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What is Origanum?

By N. Phipps
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are about three dozen species of aromatic herbs found under the plant genus Origanum. Also known as oregano or marjoram, the plants have been commonly used since ancient times for their aromatic, flavoring, and medicinal properties. In fact, all parts of these plants can be used as herbal remedies for a variety of conditions.

The ancient Greeks and Romans praised oregano for its health benefits and medicinal qualities, using poultices of its leaves to treat sore muscles. Ancient Egyptians considered the Origanum species to be sacred and even wove it into crowns worn during rituals. In China, the oil was used to treat fever, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and itchy skin conditions.

Oil of oregano, or Origanum oil, is a natural substance extracted from wild oregano plants. Generally, the light yellow oil is steam-distilled from fresh or dried leaves. Containing antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal qualities, the oil provides many benefits for human health. While there are many varieties of oregano, only a few species are suitable for making the essential oil.

The most popular species of Origanum include sweet marjoram (O. marjorana), wild marjoram (O. vulgare), pot marjoram (O. onites), and Syrian oregano (O. syriacum). Sweet marjoram is commonly cultivated in gardens and popular for its warm spice scent, which is reminiscent of nutmeg. This variety is most often used in cooking as a seasoning for various dishes, especially meat. The fragrant oils from this species are usually found in perfumes or colognes as well as soaps.

Wild marjoram, or common oregano, can also be used for cooking, but it is this variety that is most often used in making the Origanum oil used for herbal remedies. Pot marjoram is occasionally used in making essential oil employed as a fungicide or disinfectant. Thought to be the true hyssop of the Bible, the branches of Syrian oregano, also known as biblical hyssop, are used for purification rituals.

Origanum oil can be used for many home remedies. Taken orally, it makes a natural cold remedy and is useful for treating respiratory problems associated with asthma, bronchitis, coughs, etc. A common remedy includes adding three drops of the oil to a glass of juice daily, drinking it for about five days. Oil of oregano can be used to treat gastrointestinal disorders and menstrual irregularities as well, mixing two or three drops to a glass of milk or juice.

The oil can be applied directly to the skin to treat itches from insect bites or stings as well as irritating skin infections, but only if it has been diluted. In addition, the oil is known to reduce pain and inflammation and is helpful for treating headaches, rheumatism, or other painful conditions. It can also be used for eliminating parasites.

Origanum oil can be found in nearly any natural health store. However, not all these products are the same, depending on the levels of carvacrol and thymol—two key components of the oil. One of the most important things to look for is the amount of each, as the primary component should be carvacrol, not thymol. Additionally, oil of oregano should be all natural and steam distilled for best results.

Consumers should also check the product label to see if it has been GMP-certified (Good Manufacturing Practices) or organically grown. Always use Origanum oil for what it is intended and follow label instructions carefully. Oregano oil should never be used undiluted. In some cases, the oil may cause skin irritation, redness, and burning. Overall, however, the essential oil is considered safe.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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