That’s Italian! Oregano for Healing from the Pantry
As I mentioned last week, oregano is a culinary herb with significant healing potential. At last count, scientists had identified dozens of compounds in this aromatic herb from the mint family, and many of them are anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is now believed to underlie many common chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not to say I’m claiming that oregano is a cure for any of these diseases: To be clear, the FDA recently sanctioned a company that attempted to make claims for oregano oil related to the treatment of colds, flu and other infections. So I won’t go out on a limb and suggest that it may help keep you healthy...
But I can report that scientists are investigating this ancient herb for its antibacterial, antiinflammatory and ulcer-fighting properties. And researchers at institutions around the world have reported that one chemical in oregano, carvacrol, evidently causes prostate, breast and other types of cancer cells to commit “cellular suicide,” at least under laboratory conditions. There’s often a big difference between what happens in a test tube and what occurs under real-world conditions. But let’s face it, we’re not talking about taking some sort of new drug here. This is a culinary herb with a long history of medicinal use. Maybe it won’t protect you against liver cancer, but can it hurt to enjoy it with abandon, knowing that it just might?
Some other important compounds in oregano include limonene, thymol and alpha-pinene. All of these sound enticing, and hint at the bright, woodsy, aromatic volatile oils in this native European herb. So the next time you cook anything Italian, don’t hold back on the oregano. Like other culinary herbs, oregano probably has more to offer than a mere flavor boost.
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Yin QH, Yan FX, Zu XY, Wu YH, Wu XP, Liao MC, et al. Anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effect of carvacrol on human hepatocellular carcinoma cell line HepG-2. Cytotechnology. 2012 Jan;64(1):43-51. doi: 10.1007/s10616-011-9389-y. Epub 2011 Sep 22.