Oregano, a member of the Labiatae Family, is a hardy, bushy, perennial herb, which grows up to 90cm (35in) high. It has an erect hairy stem, dark green ovate leaves and pinky-purple flowers. It is a common garden plant whose leaves have a strong aroma when bruised. It is native to Europe but now cultivated all over the world. The oil is produced mainly in Russia, Bulgaria and Italy. There are very many different varieties of Oregano and each variety will have its own properties and uses. Some of the genus include: Origanum vulgare (Wild Marjoram); Thymus capitatus; Origanum smyrnaeum; Origanum dubium; Origanum dubium (Linalool type). Origanum vulgare contains 0.1 – 1.0% volatile oil with the major components of thymol, carvacrol, B-bisabolene, caryophyllene, p-cymene, borneol, linalool, linalyl acetate, geranyl acetate, a-pinene, b-pinene, a-terpinene, and others, with highly variable relative proportions, depending on sources; also depending on the source the phenol content (thymol and carvacrol) have been reported to vary from 0 – 90%. Thymol and carvacrol are usually the major phenols present in oregano and have strong fungicidal, parasiticidal, irritant properties. European oregano is reported to have spasmolytic, expectorant, diuretic and choleretic (increases the volume of bile) properties.
A pale yellow essential oil is obtained through steam distillation of the dried flowering herbs and the oil will brown with age. It is used as a fragrance component in soaps, colognes and perfumes, especially men’s fragrances. It is employed to some extent as a flavoring agent mainly in meat products and pizzas.
Origanum vulgare has been used as a stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic and nerve tonic and as a cure for asthma, coughs, indigestion, rheumatism, toothaches, headaches, spider bites and coronary conditions. In European phyto-medicine, oregano and its preparations have been used for the treatment of respiratory ailments, coughing, bronchitis; antispasmodic and expectorant. Also used as an appetite stimulant, diuretic and mild sedative. In China, in addition to some of the above uses, O. vulgare is used to treat fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice and itchy skin conditions.
Psychologically, this oil can be energizing. It is considered to be a nerve tonic and reviving for the senses. May assist in relieving imaginary diseases. It often imparts a feeling of well-being.
On the physiological level is has expectorant, antiviral and bactericidal properties and can prove useful for asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, coughs, colds, fever, flu, sore throats, viral and bacterial infections.
Contraindications: Due to its usually high phenol content, it can be a skin irritant and a moderate mucous membrane irritant. Avoid in pregnancy and on babies and young children under 2 years.
Leung and Foster, Encyclopedia of Natural Common Ingredients
Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety, second edition.