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Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a species of Origanum of the mint family native to Europe the Mediterranean region and southern and central Asia. It is a perennial herb growing to 20-80 cm tall with opposite leaves 1-4 cm long. The flowers are purple 3-4 mm long produced in erect spikes.
Oregano is an important culinary herb. It is particularly widely used in Turkish Greek Spanish and in Italian cuisine. It is the leaves that are used in cooking and the dried herb is often more flavourful than the fresh. Oregano is often used in tomato sauces fried vegetables and grilled meat. Together with basil it contributes much to the distinctive character of many Italian dishes. It is commonly used by local chefs in southern Philippines when boiling carabao or cow meat to eliminate the odor of the meat and to add a nice spicy flavor. Oregano combines nicely with pickled olives capers and lovage leaves. Unlike most Italian herbs oregano works with hot and spicy food which is popular in southern Italy. Oregano is an indispensable ingredient in Greek cuisine. Oregano adds flavor to Greek salad and is usually added to the lemon-olive oil sauce that accompanies many fish or meat barbecues and some casseroles.
In Turkish Cuisine oregano is mostly used for flavoring meat especially for mutton and lambs meat. In barbecue and kebab restaurants it can be usually found on table together with paprika salt and pepper. Oregano growing in a pot.
It has an aromatic warm and slightly bitter taste. It varies in intensity; good quality oregano is so strong that it almost numbs the tongue but the cultivars adapted to colder climates have often unsatisfactory flavor. The influence of climate season and soil on the composition of the essential oil is greater than the difference between the various species.
The related species Origanum onites (Greece Asia Minor) and O. heracleoticum (Italy Balkan peninsula West Asia) have similar flavors. A closely related plant is marjoram from Asia Minor which however differs significantly in taste because phenolic compounds are missing in its essential oil. Some breeds show a flavor intermediate between oregano and marjoram.
The dish most commonly associated with oregano is pizza. Its variations have probably been eaten in Southern Italy for centuries. Oregano became popular in the US when returning WW2 soldiers brought back with them a taste for the ''pizza herb''.
Oregano is high in antioxidant activity due to a high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids. Additionally oregano has demonstrated antimicrobial activity against food-borne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes. Both of these characteristics may be useful in both health and food preservation. In the Philippines oregano (Coleus aromaticus) is not commonly used for cooking but is rather considered as a primarily medicinal plant useful for relieving children's coughs.
Main constituents include carvacrol thymol limonene pinene ocimene and caryophyllene. The leaves and flowering stems are strongly antiseptic antispasmodic carminative cholagogue diaphoretic emmenagogue expectorant stimulant stomachic and mildly tonic. Aqueous extracts capsules or oil extracts of oregano are taken by mouth for the treatment of colds influenza mild fevers fungal infections indigestion stomach upsets enteric parasites and painful menstruation. It is strongly sedative and should not be taken in large doses though mild teas have a soothing effect and aid restful sleep. Used topically oregano is one of the best antiseptics because of its high thymol content.
Hippocrates the father of medicine used oregano as an antiseptic as well as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments. A Cretan oregano (O. dictamnus) is still used today in Greece to soothe a sore throat.
Oregano has recently been found to have extremely effective properties against methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) showing a higher effectiveness than 18 currently used drugs.