Any fan of Italian food knows the distinctive, vibrant taste of oregano. But oregano’s benefits go far beyond enhancing spaghetti sauce. This ancient Mediterranean herb has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat respiratory problems, stomach upset, urinary tract infections, and painful menstruation. Today, researchers are uncovering a wealth of new uses for this tasty, healthful herb.
Highest Antioxidant Herb
While oregano leaves can be found in kitchens throughout the world, it’s the volatile oil extracted from the plant that could be right at home in your medicine cabinet. Oregano oil is a powerful antioxidant and antibacterial, thanks to high levels of the plant chemical carvacrol. One study suggests that carvacrol kills bacteria and prevents dangerous amines from forming in cooked ground beef. And researchers have discovered that oregano oil kills a variety of common infectious microbes, including salmonella, E. coli, and several types of staphylococcus.
When it comes to antioxidant power, oregano oil is off the charts. When researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared it with 27 culinary herbs and 12 medicinal herbs, they found that oregano had the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of all the herbs tested. ORAC indicates antioxidant power.
Carvacrol, as well as another compound in oregano oil called thymol, is also effective against fungi. Oregano oil is so effective, in fact, that it outperformed an industrial fungicide often used on agricultural crops, according to one study by Turkish researchers.
Avoid Infection with Acrylic Nails
Thanks to its stellar antifungal properties, oregano oil can help relieve athlete’s foot. In one study, blocks covered in the fungus that causes athlete’s foot were submerged in a bath containing essential oils of 11 different antifungal herbs. Oregano oil was one of the most effective, killing nearly 100 percent of the fungi.
Oregano oil may also eradicate the fungi that target fingernails and toenails. Herbalists have long recommended oregano oil for nails afflicted by stubborn fungal infections. Even mainstream manicurists tell their clients who sport acrylic nails to dilute 1 teaspoon of oregano oil in 2 teaspoons of olive oil and apply it up to three times a day to prevent fungal growth between their real nails and the fake ones.
Antiparasite, Anticandida Remedy
Along with oregano’s ability to kill microscopic bugs, it also appears to repel the bugs that can ruin your picnic. Several studies show that the carvacrol in oregano oil can keep insects, including mosquitoes, at bay.
Known as the pizza herb, oregano increased in popularity in the United States after returning WWII troops came back with a taste for Mediterranean cuisine.
Oregano oil’s bug-busting capabilities could also prove useful for travelers who pick up a parasite while on the road. When 14 patients with digestive parasites took a daily dose of 600 mg of oregano oil, they found that the parasites had completely disappeared after six weeks in eight cases and decreased levels in three additional cases with improvement in digestive symptoms. Just be aware that oregano oil’s antibacterial action doesn’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. If you are taking oregano supplements orally, make sure to also take a multistrain probiotic to replace your gut’s beneficial bugs and to take it 12 hours prior to or after taking the oregano oil.
Perhaps the biggest benefit oregano oil offers is to those suffering from yeast infections, especially candida, appearing as a vaginal yeast infection, thrush, or as a systemic condition that affects the whole body with symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, cognitive impairment, itchy skin, and intense sugar cravings. Fortunately, lab and animal tests show that oregano oil completely inhibits the growth of Candida albicans in culture, the most common type of yeast infection.
You can find the herbal oil in capsule form or as a tincture. If using a tincture, take 1 to 4 drops diluted in a small amount of water two or three times daily. Look for the carvacrol content, which should be about 25 mg per 4 drops. Be sure to avoid taking oregano orally if you are pregnant or nursing.
The future may hold even more promise for oregano oil. Preliminary studies suggest that it may cause colon and lung cancer cells to commit suicide—a process called apoptosis. While research on oregano’s anticancer potential on humans needs to be done, it may prove yet another natural weapon in the war on cancer.
Oregano Oil Products
You can find oregano oil in supplement and essential oil forms in any health food store. But it is also starting to show up in some cosmetics and topical skin treatments, such as those shown at left.
A natural immune booster, oregano oil is now also available as a nasal spray to help promote healthy sinuses (North American Herb & Spice has a nasal spray with oregano oil).
Product Examples (above from left)
Flora Flor-Essence Rejuvenating Cream is a blend of oregano and other herbs and essential oils that work synergistically to nourish, revitalize, and rejuvenate your skin.
A few drops of Herb Pharm Oregano Spirits in hot water or tea stimulates sluggish circulation, and helps treat colds, flu, and coughs. Apply topically to achy muscles and joints.
Gaia Herbs Candida Supreme Vital Cleanse Kit jump-starts a cleansing or diet regimen. The complete system contains oregano oil, black walnut, Swedish Bitters, and Vital Cleanse powder.
North American Herb & Spice Oreganol P73 can be used topically or internally for sore throats, allergies, coughs, and even bad breath.
Aubrey Organics Soothing Anti-Itch Herbal Remedy quickly soothes stressed skin with oregano, evening primrose, lavender, and tea tree oils and aloe vera.