Oregano: the versatile herb

The Mediterranean herb not just makes for good pizza seasoning, but adds flavour to a variety of dishes and has amazing curative properties

woman sprinkling oreganoOregano [in Hindi-Ajwain leaves, Sathra, Mirzanjosh] is often confused with marjoram. It is a warm aromatic herb coming from the mint family. It can also be grown at home.

We know little about this secretive herb, as most of us have tasted this herb only as a pizza sprinkler. Let us discover some fascinating facts about this herb. Oregano is more popularly used in its dried form, as its flavour becomes stronger after drying.

Savour the flavour

Fresh oregano leaves have culinary uses as well, particularly in Greek and Italian cuisine. Being more flavourful, the dried form of the herb, however, gains all the popularity. Many people think that oregano is used only as pizzas seasoning, but this wonderful herb can add flavour to many different recipes.

Some of them include:

  • Tomato sauce and barbeque sauce
  • Salad dressings
  • Stews
  • Soups
  • Meat preparations
  • Mexican dishes
  • Stir fried vegetables
  • Smoked fish and baked shrimp
  • Egg preparations [Try a variation of an omelette with oregano, pepper, capsicum, onion, spinach and cheese]
  • Oregano dosa [Try a variation of masala dosa with filling made from red pepper, cheese, oregano leaves and garlic]
  • Baked products like garlic bread and buns
  • Rice preparations [Try making rice with corn, capsicum, onion, basil, grated cheese, spiced with oregano and red pepper]
  • Pasta preparations
  • Sandwiches
  • Herbal tea
  • Oregano oil is also used in alcoholic beverages.

Friendly neighbours

Oregano combines well when coupled with cheese, mushrooms, olives, olive oil [add a few sprigs of fresh oregano in the container of olive oil, this will add some flavour in the oil], basil [tulsi leaves], garlic, parsley and vegetables like beans, capsicum, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Oregano also goes well with eggplant [baingan]. Try marinating eggplant slices with salt, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and oregano. Bake it for 30 minutes to get crispy oregano-flavoured eggplant slices.

Cooking tips

  • Add oregano towards the end of cooking to retain its delicate flavour and aroma.
  • Add oregano in moderation; adding excess will make the dish bitter.
  • When using dried oregano, crush it in the palm of your hand before adding to the food to release the flavour.
  • If you want to use the leaves only for flavouring in stews or soups, tie few sprigs of oregano in a muslin cloth and dip the pouch in the pot while boiling soup or stew. Remove the pouch before serving.

Tip: Fresh oregano leaves [not separated from stalk] can be stored for three days, refrigerated in zip lock containers. Dried oregano can be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool dark place up to six months.

Healing properties of oregano

In addition to its culinary properties, oregano also is a handy medicinal herb.

  1. The leaves and flowers have antiseptic properties [due to high thymol content]. They are used to cure respiratory and stomach ailments and externally applied for healing wounds.
  2. Oregano oil extracts help treat cold, mild fever, and indigestion.
  3. The herb has antioxidant properties [ability to trap free radicals in the body that cause damage to the cells in the body and trigger degenerative diseases].
  4. Oregano Tea [mild]  is believed to have a soothing effect and helps in getting restful sleep. Tea made with oregano is also used to relieve flatulence [gas problems] and menstrual pain.
  5. Oil derived from its leaves offers relief from toothaches. Rub a few drops of oregano oil on the teeth and gums after every meal and at bed time to reduce bad breath.
  6. The herb is also a good source of fibre. [A diet high in fibre helps manage weight, reduces risk of colon cancer and increases breakdown of cholesterol in the body].
  7. It is a relatively good source of calcium, iron, manganese, Vitamin A, C and K. [However, because the quantity consumed is very less, one cannot depend on oregano as a wholesome source of vitamins and minerals].
  8. Used as a steam inhalant, oregano helps clear sinuses.
  9. The oil helps in controlling acne and pimples. Add two drops of oregano oil to any face wash when cleaning your face [recommended: twice daily].
  10. Externally crushed oregano leaves are mixed with oats and hot water and pounded into a paste. When applied over swelling, itching and aching muscles, eases pain. It also provides relief when rubbed on affected joints [twice daily] in case of arthritis.
  11. A few drops of oregano oil rubbed on the scalp at night help control dandruff. You may experience a mild warming sensation, which is normal. Wash off with a shampoo next morning.
  12. This oil helps remove lice from hair.
  13. The oil helps cure infections of fingernails.
  14. The oil when rubbed on the chest and inhaled as vapours directly from the bottle several times in a day, helps clear the passage in cases of asthma.

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Payal Ahuja
Payal Ahuja is a Mumbai-based dietician and consultant. She conducts workshops on lifestyle management and weight management programmes on TV. Ahuja is also IPC-certified auditor for ISO-9001:2000, and author of the book, Combating Childhood Obesity.

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