While the duo Simon and Garfunkel may have elevated parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to cult status, oregano can hold its own without a Top 10 hit. Oregano and its progeny, oil of oregano, have similar properties but are often used differently. Oregano leaves are frequently used as seasoning in cooking while oil of oregano is used in cosmetics, folk remedies and as a disinfectant.
The Spice That Makes Everything Nice
Origanum vulgare — more commonly known as the spice, oregano — is a zesty, bold-tasting herb in the mint family that grows natively in the sunny regions of Europe and Asia. It can be picked and used right off the bush as a flavoring in foods, or dried for more intensity. The leaves are distilled to produce oil of oregano, an essential oil used in perfumery and as a supplement. Oregano contains a variety of beneficial nutrients including vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.
Oregano enjoys popularity as one of the main ingredients in commercially packaged Italian seasoning. Along with basil, it is widely used in Italian dishes such as spaghetti and pizza sauce. The fresh or dried leaves can be steeped to make tea that can ease stomach and nervous complaints. Its strong chemical scent may also repel insects, such as ants.
Oil of oregano is extracted from the leaves and stems of the oregano plant. By distilling — a process that uses hot water or steam or both to remove the oils from the woody structures — manufacturers can remove the concentrated chemicals from the plant in liquid form. According to thew description on Drugs.com, oil of oregano oil contains the major chemical components of the oregano plant: carvacrol, thymol, p-cymene and terpinene. The chemicals in the oil are more highly concentrated than the leaves but the oil does not contain all the properties of the plant, such as fiber and some nutrients contained in the organic matter.
Oil of Oregano Uses
Oil of oregano, in addition to its use as a fragrance in soaps and perfumes, has been used as an antioxidant, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory agent although some extraction methods produce a lowered anti-microbial effect. As described in a 2008 study published in the "Journal of Internal Medical Research," researchers found that Turkish oregano oil helped lower cholesterol in some subjects. Oil of oregano may also increase serotonin and aid in eliminating cancerous cells in the colon. A 2004 study published in the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology" indicated that oil of oregano had a hypoglycemic effect in rats with diabetes.
No, No, Oregano
While the Food and Drug Administration has designated it as GRAS -- generally regarded as safe -- oregano, like many other spices, is a known skin irritant and ingesting large amounts may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Additionally, a preparation containing high amounts of oregano has been used to induce abortion due to its ability to interfere with hormonal activity.
- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: How Are Essential Oils Extracted
- The Old Farmers Almanac: Oregano
- Drugs.com: Oregano
- PubMed.gov: Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of ...Extraction Methods
- Journal of Medical Microbiology; Effects of Oregano, Carvacrol...Biofilms; Antonia Nostro, et al; December 18, 2006
- MayoClinic.com: Acute Sinusitis
- North Carolina Department of Agriculture
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