Oregano / Origan

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By Anne Driscoll, R.H., Traditional Herbalist

Origanum vulgare (Lamiaceae) is also known as origanum, wild marjoram, wintersweet, organy, thym de berger and mountain mint.

Parts Used: The herb consists of the top 25% of the aerial parts of the plant picked as the flowers just begin to open.

Habitat: The plant is a perennial that is native to North Africa, Europe and Asia. A member of the mint family, it is very hardy and readily self seeds. It thrives in dry conditions with full sun. It grows up to 50 cm tall and has flowers that are purple, pink or white (depending on the species). In North America oregano is grown as an annual or can be overwintered in pots. The plant is well know for its pungency –  a result of the carvacrol content. Other plants with high carvacrol content are sometimes referred to as oregano (Mexican and Cuban oregano) even though they are not member of the same genus.

Properties: Antibacterial, antiemetic, anthelmintic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiparasitic, antispasmodic, antiviral, appetite stimulant, astringent, carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, diaphoretic, digestive stimulant, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, nervine, relaxant, rubefacient, stomachic, uterine stimulant and vulnerary.

Uses: Oregano is well known for its essential oil contents (the essential oil is high in phenols such as carvacrol, thymol, pinene and limonene) these constituents make it an excellent carminative. It is warming to the digestive tract and helps to improve blood flow to the tissues of the digestive tract. It relieves inflammation and helps to reduce gas, bloating, cramping and nausea. Oregano is a potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. In lab studies it has shown activity against MRSA, Listeria, Candida, E coli and other microbes. Oregano is an excellent respiratory herb and is an expectorant that is particularly useful for coughs that are stuck in the chest. It can be used for asthma, bronchitis, colic and coughs. It helps to combat fevers. As an emmenagogue (more on the stimulating side) oregano can be used for female reproductive conditions such as amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea. It can also be used against HPV and other vaginal infections. It is less well known as a rubefacient and can be used as a liniment for muscle aches and pains, and bruises. It works well topically for skin conditions – particularly those with an infectious component. A strong tea can be used as a mouthwash for gingivitis and other inflammations in the mouth and gums.

Preparation/Dosage: Fresh or dried herb tea or tincture. The essential oil is also frequently used. Ingestion of undiluted essential oils can be harsh on the liver and is not recommended. The essential oil should be diluted in carrier oil (usually olive oil) and use should not exceed 2 weeks at a time.

Safety Considerations: Large doses are not for use during pregnancy. Use of the plant as a culinary herb is safe.