aromatic herb used in both cooking and perfume
Origanum vulgare, is a perennial herb
in the mint family. The shrubby plant grows up to
32 inches tall, has spade-shaped, olive-green
leaves that are about 2.5 inches long, and its
1.5-inch-long purple flowers grow in erect
spikes. Native to northern Europe, oregano has
been introduced throughout many regions of the
world. It prefers a hot, relatively dry climate,
but does well in other environments.
Oregano is an
important culinary herb, used for the flavor of
its leaves, and is one of the few herbs that is
stronger when dried than when fresh. Its flowers
are also edible. Commercially, oregano's biggest
market is in perfumes.
Oregano was first used by the
ancient Greeks. According to their mythology, the
spice was invented by Aphrodite, the goddess of
love, who gave it to man to make his life
happier. In fact, the word "oregano" is
derived from the Greek phrase, "joy of the
mountains." Newly married couples were
crowned with wreaths of oregano, and it was also
placed on graves to give peace to departed
spirits. Ancient Greek physicians prescribed
oregano for a variety of ailments, and Hippocrates
used it as an antiseptic.
The Romans adopted much of
Greek culture, including the use of oregano. The
ease of its cultivation, coupled with the Romans'
proclivity for expansion, spread oregano
throughout Europe and Northern Africa.
People continued to use oregano
through the Middle Ages. One of the few spices
available to almost everyone, oregano was not
only used as a flavoring for otherwise bland
food, but for its many perceived medicinal
benefits as well. Oregano leaves were chewed as a
cure for rheumatism, toothache, indigestion, and
as a cough suppressant. It was also used as a
medicinal herb in China, to where it made its way
via the "Spice Road." Chinese doctors
prescribed it to relieve fever, vomiting,
diarrhea, jaundice, and itchy skin.
Despite its widespread use in
Europe and the Far East, oregano was virtually
unknown in the United States until World War II.
Soldiers discovered its flavors and aromas during
the Italian Campaign and brought the spice and
the desire for it back to the States.
The volatile oils in oregano include thymol
and carvacrol, both of which have been
shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria,
including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus
aureus. Oregano also contains numerous
phytonutrients that have been shown to function
as potent antioxidants that can prevent
oxygen-based damage to cell structures throughout
Oregano is a good source of fiber, an excellent source of vitamin K, and
a very good source of manganese, iron, dietary
fiber, and calcium. In addition, oregano is a
good source of vitamin E and tryptophan.
World War II
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