Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
It’s Not Just for Pizza
Fast facts: soothes coughs, aids digestion
Rumor has it that oregano didn’t become a popular seasoning in the United States until after World War II, when soldiers who’d been stationed in the Mediterranean returned home with a penchant for pizza. Whether that’s true or not, this pungent herb has been around for centuries, and many of its early uses were medicinal rather than culinary. The ancient Greeks made poultices from the leaves and used them to treat sores and aching muscles. Traditional Chinese doctors have used oregano for centuries to relieve fever, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice and itchy skin. In Europe, the herb is still used to improve digestion and soothe coughs.
Little contemporary research has been done on the medical uses of oregano. The work that has been done shows that this herb contains two essential components, thymol and carvacol, which are also found in another herb, thyme.
Thymol can be used to help loosen phlegm in the lungs, according to Norman R. Farnsworth, Ph.D., director of the Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In Germany, where herbal medicine is popular, syrups containing thymol are frequently prescribed for even the most serious kinds of coughs. In the United States, you’re most likely to find thymol in cough remedies such as Vicks Menthol Cough Drops and in topical cough and cold products such as Vicks VapoRub.
The ingredients in oregano that soothe coughs also help unknot muscles in the digestive tract. So there’s some scientific basis for using this herb as a digestive aid, Dr. Farnsworth says. Oregano also has a reputation as a menstruation promoter. “Pregnant women may safely use this herb as a seasoning, but they should avoid taking large amounts,” Dr. Farnsworth warns.
For a warm, spicy tea that can settle the stomach or soothe a cough, use one to two teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water. Let it steep for ten minutes.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.