The ‘Big Gun’ Against Viruses and Bacteria

Oregano is a heavy-hitter herb for the cold and flu season and year-round.

Tis is the season of viruses. Whether we’re fighting the common cold (coronavirus family), the flu (influenza virus family), stuffy noses, coughs, fevers, strep throat, ear and sinus infections, or types of pneumonia (Streptococcus bacteria family), conventional treatments are antibiotics—which may or may not have the desired effect on the healing process. Quite the contrary, these pharmaceuticals often come with unwanted side effects, and there’s the ever-growing problem of drug resistance.

Oregano is one of the few heavy hitters against such seasonal microbial attacks—with multi-faceted ways of implementation including teas and extractions, as an essential oil, or in culinary preparations.

This article is a guide to using oregano as an anti-microbial during this winter season or how to grow it yourself in the spring.

Oregano: The Powerhouse

Oregano is an unimposing small semi-woody shrub—an aromatic perennial with tiny purple flowers. Though native to the Mediterranean, it can be cultivated everywhere. Perhaps, at some point, you’ve grown oregano yourself on your window sill or in your garden.

So—why not try an herb considered to be a heavyweight in the phytopharmaceutical world? Hailed as antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidantantimicrobial, and antiviral, Origanum vulgare L. can be a solution.

Oregano’s medicinal qualities are outstanding. Although its anti-fungal value might come to mind first, the herb also features other superior anti-microbial properties for the upcoming cold and flu season.

A paper published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences points out the antibacterial properties of oregano and other herbs and spices against some antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.
Research in the Journal of Frontiers in Microbiology outlines how alternative methods utilize medicinal herbs and/or essential oils either as a boost in combination with conventional treatments (mostly in cases of drug resistance) or as a sole remedy.

Another article published in Critical Reviews in Microbiology, notes this favorable synergy between essential oils and antibiotics and describes the basis for its effects:

“Antibiotics and the essential oil components may act synergistically, such as by affecting multiple targets; by physicochemical interactions and inhibiting antibacterial-resistance mechanisms. Many reported assays show additivity or moderate synergism, indicating that EOs may offer possibilities for reducing antibiotic use.”

Carvacrol is the main compound in oregano oil. It can be considered a natural alternative to prescription drugs, like antibiotics, as it exhibits rapid bactericidal activity, especially against a bacterial pathogen called Streptococcus pyogenes. This human-specific bacterium causes a wide array of infections, from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.

Nature’s Powerful Healing Potential

Plant-derived compounds and constituents of essential oils are powerful healing alternatives.

Herbal Uses

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) describes oregano as an herb that dispels dampness (fluid build-up), regulates the qi (vital energy), and releases the exterior (promotes sweating). In our Western language, we can translate this into oregano working as a detoxifier through the lymphatic system. It induces perspiration and is therefore suited for fever management if the illness comes with mucus and chills. In this case, oregano would be prepared as an infusion.

Oregano is particularly good in treating the affected mucous membranes. A peer-reviewed article in the Public Library of Science found that “oregano selectively targeted certain bacterial groups, especially reducing Streptococcus.” A strong tea or an alcoholic extraction (tincture) would be the preferred way of application.

Preparation of Oregano Tea*

  • Use ½ to 1 tsp. of dried oregano leaves to 8 oz of boiling water
  • Steep covered for 15 minutes
  • Drink 4 oz up to 3x daily

Essential Oil and Aromatherapy

A 2017 study published in the journal Molecules specifies oregano’s healing qualities as an essential oil. Besides its well-known antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, the paper describes the herbal essence as having “potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic and cancer suppressor agents.”

The efficacy of essential oils has been widely studied, even in correlation with SARS-CoV2. The mixture of three essential oils, including oregano, was researched in a recent study that found “the number and frequency of general symptoms, including general fatigue, weakness, fever, and myalgia, decreased.” [The] findings suggest that CAPeo (mixture of wild thyme, oregano, and Greek sage oils) “possesses potent antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 in addition to its effect against influenza A and B and human rhinovirus HRV14 strains.”
Well-known herbalist and health-writer Stephen Buhner included oregano in his 36-page treatment protocol for chronic inflammatory lung disease. He suggests using oregano essential oil in a nebulizer, which turns the liquid into an easy-to-inhale mist. According to Mr. Buhner’s records, this therapeutic approach seems also helpful in people suffering from lung infections.

