Oregano is a wonderful perennial culinary as well as medicinal herb. It has long been recognized as one of the “functional food” for its nutritional, anti-oxidants and disease preventing properties. The herb, whose name means “delight of the mountains” in Greek, is native to the Mediterranean region.
Botanically, the herb belongs to the mint (lamiaceae) family, of the genus; Origanum and is known scientifically as Origanum vulgare.
The plant is a small shrub, growing up to 75 cm in height with multi-branched stems covered with small grayish-green oval leaves and small white or pink flowers.
Oregano is particularly used widely in Greek and Italian cuisines. Its leaves have characteristic aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste. The intensity varies; however, good quality oregano is so strong that it almost numbs the tongue.
There are many varieties of oregano cultivated across Europe but the influence of climate, season, and soil on the composition of the essential oils is greater than the difference between various species. Origanum heracleoticum is another Greek variety that is having characteristic sharp scent and flavor. Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) is one of close related species of oregano.
Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) is a different from origanum species but related to the verbena family of herbs. It is used in place of oregano in many Central American regions.
Health benefits of Oregano
- Oregano contains impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
- The herb parts contain no cholesterol; but are rich source of dietary fiber, which helps to control blood cholesterol levels.
- Oregano contains many health benefiting essential oils such as carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene. The leaves and flowering stems of the plant are strongly anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, cholagogue (help gall bladder secretion), diaphoretic (sweat production), expectorant, stimulant, and mildly tonic properties. Its decoction is taken by mouth for the treatment of colds, influenza, mild fevers, indigestion, stomach upsets and painful menstruation.
- Thymol is also been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal activities.
- The herb is rich in poly-phenolic flavonoid anti-oxidants (vitamin A, carotenes, lutein, zea-xanthin and cryptoxanthin) and has been rated as one of the plant source with highest anti-oxidant activities. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
- The active principles in the herb may increase the motility of the gastro-intestinal tract as well as increase the digestion power by increasing gastro-intestinal secretions.
- This exotic herb is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure caused by high sodium. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron helps prevent anemia. Magnesium, and calcium are important minerals for bone metabolism.
- Fresh herb is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamin, vitamin-C. Vitamin C helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Selection and storage
Fresh as well as dried oregano herb is available in the herb stores all around the year. Whenever possible, buy fresh leaves over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor and rich in many vital vitamins and anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and folates.
Fresh oregano should feature vibrant green color leaves and firm stems. They should be free from molds, discoloration spots or yellowing. Just like with other dried herbs, when purchasing dried oregano, try to buy that which has been organically grown since it will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated and is free from pesticide residues.
Fresh leaves should be stored in the refrigerator kept in a zip pouch or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. Dried leaves can be kept fresh for many months when stored in a tightly sealed glass container, and stored in a cool, dark and dry place.
In order to keep the fragrance and aromatic flavor intact, oregano leaves are generally used just before preparing recipes.
Here are some serving tips:
- Oregano herb is widely used as a “spice.” It is principally employed in the cuisines as a seasoning to enhance flavor.
- It has been used in preparation of many popular dishes in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine since ancient times. Along with other spicy items, it is being used as flavoring agent in the preparation of pizzas, chicken, fish, and meat dishes.
- It has also been used in the preparation of soups, omelet, sauces, and pickling.
- Freshly chopped oregano is a great addition to green salad.
Here are some of my healthy recipes that feature Oregano:
- The leaves and flowering stems of the oregano plant have antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, increase bile secretion, diaphoretic, expectorant, stimulant, and mildly tonic properties.
- Oregano decoction is taken by mouth for the treatment of colds, influenza, mild fevers, indigestion, stomach upsets, and painful menstruation.
- Thymol has been found to have anti-septic, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal activities. (Medical disclaimer).
Oregano oil extracted from the herb parts may cause skin and mucus membrane irritation and hence, avoided in aromatherapy.
Source : www.nutrition-and-you.com