Oregano, or Origanum vulgare, is a low-growing herbaceous plant with aromatic leaves, often used for flavoring dishes. Though best known for its characteristic use on pizzas, oregano is also used in various traditions of herbal medicine, and it graces many an herb garden, where its strong aroma keeps away insect pests. Dried oregano is a common preparation of the herb, with a stronger flavor than the fresh leaves.
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Oregano is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes. It also works well in Mexican salsas and bean dishes. The herb pairs excellently with tomatoes, garlic and parsley. Used as a pesto, together with ground nuts, oregano is excellent for flavoring fish, poultry or beef, as well as hearty vegetables like eggplant, squash or corn. Add it to ratatouille, the Provencal dish, to set off the medley of vegetables. You can also add oregano to stews and braised beef dishes to add depth of flavor. Wait until the final minutes of cooking to add the oregano to keep the flavor fresh.
For Home Growing
In the garden, oregano is an ally of growers looking to keep away bugs. Its strong aroma makes it an ideal companion plant for a range of other species. North Dakota State University Cass County Extension particularly recommends it near cucurbitaceous plants, including cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. You can easily dry your own oregano by hanging branches upside-down in a dry place and stripping the dried leaves from their stalks.
For Herbal Medicine
Oregano has long been used in various healing traditions, primarily to relieve digestive complaints. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses it to relieve vomiting and diarrhea. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used it to soothe muscle cramps and to stop convulsions. Modern herbal medicine uses oregano to relieve muscle cramps, morning sickness and menstrual pain, to reduce bloating, to stimulate gastric juices and to soothe nausea. Dried oregano is used medicinally as a tea.
Oregano's Effects in Scientific Trials
Given the herb's historic medicinal use, the effects of oregano have been studied scientifically in various trials, especially for its applications in animal husbandry. The plant's leaves have been found to contain two volatile oils, thymol and carvacol, which may largely contribute to the plant's effects. In a 2005 study at the Animal Research Institute of the Greek National Agricultural Research Foundation, dried oregano improved the growth rates of early-maturing turkeys. A 2006 trial carried out by the same institution found that oregano improved the health of calves suffering from colibacillosis, a common bacterial disease affecting livestock.