grows very well in Bolinas gardens. Mine survived the recent frost and seems to be growing well all year long. You can put it in salads, soups and stir fries, as well as pasta sauces and pizza.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog. Check out my novel, Changing the Rules, at the Point Reyes Bookstore and on Amazon.