Oregano essential oil: The antibiotic oil - The essential oils collection [Oils101]

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Our sense of smell is strongly connected to our emotions and memories as our scent receptors are located next to the emotional centres in our brain, the amygdala and hippocampus. That is one of the reasons why aromatherapy is so powerful – using oils can trigger the body’s own healing process to begin, as well as soothe and calm your mind to actually allow the process to take place.  Essential oils can also interact with certain hormones, neurotransmitters, or enzymes, resulting in a specific change to our bodies’ chemistry. Oils are powerful, and they have little or no side effects.

Oregano Essential Oil

Native to the Mediterranean, oregano was first discovered in Greece, where it was used as a topical anti-bacterial ointment for wounds and skin ailments. The herb grows at high altitudes, the name oregano literally means “joy of the mountains”.  The oil contains properties that makes it antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. The oil is so powerful it can rival antibiotics when it comes to preventing and treating various infections, without any of the harmful side effects that are common with antibiotic use. It is also widely used as a food preservative.

Oregano is a flowering perinnial plant from the Labiatae botanical family, which also includes other herbs such as rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, mint and lavender, and is widely used to flavour food. Although native to Europe, it now grows all over the world. Steam distilled from the leaves and shoots of the plant, it is important to note that the therapeutic benefits of the oil is only present in therapeutic-grade oil and not in many off-the-shelf varieties. The oil contains compounds called phenols, terpenes and terpenoids, which have powerful antioxidant properties and are responsible for its fragrance with its chief components are carvacrol, thymol, cymene, caryophyllene, pinene, bisabolene, linalool, borneol, geranyl acetate, linalyl acetate, and terpinene.

Oregano Essential Oil is a natural:

·         Antibacterial

·         Antiviral

·         Antifungal

·         Antioxidant

·         Digestive

·         Anti-Allergenic

·         Anti-Parasitic

·         Anti-Inflammatory

 [Refer to the safety information mentioned below.]

Botanical name

Origanum Vulgare 

Common method of extraction

Steam distillation

Plant part typically used

Leaves and flowers


Pale Yellow



Perfumery note


Strength of initial aroma


Aromatic description

Herbaceous, sharp

Essential oil uses

1.       Colds, coughs and other respiratory issues

Evidence suggests that oregano oil can help fight off colds, and even stop you from getting sick in the first place. Research published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology in 2007 showed that oregano oil can help destroy viral infections such as staphylococcus aureus, which causes upper respiratory tract infections. Two compounds found in the oil, carvacrol and thymol, naturally fight bacteria. Oregano oil also acts as an expectorant which helps to thin mucus and relieve coughs, croup, and bronchitis symptoms.


2.       Pain reliever

Research has shown that oregano oil significantly reduces pain in mice, with effects similar to the commonly used painkillers fenoprofen and morphine. The researchers proposed that these results were likely due to the carvacrol content of the oil. A similar study found that oregano oil not only reduced pain in rats, but that the response was dose-dependent. That is, the more oregano oil the rats consumed, the less pain they appeared to feel.


3.       Powerful antioxidant

Antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals, which are natural products of metabolism. However, they can build up in the body through exposure to environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke and air pollutants. It is thought that free radical damage plays a role in aging and the development of certain lifestyle diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.


4.       Oral health

Oregano oil contains thymol, which is the active ingredient used in over the counter mouthwashes, and is able to fight bad breath, bacteria and plaque.


5.       Parasites

Research done in 2014 found that oregano oil can help kill the norovirus, which can lead to gastroenteritis or the stomach flu. It is also beneficial for worm infections and has shown promising potential against several food-borne pathogens such us E. coli, listeria and salmonella.


6.       Aging

Caused largely by damage caused by free radicals and oxidation in the body, oregano oil can be used to slow down the aging process. Oregano oil is a powerful antioxidant, with the phenols present in the oil able to neutralise free radicals. This slows down nervous system disorders, muscle degeneration, cancer, wrinkles and aging.


7.       Ear infections

Oregano oil can be used to relieve the pain caused by an ear infection. The antiviral and antibacterial properties fight blocked sinuses, allergies, swollen glands and blockage of the Eustachian tubes.


8.       Toenail fungus and Athlete’s foot

Because of its antifungal properties, oregano oil is a great ally in the fight against Athlete’s foot and other nail fungi.


