Oregano is one of the most popular perennial herbs to grow in any herb garden. Most are familiar with using it to flavor foods like pizza and pasta sauce – in fact, U.S. soldiers returning home after the Second World War brought back a fondness for what they called the “pizza herb” with them. Today, it’s found in almost everyone’s kitchen cabinet for culinary use as it makes all sorts of dishes taste better while protecting fats from oxidation during cooking, and making them pair especially well with fatty foods like cream sauces and cheeses.
Oregano originally came from warm climates in western and southwestern Eurasia, as well as the Mediterranean region. It’s a perennial plant with the characteristics of an herb, green and leaflike, with round shaped leaves. The herb was first used by the Greeks, who believed it was created by the Goddess Aphrodit, who wanted it to be a symbol of joy growing in her garden – the word “oregano” means “mountain joy,” and it became revered as a symbol of happiness by both the ancient Greeks and Romans.
The ancient Greeks used it as a poison antidote, as well as to treat infections, skin irritations, and convulsions. Their love of oregano spread throughout Europe and Northern Africa, and by the Middle Ages, it was commonly used not only for its taste but for medicinal purposes like relieving the pain of a toothache, indigestion, coughing and rheumatism.
Today we know why the herb has been a favorite for so long. Of course, it adds flavor, but it’s also filled with many essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, B6, C, E, and K as well as iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Plus, it contains powerful phytochemicals that are responsible for much of its medicinal benefits.
As such a popular herb with an incredible variety of uses, it’s really a must to grow in your garden – if you haven’t planted it yet, consider these reasons for getting inspired to do so.
Oregano is loaded with antioxidants, in fact, according to renowned physician Dr. Mercola, it has one of the highest antioxidant activity ratings out there, packing 42 times the antioxidant punch as apples. As Mercola reports, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Nutrition noted that an “…intake of herbs [including oregano] may…contribute significantly to the total intake of plant antioxidants, and be an even better source of dietary antioxidants than many other food groups such as fruits, berries, cereals, and vegetables.”
One of the active agents in oregano is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant that may help strengthen your immune system so that you can better fight off illnesses like a cold, flu and a host of diseases.
Oregano is a rich natural source of vitamin K, an important vitamin that is often overlooked. Sometimes called the “forgotten vitamin,” it’s best known for its key role in blood clotting, but it’s also essential for preventing heart disease, building strong bones and an important part of many other processes in the body.
If you’re deficient in vitamin K, it can contribute or cause many problems, including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, varicose veins, tooth decay, infectious diseases, brain health diseases like dementia, and even a number of cancers, like leukemia, lung cancer, liver cancer and prostate cancer.
The reason oregano oil is sold in so many health food and specialty shops is that it offers powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. That’s because it contains thymol and carvacrol, two oils known for their remarkable ability to fight bacteria and possibly even kill the foodborne pathogen Listeria as well as the superbug MRSA, according to research. One of the experts in the 2013 study focused on its antibacterial abilities explained, “We have done a few preliminary tests and have found that the essential oil from the oregano kills MRSA at a dilution 1 to 1,000. The tests show that the oil kills MRSA both as a liquid and as a vapor and its antimicrobial activity is not diminished by heating in boiling water.”
Another study, conducted in 2001 out of Maryland’s Georgetown University published in Science Daily found that the oil of oregano’s germ-killing properties were nearly as effective as most antibiotics. Head researcher Harry G. Preuss, MD, MACN, CNS, professor of physiology and biophysics, noted, “While this investigation was performed only in test tubes and on a small number of mice, the preliminary results are promising and warrant further study. The ability of oils from various spices to kill infectious organisms has been recognized since antiquity. Natural oils may turn out to be valuable adjuvants or even replacements for many anti-germicidal’s under a variety of conditions.”
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can be a great way to achieve optimal health and fight the pain of a number of different inflammatory-related conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. And, oregano contains a substance called beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP), which is known to inhibit inflammation. It’s also thought to be beneficial for health conditions like metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, and arteriosclerosis.
