Extra Oregano, Please
You’ll be ordering more of the herb on just about every dish—including pizza, of course—when you discover how it fends off cancer, fights fungus and more.
The mere mention of it may bring to mind a smorgasbord of Italian-American dishes but, turns out, oregano has been used in Mediterranean cuisine for years—a relative of marjoram, it’s actually referred to as “wild marjoram” in the Mediterranean, where it flourishes in the countryside. Because it’s an herb, you’re not likely to eat a lot of it at once—but fortunately, it doesn’t take much oregano to reap a host of health-boosting benefits.
At only three calories, one teaspoon of dried oregano has a whopping 8 percent of the recommended daily value (RDV) of vitamin K, which helps your blood clot and promotes bone health. It also has 2 percent of the RDV of fiber (.4 grams), calcium (15.8 micrograms) and iron (.4 grams). Other vitamins it contains include A, C, E and B6 as well as folate. A study at Louisiana State University found that adding oregano extract can also help extend the life of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in fish when cooked at high temperatures.
Meanwhile, oregano oil has been studied for its antimicrobial and antioxidant effects (including its ability to kill MRSA), and it’s still used in Greece as a natural treatment for certain ailments, including gastrointestinal issues. It works as a preservative too, thanks to its antifungal capabilities—the Herb Society of America reports that Egyptians traditionally used the herb as both a disinfectant and preservative. In the Philippines, its leaves are boiled into a tea to combat the common cold.
In addition, two studies found oregano extract may fend off colon cancer by killing cancerous cells and preventing them from proliferating, and another study found it to have the same effect on breast cancer. Its extract is used to ease everything from parasitic infections to respiratory infections to toe fungus (but of course, consult with your doctor before using home remedies, including essential oils).
Unlike other herbs, oregano keeps its flavor well when dried. In fact, some chefs prefer the dried form because of the mellower taste and the rich aroma it produces. If buying fresh, look for healthy-looking leaves that are green with no bruises or discoloration. Buy only a few days before you plan to use them (they can be stored, wrapped, in the refrigerator), and add them to your dish toward the end of cooking.
Did You Know?
Oregano has had a place in history dating back millennia. It was likely referenced in the Old Testament (as hyssop) and was traditionally used in laurels for marriage ceremonies by the Greeks and Romans. —Liz Donovan