Overall, the lung and respiratory system benefits from the use of oregano as an expectorant, anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory. When colds or the flu come accompanied by symptoms of excess mucus, thick phlegm, and upper respiratory congestion, oregano can improve these conditions.

Caution and Contraindications

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regards oregano and oregano essential oil as “generally recognized as safe” food ingredients, oregano is a powerful herbal medicinal and should be viewed as such.

The use of oregano is contraindicated during pregnancy when used above the normal dietary amounts.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, essential oils are concentrated extracts of plants. Usually, the process of extraction is mechanical, or a distillation. Large amounts of plant matter are used to produce the oil, which still retains the properties of the source.

Although essential oils can be used by internal or external means, a potential toxicity hazard can occur when essential oils are ingested orally and when untrained individuals ingest too much.

One of the reliable retailers of essential oils suggests using with caution on their website:

“Due to a high percentage of phenols it [oregano essential oil] is aggressive to mucus membranes and should be avoided unless blended in low percentage with essential oils from other chemical families.”

They continue, quoting Kurt Schnaubelt, author of the book “The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils”:

“Oregano is suitable for internal use within safe parameters, it is rarely needed and should only be used with respect for how concentrated the oils are. [If taken internally, it would be best to administer the oil], by capsule diluted with a suitable carrier oil; generally, 1 drop is always enough when ingesting essential oils. Use of Oregano should be limited to treating acute conditions.” *

As oregano essential oil is very potent, even aromatherapy treatment should be approached with caution.

*Note: For all individualized herbal recommendations and dosages, please consult with your local herbalist.

Culinary Uses

A safe and tasty way to get the benefit of oregano is to use the dried herb in the kitchen. Oregano is an aromatic herb, slightly bitter, and with a pungent flavor. Adding it to any recipe will have a tasteful impact. Try it in fish, poultry, and other meat dishes, as well as soups and stews, marinades, or dressings. Add it to black beans and rice, scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, or as a topping on your pizza. Oregano has many versatile uses in the kitchen and other creative ways to use it:

  • Herb butters.
  • Herb-infused oils.
  • Herb salt.
  • Herb-infused vinegar (Oxymel).

Specific Varieties

When it comes to herbs, knowing the botanical (Latin) name of the plant is very helpful. Often, many similar varieties carry the same common name, yet, differentiate by their medicinal properties or uses.

In this case, oregano belongs to the Lamiaceae herb family, together with other aromatic herbs like thyme, lavender, mint, and hyssop. The report, published in Molecules, clarifies the multiple varieties of the plant family: “The oregano crop is divided into four distinct groups: Turkish oregano (Origanum onites), Spanish oregano (Coridohymus capitatu), Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare) and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens).” (Not to be confused with Origanum marjoram, commonly named Sweet Marjoram.)

The traditional spice-mix Za’atar, featuring oregano and several other herbs and sesame seeds, has seen a recent resurgence as a popular ingredient in modern dishes. A team of researchers highlights the oregano family’s medicine qualities in a 2021 paper and links its antimicrobial and antioxidant effects in Za’atar to the herb’s essential oils.

Another study confirms both, historical traditional uses and herbal efficacy, “The leaves and dried herb of oregano as well as its essential oil are traditionally used for respiratory disorders, […].” The main components of oregano extracts have been associated with the capability of bacterial control, including against antibiotic-resistant strains.

Growing Oregano

Knowing the extraordinary qualities of oregano, you might think about growing it yourself when springtime rolls around. Oregano is an easy-to-grow herb and will be happy in your garden, raised bed, or container.

You can start oregano from seed 8–10 weeks before the last frost date in your area. However, you will also have no problem finding oregano at local nurseries and garden centers in spring, as it is an all-time favorite kitchen herb and is sold as such. If you would like to grow it as a perennial, simply transfer the plant into your garden. When you plan an herb bed or container garden, be aware of the spacing of your plants or the number of plants you can grow in a certain-sized pot. The Royal Horticulture Society has dedicated an entire “grow-your-own” page to oregano.

In addition, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service offers the following helpful pdf-downloads for gardeners, as well as general recommendations for utilizing oregano and cooking with herbs:

* This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

The author encourages readers to continue to visit and to be treated by their health care professionals, including physicians. The author is not acting in the capacity of a doctor, licensed dietician-nutritionist, psychologist, or other licensed or registered medical professional. Accordingly, the author is not providing health care, medical, or nutrition therapy services and will not diagnose, treat, or cure in any manner whatsoever any disease, condition, or other physical or mental ailment.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Alexandra Roach where all credits are due.


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