Oregano not only helps the body on the inside, but it can help the outside too. It can treat acne and occasional skin flare-ups thanks to its antifungal and antiseptic properties. That’s why you’ll often see it listed in the ingredients of a variety of skin care products like toner and face wash. If you suffer from acne and oily skin, you can harvest oregano from your own yard or herb garden and make this homemade toner to heal it quickly:
Using oregano when you have a cold, the flu or a respiratory infection, can help bring relief – it’s been scientifically shown to be effective, and traditional healers since ancient times have used oregano extracts to treat respiratory problems like coughs, colds, flu, sore throats and even bronchitis. For this purpose, it’s best to use oregano oil. Like the dried form of the plant, it benefits immunity as it helps improve symptoms due to its antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. While you can purchase the oil at drug and health food stores, you can also make your own once you’ve grown your oregano plants. To do so, we’ve included DIY instructions below.
Oregano encourages sweat production, with the ability to help detox the body, so ingesting it can help the body to get rid of unwanted phlegm in the lungs and bring a fever down. It also helps to clear the lungs and bronchial passages. Simply mix in several drops of oregano oil into a carrier oil like almond or olive oil, and rub it onto your chest. You can also boil it in water, or add it to a vaporizer, and inhale the steam.
Using chemical pesticides can harm your health, the health of your pets and the environment, which is why it’s far better to turn to a natural alternative. The strong scent of oregano confuses pests who are sniffing out your crops, which is why it’s such a good idea to plant it near your vegetable garden and under any fruit trees.
You can also use oregano oil as a natural bug spray for your household plants. Just add a few drops to a spray bottle with water, and spray your plants with a light misting. It’s very good for keeping aphids away.
There are some things that you want to have in your garden to keep plants thriving. Pollinators of all types love oregano flowers and feed on the nectar. Beneficial insects like lacewings which can help get rid of common pests like whiteflies, aphids and cabbage moth caterpillars to name only a few, search for plants that have good foliage for laying their eggs, and nectar for feeding. Planting oregano as a border of a vegetable garden, particularly near cabbage-family crops such as kale, broccoli, and collards, can help keep them healthy.
For many natural DIY beauty and treatment recipes, including some listed here, oregano oil is called for. The oil can be expensive to purchase, but once your plants have grown and harvested, you can make your own oregano oil right at home and potentially save a ton of money.
The ratio for making it is 1:1, using dried oregano leaves and olive oil or almond oil, so you can change this up to make a larger or smaller batch. First be sure that your oregano leaves have been rinsed, dried and chopped or crushed. The fresh oregano must be totally free of excess water, or you’ll risk the growth of mold, or cause the oil to go rancid.
Boil 2 to 3 cups of water in a saucepan. Once it’s at a rolling boil, turn off the heat. Place the oil and the oregano into your glass jar and then put the jar into the hot water. Allow it to sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow it to heat. This triggers the oregano to releases its beneficial oils. After removing the jar from the water, place it in a sunny window and leave it there for about two weeks, shaking the jar once every few days. When it’s ready, strain the oil from the leaves and pour it into a sanitized jar. Be sure to store it in a cool, dark place.
Now that you’re ready to start growing, you’ll be happy to know that oregano is fairly easy to grow and harvest. It doesn’t take a lot of care, and it’s resistant to deer – if you happen to live in an area where deer roam, you know how difficult it can be to keep them from eating the results of your hard work. Oregano is drought-tolerant, being from the Mediterranean, and prefers a hot, sunny, dry climate with well-drained soil, although it can survive wet periods and some shade as well. If you can, grow it on a slope to prevent erosion.
Give your oregano lots of space as it can grow up to four feet wide. Cut it back each spring to keep it looking attractive, and harvest it often – we’re sure you’ll want to anyway.
To harvest it, do so in the morning, but only after all dew has dried. The essential oils in herbs are highest in concentration on a warm morning. You’ll get the very best flavor by harvesting just as flower buds begin to form. Use garden shears or scissors to remove the stems, and then cut back to just above a growth node or set of leaves. This allows the plant to branch from the cut area and produce more flavorful leaves. If there is any mulch or dust on them, rinse the stems lightly, shaking off any excess moisture before drying.
To dry your oregano, you can pull off the tiny leaves and dry them separately, or dry the entire stem and then crumble off the leaves. Bundle stems together and hang them to dry in a dry, dark area. You can place a perforated paper bag around them to catch the bits of leaves as they fall, and to keep dust and dirt off.