Family: Origanum; Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Origanum species
Lippia; Verbenaceae, Lippia species
Modified from: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker.
1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific
Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants
of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Oregano is the common name for a general aroma and flavor primarily
derived from several species of Origanum and Lippia.
European oregano, which is sometimes called wild marjoram, winter
marjoram, oregano, and organy, is derived principally from Origanum
vulgare L. Greek oregano, which is sometimes called winter
sweet marjoram or pot marjoram, is derived from Origanum heracleoticum
L., formerly classified as Origanum hirtum Link. Mexican
oregano, also known as Mexican sage, origan, oregamon, wild marjoram,
Mexican marjoram, or Mexican wild sage is derived principally
from Lippia graveolens H.B.K. European and Mexican oregano
are often mixed to produce particular spice blends.
The Origanum species are perennial herbs native to the
dry, rocky calcareous soils in the mountainous areas of southern
Europe and southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean countries. The
perennial, erect plants reach a height of 0.8 to 1 meter and have
pubescent stems, ovate, dark green leaves, and white or purple
flowers. European oregano is primarily produced in Greece, Italy,
Spain, Turkey, and the United States. The Lippia species
are small shrubs with larger leaves than the Origanum species
and come primarily from Mexico.
The reported life zone for Origanum vulgare L. is 5 to
28 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.4 to 2.7
meters and a soil pH of 4.5 to 8.7 (4.1-31). Although much
of the commercial material is collected from wild plants, fields
can be seeded or established from transplants on light, dry, well-drained
soils that are somewhat alkaline. Harvesting can take place two
to six times per year. The Lippia species are predominantly
collected as wild plants in Mexico.
The essential oil of European oregano is composed mainly of the
phenols carvacrol and thymol (8.4-4, 14.1-8). Greek
oregano oil has carvacrol, thymol, -terpineol, -caryophyllene,
terpinen-4-ol, d-linalool, and other compounds
(6.4-101). Mexican oregano oil contains approximately equal
amounts of carvacrol and thymol and smaller amounts of 1,8-cineole
and other compounds. The basic composition of the oil varies with
the plant source and geographical growth area.
European oregano is used as a flavoring in meat and sausage products,
salads, stews, sauces, and soups. Prior to the introduction of
hops, oregano was used to flavor ale and beer (14.1-23).
The essential oil and oleoresin, used extensively in place of
the plant material, are found in food products, cosmetics, and
alcoholic liqueurs. Mexican oregano is used predominantly in flavoring
Mexican foods, pizza, and barbecue sauces. Mexican oregano has
a somewhat sharper and more pungent flavor than European oregano.
As a medicinal plant, European oregano has traditionally been
used as a carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, emmenagogue,
stimulant, stomachic, and tonic. In addition, it has been used
as a folk remedy against colic, coughs, headaches, nervousness,
toothaches, and irregular menstrual cycles (11.1-101). Origanum
oil is a powerful disinfectant, and carvacrol and thymol are considered
to be anthelmintic and antifungal agents (14.1-8, 14.1-35).
More than forty plant species can contribute to the commercial
product oregano (14.1-6). Other important species collected
and marketed as European oregano include Thymus capitatus
Hoffm. & Link, formerly classified as Coridothymus capitatus
Rchb. and sometimes called Spanish oregano; Origanum syriacum
L., formerly classified as Origanum maru L. and called
Syrian marjoram or zatar; and Origanum virens Hoffm. &
Link. Additional species used in Mexican oregano include Lippia
palmeri Wats. and Lippia origanoides H.B.K.
The Lippia species of oregano are generally recognized
as safe for human consumption as natural flavorings/seasonings,
and the Origanum species are generally recognized as safe
as natural extracts/essential oils (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997