There are over 40 species of oregano but the essential oil produced from Origanum vulgare is considered to be the most therapeutically beneficial.

The oil is extracted from the dried flowering herb by steam distillation. This natural extraction yields warm spicy-smelling, pale yellow oil that turns brown as it ages.

In the wild Mediterranean oregano it is the naturally occurring phenols–carvacrol and thymol–that are primarily responsible for its powerful antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties. Oregano oil has a wide range of traditional uses including the treatment of various digestive upsets, asthma, colds, flu, bronchitis, headaches, rheumatism, muscular pain, insect bites, and warts.

As Effective as Antibiotics

As antibiotic resistance causes serious concern among many health authorities, oil of oregano is proving to be an effective antibacterial agent against staphylococcus, E. coli, listeria, and candida albicans. In 2001 researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Centre in Washington, DC, tested oregano oil in relatively low doses on staphylococcus bacteria. The oil was just as effective at inhibiting the growth of the bacteria as standard antibiotics such as streptomycin and penicillin. In February 2000, British researchers reported in the Journal of Applied Microbiology that oregano oil demonstrated antibacterial activity against 25 different bacteria.

Other studies have proven the strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of oil of oregano.

Be Sure to Dilute

The pure essential oil of oregano is a moderate skin irritant and a strong mucus membrane irritant and should not be applied directly to the skin or taken internally unless diluted. For the most part, oil of oregano products are already diluted but check to make sure. The oil is considered safe to help conditions such as sore throats, indigestion, colitis, nausea, and viral and bacterial infections when it is diluted in a carrier oil, preferably cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil in a ratio of one part oregano oil to three parts olive oil.

Generally, the oil is limited to the treatment of acute conditions and used only in small doses of four to six drops at a time for no more than seven to 10 days. For those who find the taste a little strong the diluted oil from capsules can be mixed with milk, juice, a teaspoon of honey, or mixed with your favourite pasta or pizza sauce.

A dilution of oregano oil in sweet almond, grapeseed, or jojoba oil works well for massage and in baths, body creams, and shampoos to help alleviate conditions such as muscle and joint pain, migraines, nail fungus, skin infections, cold sores, and dandruff. The recommended dosage for topical use is 10 to 12 drops of oregano oil per ounce of carrier oil or two drops diluted in five mL of carrier oil. To help relieve respiratory congestion, allergies, coughs, chronic bronchitis, and sinusitis, add a few drops of the oil to a diffuser or vaporizer and inhale deeply for a few minutes.
The diluted oil should be avoided when pregnant or nursing and on babies and children. It should not be used on sensitive or damaged skin and it is not recommended for use if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition. Wise consumers should be cautious of adulterated oils or oils that are made from Spanish oregano, thyme, or from cultivated oregano. These do not produce the same medicinal benefits as the wild Mediterranean herb.

About the Author

Michelle Lynde, RH, is a clinical herbalist in Vancouver and is currently studying aromatherapy.