Cuban oregano is a leafy green plant. Its leaves are used throughout the Caribbean and East Asia for both culinary seasoning and medicine. It is not native to Cuba--it actually originated in India. This type of plant, like other types of oregano, is a member of the mint family.
The Latin name for Cuban oregano is plectranthus amboinicus. It is also known as Indian borage, Spanish thyme and Mexican mint, among other names. It was most likely introduced to the Caribbean people in Haiti during the French colonial period of the late 1800s. The Cuban name for it is oregano frances, or French oregano.
In Cuba, practitioners of traditional herbal medicine called yerberos make a tea from the Cuban oregano leaves. It is then used for digestive problems, respiratory ailments and arthritis. In Indonesia, the plant is called daun kambing. Its dried leaves are added to soup to increase the amount of a mother's milk. In India, Cuban oregano tea mixed with sugar and boiled down to a syrup is a traditional remedy for coughs and sore throats.
Some gardeners rub the crushed leaves on their skin as an insect repellent. The leaves of the plant are strongly scented. Some say it smells like a mixture of very strong oregano and sage. It is also known to neutralize capsaicin, the compound in peppers that makes them hot. It is recommended to chew on a Cuban oregano leaf to cool the burning caused by food that is too spicy.
Haitian traditional healers fry the leaves and use the cooled oil as a chest rub for bronchitis and other breathing problems. This plant is noted by Western practitioners of holistic and herbal medicine for its antioxidant and antiseptic properties. However, it is not the same plant most commonly used in oregano oil supplements. That oregano's scientific name is origanum vulgare, which means common oregano.
The benefits of Cuban oregano and oregano oil are thought to be very similar. Oregano oil is sold in essential oil form, which is stronger than oil of oregano. Oregano oil should not be consumed. It should instead be diluted with a neutral oil and only used externally. Its uses are for insect bites, cuts and abrasions to the skin.
Oil of oregano supplements are available over the counter at health food stores and many pharmacies stocking natural supplements. The benefits of oil of oregano supplements and Cuban oregano have not been evaluated by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A physician should always be consulted before taking any supplement.