Food of the month - oregano

Here in the UK,  whilst many succumb to the winter vomiting virus, there's yet more evidence of  how nature is always there with remedies for us. It comes in the form of a wonderful green leafy herb called Origanum Marjorana (Oregano or Sweet Marjoram). There's been some interesting press coverage recently about the health benefits of Oregano, which is particularly relevant for this time of year.

For thousands of years Oregano  has been an important culinary and  medicinal herb and many of you probably already use it regularly in cooking. If not then I'm hoping that, once you've read this, you'll be a convert.

Oregano is a member of the Lamiaceae herb family, which includes other herbs like Mint and Sage. The herb originates from the Mediterranean and it's name is derived from the Greek words oros (mountain) ganos (Joy), which speaks volumes about the sheer greatness of this delightful little hardy herb.  On rubbing the leaf the life enhancing properties are released and you just know that it's good for you. This characteristic  aroma  is due to a combination of the chemicals thymol, pinene, limonene, carvarcol, ocimene and caryophyllene; all of which have anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti septic properties. The herb is a good source of dietary fibre, iron, manganese, vitamin E and K, iron, calcium, omega fatty acids and trytophan. Oregano has also been proven to be high in dietary anti-oxidants.

Due to it's unique blend of  chemical compounds which is found in the oil Oregano is thought to have many health benefits. Simple Himalayan Oregano - which was previously regarded as a weed by the locals - has been found to have particularly strong antimicrobial properties and is more powerful than many anti-biotics at treating MRSA. As a result of some recent UK/Indian  research into the  health benefits of Himalayan Oregano  innovative and sustainable  income generation start up programmes (involving the collection of oregano for commercial usage) are being  developed in a rural part of the Himalayas; throwing a lifeline to many families who would otherwise be forced into logging, or foraging for endangered wild plants rather than face a life of grinding poverty. All this positive human endeavour from a little green herb. What a great illustration of the  interdependence of all things here on planet earth.

Fresh Oregano or the dried variety  is now widely available to buy in supermarkets and delis. However, the plant is forgiving and is happy in a pot or tub on a window sill, kitchen step or balcony. In a garden Oregano will come back year after year and provides visually appealing ground cover, with multiple purple flowers which are delightful to look at and attract butterflies and bees. Apart from it's culinary usage essential Oregano oil can be made into a medicinal blend and used in the bath or for massage. (Although avoid Spanish Marjoram as it is a skin irritant.) If you're interested in it's medicinal applications you may want to visit my aromatherapy shop.

So,  next time you reach for the Oregano to add authentic flavour to a Napoli sauce, there's something to think about.

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