Like many other herbs, oregano has a long history that can be followed back thousands of years. Oregano can be traced back to as early as 3000 BC when it was used by the Assyrians. During Greek and Roman times, it was one of the most commonly used herbs for health and medicinal purposes. Oregano’s name can be credited to the Greeks. It is a combination of the Greek words “oros” and “ganos” which together mean “joy of the mountains”. Oregano is believed to have originated on the mountainsides of Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries, making its name more than fitting.
Some of the original uses for oregano oil were as a headache cure, an antidote for poison, to help with respiratory conditions and to sooth insect and scorpion bites. It is said that Aristotle is responsible for the use of oregano for snake bites. He noticed that after tortoises ate snakes they would immediately eat the leaves from an oregano plant. It was also used as a preservative, perfume, massage oil and antiseptic. Hippocrates, known as the “father of western medicine”, also had a part in making oregano a well known medical herb. He used oregano on a regular basis to protect against respiratory and gastrointestinal issues and was one of the first to recognize its antiseptic properties.
Oregano wasn’t only used for medicinal purposes though. It also has many traditional uses in ancient cultures. For example, during Roman and Greek wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom would be crowned with laurels that included oregano. During the middle ages, oregano had a magical and spiritual following. It was planted around tombs and graves so that the deceased could rest in peace. The leaves were often carried as good luck charms and used in magic spells geared towards achieving happiness and tranquility. It was also a common plant to grow around homes to protect them from evil. It also became a more common food ingredient because it was one of the only spices that was easy to obtain.
The Romans can be credited with planting oregano throughout their empire as it grew, introducing it to new areas such as Northern Africa. It was during the Medieval period that oregano made its way to China, most likely through the spice road. It was quickly embraced as a medicinal herb and was used to relieve fevers, vomiting, diarrhea and itchy skin. The English were the first to use oregano as an additive to snuff.
It may come as a surprise that oregano was not a common herb in the United States until the first half of the 20th century. Soldiers coming home from World War I had developed a taste for the herb after experiencing it throughout Europe. With the pizza boom of the 1940s and 1950s, oregano found a permanent spot on spice racks throughout American homes.
Where Oregano Plants Have Been Grown
Oregano, a hardy, bushy plant, is a member of the mint family and can be found all over the world. It is a perennial plant but can be grown in cold climates as an annual. It is believed to have originated on the mountainsides of Greece. It prefers sunny locations and doesn’t need much fertilizer or maintenance. Oregano spreads easily and may need to be trimmed on occasion. The plant can grow up to 30 inches tall and sprouts purple flowers. It is one of the most common herbs to grow at home because of its low maintenance and its capability to keep vegetable gardens pest free.
There are plenty of man developed strains of oregano that have been developed over the years, offering unique properties. Origanum vulgare, subspecies gracile, has pink flowers and is often more used as an ornamental plant rather than for cooking or oil production. It is grown in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and Central Asia. Origanum vulgare, subspecies hirtum, is mostly grown for culinary purposes. Your oregano in your spice rack is most likely this sub species and can be found in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and the Balkans.
The main producers of oregano in the world are Greece, Turkey and Portugal. Oil made from Turkish oregano is often thought to be of the highest quality. When purchasing oregano essential oil to use medically, always check the quality and ingredients of your oil to make sure that it is 100% pure.
Oregano Oil Today
Oregano oil is starting to get as much recognition in the medical field as it has in the kitchen. While it’s great for pizza and pasta, it is also a great oil to keep close by for a wide variety of conditions. It is often used to treat fungal infections, including foot and nail infections. It is also great to keep beginning cold symptoms from developing into a full blown illness. The oil can be ingested, diffused or applied topically, as long as it is diluted.
While scientific research is limited regarding oregano oil, some studies have suggested that there is much more to learn about the oil and what it can do for the human body. It has shown promise in preventing food-borne illnesses caused by certain pathogens. It may be a natural preservative that can be utilized by food manufacturers in the future.
Other studies have shown that oregano oil may be just as effective in reducing infections as antibiotics, without the risk of bacteria developing resistance. This is most likely due to the main component in oregano, carvacrol. In 2002, the USA Agricultural Research Service classified carvacrol as antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and several other properties that are promising for the future of oregano oil. As more studies are completed, oregano oil may be able to help with people who are allergic to certain antibiotics or those who take medication affected by antibiotics.
Oregano oil can be purchased online or through health stores. Always discuss using oregano oil medically with your doctor to prevent interactions with other medications or unwanted side effects.