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 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997