Mama Mia!
Spice up your health with oregano

Recent studies have shown that oregano is much more than the finest ingredient in Mom's marinara sauce. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that fresh oregano has significantly more antioxidant power than fruits and vegetables. With 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, fresh oregano may prove to be a powerful disease fighter. Previous studies have shown that antioxidants may help fight cancer, heart disease, and stroke by protecting cells and destroying free radicals in the body.

Oil of oregano, a concentrated extract of the fresh herb, might act as an effective antibacterial agent, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee. Ann Draughon, PhD, a University of Tennessee microbiologist and member of the Board of Directors of the National Alliance for Food Safety, applied several marinades made of herbal essential oils to fresh fish likely contaminated with bacterial pathogens. Oil of oregano was the most effective at killing all the bacteria. In another study, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center found that oregano oil inhibited staphylococcus bacteria's growth as effectively as several pharmaceutical antibiotics. Now that more and more bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant, antibacterial herbs are emerging as promising alternatives.

Feather Jones, clinical herbalist and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies in Boulder, Colorado, recommends many ways to reap the antibacterial benefits of oregano. You can kill bronchial bacteria by adding a couple of drops of the essential oil to steaming water and gently breathing in the vapor. "Herbs are a wonderful, natural way to heal the body," Jones says. "Essential oils give a calming yet spirited action to the nervous system and are a very beneficial way to relieve stress." For internal use, look for a fresh oregano tincture, or make a tea from dried oregano leaves, although no research has proven the antibacterial qualities of dried oregano. "It might take a lot more of the dried spice to get the same effect," says Draughon, who didn't study dried spices.

Next time you sprinkle fresh oregano on your pasta or pizza, you may be doing more than just spicing up dinner. With its abundant antioxidant content and antibacterial properties, oregano promises to be a beneficial addition to any meal.

—Emily Rosenblum