Oregano, as many other herbs, has a long history in time. It was (and still is) used as a spice, for medical purposes and it was believed to have magical powers.
Origin and History
It is native to Mediterranean regions, being a plant that loves the sun. Its flavor intensifies under the sun rays. It grows well in areas with temperate climate.
Oregano was first used by the Greeks. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite was the goddess who brought this plant to make people happier.
It was known in ancient Greece as “oros ganos”, the “joy of the mountains”. Newlyweds wore tiaras on their heads made from this plant. Oregano was also used in funeral rituals, being planted around the graves in order to ease the way to the underworld for the deceased one.
Oregano reached to Europe, too, and the Romans started using this ingredient for foods like fish and pork or even to give a unique flavor to the wine.
In medieval times, oregano arrived in China where it was used for medicinal purposes . United States found this luscious ingredient just after the Second World War, when soldiers that came to Europe were delighted by its taste.
The herb was attributed with magical powers. Mothers put oregano in bed to protect them from demons and the devil. Also it protects against spells. So when the witches were exorcised, they were given a strain of oregano to smell.
Also, in the Middle Ages it was believed that if an oregano bush grows on a grave, it will ensure a happy and carefree living to the descendants of the dead. In general, oregano was considered an antidote for all that was demonic and evil.
People believed that it could cure cholera.
If a child was late to start talking he was given a teaspoon of water with oregano. Epileptic patients used to smell crushed leaves.
There are many varieties of oregano and its relative, marjoram. We will describe only the most known ones.
Common Oregano (Oregano vulgare) – it is less flavored than the other varieties.
Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum) – it has a strong flavor and pungeant taste.
Italian Oregano (Origanum x majoricum) – it is a hybrid made by pairing the sweet marjoram and common oregano.
Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha maderensis ) – it is not quite a member of the Origanum genus, but everybody call it this name. It has a strong flavor and it is used in Mexican cuisine.
You may also find some ornamental varieties such as Hopflower oregano (Origanum libanoticum), Origanum vulgaris “Heiderose”, Origanum vulgaris “Compactum” or Origanum vulgaris “Aureum”.
From antique times oregano was assigned an important role among herbal remedies. Hippocrates considered it an accelerator of birth and a cure for hemorrhoids.
Thymol and carvacrol are volatile oils contained by oregano. They serve to inhibit the growth of bacteria responsible for giardia.
Oregano contains phytonutrients that are known for their antioxidant properties. Researchers were surprised by the antioxidant properties of 1g of oregano: 42 times higher than 1g of apple and12 times higher than 1g of orange. Also, the same set of studies confirmed that fibers from this spice may reduce colon cancer risk.
Note that oregano has no adverse effects on the body, so it can be consumed without problems by the people who have restrictions on food or spices.
Studies demonstrated the effectiveness of this herb against gingivitis, sinusitis and itching and irritated skin.
Drying oregano increases its flavor. This is a particularity of this plant because usually the aroma is more potent when the plant is fresh.
Most of us know oregano from pizza. Legend says that the first pizza was prepared in 1889, when King Umberto and his wife Margherita traveled to Napoli. At that time, pizza took the form of a regular pie and it was mainly eaten by the poor people.
To impress the king, a chef chose to improvise this common recipe. So, besides the tomato sauce , cheese and lovage leaves, he added oregano. The ingredients were arranged in such a way to mimic the Italian flag. This dish became known as the “pizza Margherita”.
Oregano is a “conditio sine qua non” in Italian cuisine. It is used in tomato sauce, grilled vegetables or grilled meats.
It makes an excellent association with pickled olives or lovage leaves.
To add flavor to olive oil you should add oregano in the bottle.
Oregano is also a pleasantly haunting presence of Greek cuisine where we can meet it in many dishes from the Greek Salad to fish seasoning. French cuisine, especially the Provencal one, use oregano in the typical herb mixture.
In Mexico it is used to season the famous chili con carne or for seasoning mushrooms or bean dishes.
Oregano is well associated with vegetable dishes prepared with zucchini, peppers and potatoes, but also meat like pork, veal and lamb.
Lover of other herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and basil, oregano is an aromatic spice that should be added at the end of food preparation in order to fully benefit from its flavor. It can be used fresh (especially with salads and light meats) or dried.