By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What It Is
There is absolutely a time and a place for modern medicine. I’m a believer in a little ibuprofen or acetaminophen for a fever, and, in my opinion, nothing beats Benadryl for an allergic rash. Still, some of the side effects of modern meds should leave you a little concerned (usually about your liver or upset stomach). It may be unconventional, but a common ingredient found in your home may help you manage your GI symptoms, treat headaches or ease your muscle pain. Roll out the red carpet for... oregano!
This little plant needs to be in your kitchen and medicine cabinet, as it's a delicious healing agent. There are over 40 varieties of oregano, but Origanum vulgare is the one most linked to health benefits. You can use the fresh and dried leaves in your cooking for medicinal benefits as well as flavor.
You can even extract a healthy oil from this amazing herb. Oregano oil can be pulled from dried oregano through a steam distillation process to produce a strong, spicy-smelling, yellowish-brown elixir, which can be used to treat a whole host of ailments.
The holidays are upon us and you know you’ll need a remedy for winter shopping, eating, holidaying and germ-catching by New Year’s. So prepare a spot on your kitchen windowsill for a little oregano plant (add an ornament, perhaps?) and clean out your medicine cabinet so there’s space for oregano oil.
The Dirty Deets
Sure, you can keep a little dried oregano in your spice cabinet as a no-calorie pizza topper, but add some of the amazingly verdant fresh stuff to your shopping cart, too. Choose bright green leaves and a firm stem and use the leaves liberally (the stems are inedible, like your holiday wreath). Two teaspoons have no calories and six percent of your daily fiber needs.
If you want to use oregano oil to help heal your ailments, know that it's too strong to use alone, so it needs to be mixed with another oil, such as olive oil, in a 1:3 ratio. You need only a few drops as a dosing.
- Fresh oregano is a great antibacterial agent. It has phytonutrients (thymol and carvacrol), which fight infections such as staph. It's loaded with antioxidants that help prevent cell damage, and it’s an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, manganese, iron, vitamin E, tryptophan and calcium. You go, oregano! How’d you pack so much nutrition in those tiny, zero-calorie leaves?
- Dried oregano is also healthful (with similar benefits to fresh), but it needs to be handled carefully. Store it in a clean, dry, glass container and chuck it after six months. Old oregano, like most spices, loses its flavor and benefits over time.
- OK, so oregano oil should be used a little differently than fresh oregano. The oil is recommended as a remedy for sore throats, poor digestion, nausea, nasal congestion, cold sores and muscle and joint pain, and it has antimicrobial properties that make it a good preventive strategy. Winter is infamous for illnesses, which is why your oregano oil should be front and center in your pantry. No sugar coating here: It tastes terrible, so mix it where you can hide it best. In your marinara or your salad dressing works, but my fave way is to cover it is with a spoonful of honey to choke it down. (OK, I guess there is a little sugar coating.) Uses for oregano oil are different depending on the condition, but generally a few drops a day for a week to 10 days is recommended.
How To Chow Down
Oregano works well with most Mediterranean fare -- from fish to chicken to risotto to vegetables. You can brighten up any meal with a few leaves as a special touch or deepen the flavor of roasts, sautés and stews.
- Oregano makes a killer pesto. The flavor is a little earthier than the well-known basil version, and it can transport your holiday entertaining to a whole new level. Drizzle a little over roasted veggies or spread it on toast. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to pull this one off -- you just need a food processor.
- Feeling congested? Have a sore in your mouth? Muscle aches? Brew a batch of oregano tea. All you need to do is breathe in the steam to loosen the congestion. Rinse your oral boo-boo and dump the tea in your tub for a soak. Oregano tea is the panacea for what ails your tired body.
- Use your oregano oil medicinally, but oregano-infused olive oil is another story altogether. Plunk a couple of sprigs of herbs in your olive oil bottle and the essence and flavor will give new life to your cooking creations. Besides that, it looks beautiful in the bottle and makes a useful holiday gift.
In The Know
Oregano is happy to grow on a windowsill in your kitchen or in a tiny plot of your garden. Little upside-down hanging bunches in your home are pretty and functional, and you can just trim a little off as you need it. Oregano, you rock! Together, we can eat well and heal some of the common ailments that occur this winter and holiday season.