My husband tells me it’s time to cut back the oregano since we have to step over it to get into our garage. I suppose he’s right, but I already cut it back substantially once this summer and dried a big batch. Oh well, I guess I’ll give dried oregano as gifts this holiday season!

Luckily, both my husband and I love the flavor of oregano in everything from grilled chicken to spaghetti sauce to soups and salads, since it looks like I’ll be cooking with a lot of oregano this year. (Scroll down for recipe ideas.) 

You may not realize it, but oregano is a great addition to your herbal medicine cabinet, too. However, as I was doing a little research using my old, faithful herbal textbooks, I could’t find oregano in any of the indices. How could that be? Finally, it occurred to me that it could be listed under marjoram, and I was right. In the older literature, origanum vulgare was known as wild marjoram and still is in some circles. The herb we call marjoram is origanum marjorana and is also called sweet marjoram. Both herbs provide similar benefits, but sweet marjoram tends to be milder (and sweeter, hence the name) with less of the essential oil found in oregano. Many chefs prefer using marjoram over the more pungent oregano, but we like both.

Whatever you call it, origanum vulgare has a long history of medicinal (and culinary) uses. It’s also found in ancient folklore. The Greeks believed that oregano growing on a grave was a sign of happiness for the deceased in his or her afterlife. The weather and soil in Greece provides just the right conditions for oregano, so I presume the most Greeks have passed on to a pleasant place.

Both oregano and marjoram were used in perfumes and cleaning solutions in ancient times, and were even added to ale as a preservative and to give it a nice aroma. “It was used as a remedy for narcotic poisons, convulsions, and dropsy” according to Mrs. M. Grieve, a renowned 19th century  English herbalist whose books, The Modern Herbal (2 volumes), are still in print today.

Brew some oregano tea to relieve headaches, then apply the tea bags to swelling or arthritic joints for additional pain relief. Oregano oil is known for its antimicrobial, anti fungal, and antibacterial qualities. Some studies suggest its value in fighting salmonella or e.coli poisoning. A few drops of the potent essential oils in hot water can serve as a great decongestant when you breathe it in. Another option is to sprinkle a few drops in your bath water to help open up sinuses AND relieve muscle aches.

Today, you can also find oregano oil capsules, a more pleasant way to take it internally. The oil has been shown in some studies to reduce LDL cholesterol, kill parasites in intestines, and improve symptoms of asthma, coughs, and bronchitis. It has been used to relieve menstrual cramps and treat urinary tract infections as well.

Just a friendly warning, though—the oil is quite strong, and even if you swallow it in a capsule you might taste it for some time afterward. We typically use oregano externally in baths and muscle rubs, and internally for cooking and teas. Check out my resources below if you want to learn more about taking oregano oil internally for some of the above conditions. 

Before you go, here are some recipes in which I’ve used oregano:

Crustless Quiches

Greek Shrimp

Italian Polenta Casserole

Mom’s Meat Sauce with Pasta

Greek Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Cauliflower Chickpea Stew




Grieve, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications.

Tierra, M. (1998). The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books.

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™