How It Heals
More assertive than its sweeter relative, marjoram, oregano (Origanum vulgare) belongs to the mint family. The aromatic leaves of this kitchen staple are a superb source of phytonu-trient antioxidants. "Antioxidants act like chemical superheroes, snatching up free radicals before they can do serious harm to cells in the body," says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, coauthor of The SuperFoodsRx Diet. According to USDA researchers, oregano supplies up to 20 times more antioxidants than dill, thyme, rosemary, or other common herbs; gram for gram, it provides greater antioxidant power than such fruits as blueberries and oranges. "Dried oregano may have even higher concentrations of antioxidants by weight than fresh because the water has been removed," Bazilian notes. Oregano leaves also serve up a healthful dose of vitamin K, which "is critically important for normal blood clotting and maintaining bone health," she says. Additionally, the essential oils in oregano, including carvacrol and thymol, show antimicrobial activity.
Eat It Up
A mainstay in Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Latin cuisines, oregano livens up tomato sauces, dips, bean burritos, roasted root vegetable medleys, lentil salads, and frittatas. Or add a few sprigs to olive oil for an infusion of flavor. Sautéed mushrooms in particular benefit from a generous sprinkling of oregano.
It's best to add the fresh herb toward the end of cooking, as prolonged heat diminishes oregano's flavor. The dried herb retains much of the savor of the fresh and successfully imparts oregano's bold, complex personality to long-simmering chilis, stews, and soups. For added pungency, choose Mexican oregano over the Mediterranean variety.
Oregano grows with ease in pots or containers, so consider raising your own on a sunny windowsill. Store fresh oregano in the fridge, wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel, for up to three days. Or chop the leaves, place in ice cube trays with a bit of water, and freeze; add the frozen cubes directly to recipes.
Recipe: Black Olive Tapenade
Taking 5 to 10 drops of oil of oregano with meals can help kill off food pathogens, so consider packing a bottle when traveling overseas. Brew a tea by steeping a tablespoon of the herb's fresh leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried) in hot water for 10 minutes, then sweeten to taste.