Spicing up your food with herbs may feel like an afterthought when it comes to nutrition. You may feel that a sprinkle of oregano on top of your food isn’t part of the spectrum of macronutrients you need like protein, fats and carbs or that it doesn’t impact your health like the vitamins and minerals inside the vegetable it is sprinkled on. But adding oregano to your food not only make your food taste better; you are packing in some powerful health benefits as well.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare.) has been used for thousands of years in both cooking and in medicinal herbal treatments. The name oregano comes from the Greek words “oros’ which means mountain and “ganos” which means joy. This wonderful herb has been known as the ‘joy of the mountains’ for thousands of years. Hippocrates lived over 2400 years ago and is known as the “Father of Modern Medicine”. It is he who said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” and he was known to use oregano as an antiseptic to treat skin infections.
Oregano’s Nutrition Facts
One teaspoon of dried oregano is a great source of fiber, nutrients and antioxidants. With only about 5 calories, it 0a mix of carbohydrates, protein and some super healthy omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It is also a good source of Vitamins A, C, E, K and folate as well as powerful minerals like magnesium, iron and manganese as well as a good dose of both potassium and calcium.
Health Benefits of Oregano
Oregano’s health benefits can be found in the unique combination of different chemical constituents that make up the plant. These unique chemicals are what give oregano it’s distinct aroma and taste. They consist of carvacrol, ocimene, thymol, pinene, limonene and caryophyllene.
- Antioxidant: Enough can never be said about the antioxidant powers of plants and oregano is ranked (along with thyme and clove) as having the highest of available antioxidants found in nature. Antioxidants are necessary to defeat the buildup of free radicals in the body. “Free Radicals” are a by-product of our natural metabolic processes but when they build up in the body they cause oxidative stress; damaging cells and are the basis of chronic diseases like heart disease, cataracts, inflammation and cancer. Antioxidants stop the free radicals from the damage that they do and eliminate them from the body.
- Antibacterial and Antiviral: Hippocrates discovered some of the powerful antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of the oregano plant. Carvacrol, one of the chemical constituents found in the leaves and stems of oregano has been tested and found to have some distinct antimicrobial properties. Test tube studies of Oregano have found it to help block the growth of E-Coli, and to be effective against 23 species of bacteria and 41 strains of Listeria, a harmful and sometimes even deadly food pathogen. Other studies have found that it may help protect against superbugs like MRSA. Carvacrol and thymol have been shown to decrease viral activity in some studies. No human studies have been done with oregano, but it is interesting to see how potent the chemical components of this herb have on viruses and bacteria.
- Anti-inflammatory: We now know that chronic inflammation is the basis of modern-day chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders and even some cancers. Chronic inflammation is a body system gone awry- it’s when our body’s natural defense system goes on full alert all the time and is often caused by consuming too many processed foods and too much stress. Due to the high levels of antioxidants in oregano it has anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Cancer: Due to the high antioxidant capacity of oregano and the potent chemical constituents like carvacrol, oregano has been found in some studies to help exhibit anticancer growth and activity.
- Heart Disease: The omega 3 fatty acids in oregano help improve HDL levels (good cholesterol) thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation as well, helping to defeat the chronic inflammation that damages blood vessels and circulatory system.
- Bone Health: Oregano provides key bone building nutrients like calcium, iron and manganese as well as Vitamin K. We know that Vitamin K is crucial for making sure that the calcium we eat gets properly directed to bone growth and doesn’t build up in our arteries (where it sticks to plaque and worsens heart disease)
- The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database reports that oregano can help with a variety of different illnesses and conditions (primarily due to its high antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as well as the jam packed mineral density). It can help with respiratory illnesses like allergies and bronchitis, muscle aches and pains, skin problems like acne and dandruff, cold sores, gastrointestinal issues like parasites and bloating , menstrual cramps, headaches, earaches, sore throats, cardiovascular issues, general fatigue and it even repels insects.
Even if your new health habits are making you skip your weekly pizza night there are plenty of ways and reasons to include a dose of oregano into your daily diet. It is easy to find in your grocery store and easy to store (but throw it out if its older than 6 months).
- Make your own Italian Dressing: Skip the cheap refined oils, sugars and salt in a bottle of Italian salad dressing. Mix extra virgin olive oil, your favorite vinegar, and oregano to create your own Italian dressing for salads.
n your grilled chicken, turkey and meats with oregano.
Add oregano to soups, crock pot meals and stews. It will add a savory antioxidant rich flavor to every meal.
- Tomato Sauce: No bonafide Italian (myself included) would cook their tomato sauce without it.
- Pesto: Use fresh oregano leaves to prepare a pesto. Pesto is generally made with herbal leaves like oregano or basil tossed in a food processor with olive oil, pine nuts, fresh garlic and a squeeze of lemon. There are many recipes online you can find with a simple google search. Not only does pesto taste amazing, olive oil, nuts and garlic add to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich properties of oregano.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach