Oregano is a fragrant herb commonly used to flavor pasta and meat dishes, and is renowned for its versatility in the kitchen. But did you know that it can also be transformed into an herbal oil with a wide range of benefits? Read on to learn more about oregano oil.
What Is Oregano Oil?
Oregano oil is derived from the leaves and flowers of oregano (Origanum vulgare), a hardy perennial herb, and a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. It's native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, although it grows in many areas around the world.1
The plant grows up to 50 centimeters high, with purple leaves that are 2 to 3 centimeters long.2 The ancient Greeks and Romans have a profound appreciation for oregano, using it for various medicinal purposes. In fact, its name comes from the Greek words "oros" and "ganos," which are words for mountain and joy — oregano literally means "joy of the mountain."3
It was revered as a symbol of happiness, and it was an ancient tradition to crown brides and grooms with a laurel of oregano.4 There are over 40 species of oregano, but the most therapeutically beneficial is the oil produced from wild oregano that's native to Mediterranean regions.5 Oregano essential oil is typically extracted through steam distillation using oregano shoots and leaves.6
Uses of Oregano Oil
I highly recommend adding oregano oil to your arsenal of natural healing tools, as it has a wide range of uses. This herbal oil is a powerful antimicrobial that can help fight off infections. Oregano oil also has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Other ideal uses for oregano oil are:7
• Treating foot or nail fungus. For aggressive nail fungus, mix 3 drops of oregano oil with 2 drops of thyme and 10 drops of coconut oil. Apply the mixture on the specific nail every morning and night.
• Alleviating thrush in the mouth. Mix 2 drops of oregano oil with 15 drops of coconut oil. Swab the mixture inside the mouth.
• Alleviating sinus infections and colds. Combine 2 drops of oregano oil, 5 drops of Roman chamomile oil, 6 drops of lavender oil and 5 drops of coconut oil. Apply the mixture on the bottom of your feet. Do this for three days a week.
Composition of Oregano Oil
Oregano oil is high in phenols, which are natural phytochemical compounds with beneficial antioxidant effects. The two most abundant phenols in it are thymol and carvacrol. Here’s how they, plus the other components in oregano oil, work:8
Thymol — A natural fungicide with antiseptic properties. It helps boost your immune system, works as a shield against toxins, and even helps prevent tissue damage and encourages healing.9
Carvacrol — Has antimicrobial, antitumor, antimutagenic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antiparastic properties, making it one of the most active components of oregano oil.10
Terpenes — Known for their powerful antibacterial properties.11
It also works as a natural antihistamine that helps reduce fluid buildup and swelling caused by allergy attacks.14
Naringin — Inhibits the growth of cancer cells and helps boost the antioxidants in oregano oil.15
Beta-caryophyllin (E-BCP) — This substance inhibits inflammation and is also beneficial for conditions like osteoporosis.16
Benefits of Oregano Oil
Oregano oil has wide-reaching health benefits, but is most associated with respiratory and immune system health. It is known for helping prevent and treat infections, such as:
• Urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by bacteria like E. coli, Proteus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.17
• Parasitic infections caused by the amoeba giardia — it was even found to be more effective than antibiotics like Tinidazol.20
• Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection — A team of Indian and British researchers found that oregano oil has strong antibacterial properties that can help kill this deadly superbug.21
Oregano oil has also shown promise in preventing foodborne illnesses caused by pathogens like listeria, salmonella, E. coli and Shigella dysenteriae.22,23 Adding it to foods not only helps kill the bacteria, but may also alleviate food poisoning symptoms.
An animal study from University of Arizona researchers also found that oregano oil can help kill norovirus,24 which causes gastroenteritis. Oregano oil is also a prized antiseptic essential oil in aromatherapy because its proportion of phenols is said to be the third highest of all aromatic plants, behind thyme and basil.25 Aside from using the steam method to help relieve coughs and other respiratory illnesses, you can also use it to:
• Ward off insects. Carvacrol in oregano oil works as a natural insect repellent.26 Try putting a few drops on outdoor furniture, or apply a diluted mixture on your skin when heading outdoors.
• Help heal cold sores, dandruff and other skin conditions. Some experts also advocate using a diluted version to treat acne and rosacea.
• Ease sore throat. Simply add a few drops to a glass of water. Gargle with the solution.27
• Help relieve muscle rheumatic pain.
How to Make an Oregano Oil Infusion
Extracting oregano oil requires a special distillation process. However, there is a simple way to make your own oregano oil infusion at home. Here's a basic recipe from Barbara Schuetz’s “Oil of Oregano: Nature’s Antiseptic and Antioxidant”:28
Oregano Oil Infusion
• Dried oregano leaves, chopped or crushed
• Olive oil, almond oil or grape seed oil
• Sanitized glass jar with lid
1. Fill the jar halfway with dried oregano leaves.
2. Pour in the oil to cover the oregano leaves. Stir the oil to remove any air bubbles.
3. Make sure that all the leaves are covered in oil by carefully shaking or turning the jar.
4. Put the jar in a warm area. However, make sure it will not be exposed to direct sunlight. If possible, place the jar inside a paper bag to ensure it does not come into contact with sun’s rays.
5. Let the mixture steep for four to six weeks, turning or shaking the jar every few days.
6. After steeping, strain the oil through a cheesecloth to remove the leaves. Place the oil in another sanitized glass container.
7. Seal the jar. Store the oil in a cool, dry area. This recipe may last for up to a year.
How Does Oregano Oil Work?
The compounds in oregano oil work together to provide the antimicrobial effects this oil is so well-known for. Carvacrol is its most important component, and is responsible for many of its health benefits. Carvacrol has powerful antimicrobial properties, and has been shown to help break through the outer cell membranes that help protect bacteria from your immune system.29
Oregano oil can either be applied topically or ingested, depending on the condition you're using it for. However, I advise against using the oil full-strength, as it can irritate your skin. Do not apply it to broken skin or open wounds.
Is Oregano Oil Safe?
Yes it is, as long as it's diluted in water or with a carrier oil (some of my top choices are jojoba, olive and coconut oils). Clinical herbalist Michelle Lynde says the ideal ratio when diluting this herbal oil is one part oregano oil to three parts carrier oil.30 I recommend doing a spot test as well to check if you have any allergic reactions to oregano oil. Simply apply a diluted drop on your arm and see if any irritation occurs.
Be careful when buying oregano oil because some manufacturers sell adulterated oils and oils made from thyme, Spanish oregano, or cultivated oregano, which DO NOT provide any health benefits.
Side Effects of Oregano Oil
Some people may experience stomach upset when ingesting oregano oil (or even the herb itself). Those who are allergic to plants from the Lamiaceae family (mint, lavender, sage and basil) should also avoid this oil, as they may also develop an allergic reaction.31
Oregano oil is also NOT advisable for infants and children. Pregnant or nursing women are discouraged from using oregano as the oregano oil may cause miscarriages or premature birth. In addition, there are insufficient studies to prove that oregano oil is safe for both pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.32