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Nutrient - Oregano - A truly versatile ingredient

By Christine Bailey MSc PGCE MBANT

A properly functioning digestive system is essential for good health. Yet, for many people, poor digestion and related symptoms; such as bloating, pain, wind, as well as diarrhoea, constipation, food sensitivities and gastric upsets; can be a regular occurrence. In some cases intestinal infections can be involved which, if not resolved, can lead to longer term health issues, including allergies, inflammation in the body, arthritis and general toxicity.

With increasing travel, changes in food production, handling, storage and eating habits, coupled with the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, it is good to know that digestion can be improved naturally. Everyday culinary herbs that we often take for granted, can be surprisingly effective at deterring a wide range of harmful bugs from inhabiting an otherwise healthy digestive system and can be effective even with drug-resistant microbes.

Oregano is one such herb. It is part of the aromatic Lamiacea family, which also includes other kitchen favourites, such as thyme, sage, mint and lemon balm. Many of these herbs have traditionally been used for their health-giving properties. But, before you reach for the spice rack, it is the oregano oil, with its four major constituents; carvacrol, gamma-terpinene, p-cymene and thymol; that provides oregano with many of its health benefits.

Taken to maintain a healthy balance of intestinal flora, oregano may help discourage the growth of potentially harmful yeasts, including Candida, parasites, harmful bacteria and other pathogens. It has potent, natural antimicrobial properties, which is why it was used traditionally in foods, as well as for flavour. This makes it a useful, natural way to help maintain a balanced and healthy gut flora. It may also be useful in managing bloating and flatulence and appears to be beneficial for immune and respiratory health, too. As an additional benefit, oregano has tremendous antioxidant activity, scoring higher than any herbs or food, tested in a recent study, with 42 times the antioxidant activity of apples and four times as much as blueberries!

Oregano oil may be helpful for:

  • Maintaining healthy gut flora
  • Maintaining a healthy respiratory system 
  • Digestive health for travellers

For healthy digestion, oregano is best taken with meals and sometimes again last thing at night. Oregano oil should not be taken in pregnancy or if breastfeeding.

Because it is a potent anti-microbial, using oregano oil on a regular basis may also eliminate beneficial bacteria from the intestinal tract. It is, therefore, important to consider taking a high strength probiotic supplement alongside.

For re-establishing a good balance of healthy bacteria, following an overgrowth of bad bacteria, it is also important to consider some other nutrients, such as glutamine, to facilitate the integrity of the intestinal tract.

It is also worth packing some oregano in your holiday suitcase as it can help keep your stomach and bowels happy, while you experiment with local edible delicacies and variable levels of cooking hygiene.

In addition to taking oregano oil as a supplement, don’t forget to incorporate it into your everyday home cooking. Fresh oregano appears more potent than dried, but it can be chopped and frozen in airtight containers for up to three months. If using dried, it should be kept in tightly sealed glass containers, preferably in a cool, dark place.

When using oregano in food, it is best to add it towards the end of cooking, as the heat can destroy its aromatic oils. It is probably best known as an ingredient in tomato sauce and for topping pizzas. It is equally delicious added to pasta dishes, used in marinades for meat and fish, and sprinkled over homemade breads and egg dishes. Try adding a few sprigs to a bottle of olive oil and leaving it to infuse for a week to make a delicious instant flavoured oil – wonderful in salad dressings or drizzled over steamed vegetables. Enjoy! 

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