I love using oregano whenever I am cooking Italian style food. For years I’ve been sprinkling the aromatic herb on my cooking, but it’s only recently that I have become aware of the health benefits. These come to life when using the oil that is steam-distilled from the leaves rather than the leaves themselves. The plant’s Latin name is oregano vulgare, and while originally found in the Mediterranean region, it is now grown across the world.
The oil has a long history of medicinal uses. In fact it is thought that the agent Greek physician Hippocrates used the oil as an antiseptic and the Romans used the leaves to treat skin sores and for muscle relief. Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the use of oregano oil with alternative health practitioners and clinical nutritionists recommending the oil to boost the immune system, improve digestion, combat fungal disorders and to maintain general health. The oil is still popular in Greece where an oregano infusion is used to treat colds and stomach upsets.
Even though long term, well-controlled human studies have not been carried out on the health effects of the oil, it’s hard to overlook the mountain of positive anecdotal feedback about its uses.
The active ingredients in oregano oil include:
- Carvacrol (a natural antimicrobial and antioxidant)
- Thymol (a natural antimicrobial, fungicide and antiseptic)
- Rosmarinic Acid (a natural antihistamine, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory)
- Terpenes (a natural anti-inflammatory)
This list of properties is impressive, but the health benefits will depend on the bio-availability of these ingredients following digestion. Having said that, there does seem to be clear evidence of the antimicrobial actions of oregano constituents in vitro. In particular the oil is effective at suppressing the growth of bacteria, yeast (including against Candida albicans), parasites and some fungi. Furthermore there is “limited but suggestive” evidence that oregano component can suppress inflammation, which in turn is the basis for its use as a herb remedy for coughs, asthma, acne and gum disease.
Oregano oil uses
Oregano Oil As An Antifungal
One of the most studied oregano oil benefits is its antifungal properties. Key uses include:
- Nail fungus treatment – Regular application over several months has been shown to help prevent the growth of the fungus across the nail. (See more on yellow toenails caused by fungal infection). The oil is applied topically in diluted form. Always test a small amount of oregano oil first for sensitivity or allergic reaction.
- As a ringworm cure including athletes foot (tinea pedis). The oil is applied topically in diluted form. Always test a small amount of oregano oil first for sensitivity or allergic reaction. It’s important to continue application for several weeks even after visible sign of infection have disappeared.
- Treatment of Candida albicans yeast infections. Diluted with virgin olive oil and taken orally, the oil is best taken as part of a yeast free diet, see more on how to get rid of a yeast infection.
- Treatment of dandruff and itchy scalp, which recent research indicates is is caused by a yeast infection in the scalp. Application is by mixing a few drops of oregano oil with regular shampoo. Ensure there is no eye contact to avoid stinging.
Oil of Oregano As An Anti-Parasitic And Antibacterial Agent
The antibacterial properties of oregano oil are due to its heavy content of phenolic substances which disrupt bacterial cell membranes and inhibit their proliferation. Studies have shown the oil to be effective again food-borne pathogens, as a treatment for intestinal parasites, for the control of dental bacteria and for water sterilization. Oregano oil may also have a role to play in eliminating certain bacterial strains that have become resistant to antibiotics.
Oregano Oil’s Anti-inflammatory Properties
There is strong anecdotal evidence and suggestive scientific evidence to support the claim that oregano oil has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The key ingredient is rosmarinic acid. Reviews from sufferers indicate positive results for acne, insect bites, gum disease, asthma, coughs, rosacea and muscle pain.
Oregano Oil As An Antioxidant
Although more clinical trials are needed it is widely thought that oil of oregano can provide antioxidant protection to the body’s cells. It is this property that forms the basis for claims that the oil can help in the management of cholesterol and heart disease.
Side effects and precautions
Oil or oregano is generally well tolerated if recommended dosage is not exceeded. The oil is not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding and should only be administered to children under supervision from a health care practitioners. Oregano belongs to the same family as basil, sage, mint, rosemary and time so should be avoided by people allergic to these plants. The oil should not be applied topically to mucous membranes at greater that 1% concentration.