9.       Allergies

Oregano oil can reduce the hyper-reaction that the body has when exposed to allergens such as pollen, mould and other airborne irritants. Being anti-inflammatory as well as a mild sedative, the oil can help to reduce swelling and inflammation in the airways. Carvacrol, one of the active properties found in the oil, has anti-inflammatory properties, and rosmarinic acid is a natural antihistamine – both can help to relieve symptoms such as sneezing, itching and congestion.


10.    Arthritis, joint and muscle pain

The traditional treatment for arthritis includes the prescription of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which are pain relievers.  Oregano oil can be used as a natural alternative to fight the inflammation in joints and muscles causing the pain associated with arthritis. Because of its high content of carvacrol, oregano oil can activate heat shock proteins (HSPs) through T cells in the body. T cells are high-stress regulators and HSPs are responsible for defending the body against inflammation. Studies have shown that carvacrol can increase the T cell response to self-stress proteins and "down-regulate inflammatory disease." If you have sore and tired muscles oregano oil can work wonders due to its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and anaesthetic action. It penetrates deep into the tissues and can relieve pain caused by muscle cramps, aching muscles, carpal tunnel syndrome and other muscular injuries.


11.    Acne

Oregano oil contains carvacrol, an active compound with excellent antimicrobial properties that can help to kill acne-causing bacteria, dry out acne lesions and reduce swelling and inflammation. It is especially beneficial against cystic acne, a severe type of acne that usually occurs in the teenage years, where pores become clogged leading to large pimples, chronic inflammation and infection.


12.    Cold sores

Caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), cold sores are small, swollen, often painful, red blisters that appear usually on the lips and around the mouth. A 2007 study documented that, "treatment of HSV-1 with oregano essential oil has been shown to disrupt the viral envelope" which stops the virus from spreading, and its anti-inflammatory properties promotes faster healing.


13.    Stomach issues

Oregano oil has shown to be effective against several strains of bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella, the microbes notoriously responsible for causing food poisoning. Toxins and bacteria can also cause inflammation of the stomach lining, and being an anti-inflammatory oregano oil helps ease the stomach. Furthermore, the oil can aid digestion by enhancing the release of bile and gastric juices that help to digest food and by relaxing the muscles of the GI tract. It can also help to balance the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria in the gut. Thymol, one of oregano’s active compounds, is a similar compound to menthol, which is found in peppermint oil. Like menthol, thymol may help relax the soft tissue of the throat and stomach which can help to decrease GERD, heartburn and discomfort after eating.


14.    Immunity

Great for boosting immunity, there is a few studies that have shown that oregano oil help fight bacterial and viral infections, some showing better results than other herbal remedies such as Echinacea. The high antioxidant level prevents free radical damage and being an anti-parasitic it can also ward of parasites.


15.    Skin conditions

Oregano oil can benefit those who have skin conditions such as eczema, candidisis, acne, psoraiasis, and rosacea. Especially psoriasis sufferers (an inflammatory skin condition) say that oregano oil helps to alleviate their symptoms, and although there's no official published research on this, it may well be because oregano oil is a natural anti-inflammatory.


16.    Warts

Caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), warts are growths that usually appear on the hands and feet, but can also grow in other parts of the body. They can become painful, especially under the feet (plantar warts), which can affect one’s ability to walk. Warts can also spread, so getting rid of them quickly is crucial. Carvacrol, one of oregano oil’s active ingredients, can assist in burning off the warts.


17.    Menstrual issues

Being a natural emenagogue (helps to stimulate menstrual flow), oregano oil can be beneficial to women who have irregular periods. Use of the oil can also help to delay the onset of menopause and alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hormonal and mood imbalances. Being an emenagogue also means that it can induce contractions in the uterus so the oil should be avoided during pregnancy.


18.    Candida

Candida, a type of fungus, is naturally present in the body and is relatively harmless unless it starts growing. Overgrowth causes a list of issues including a thick whitish coating on the tongue, vaginal yeast infections, gut problems, thrush, and more. Oregano oil is anti-fungal thanks to the thymol present in the oil.  In fact certain studies have shown that oregano oil is as effective in treating fungus including the Aspergillus mould, Candida and yeast as compared to standard anti-fungal drugs prescribed by physicians. And more importantly, oregano oil is a much safer alternative to chemically-toxic drugs.


19.    Insect repellent

Oregano oil is the safer alternative to using strong insect repellents that contain DEET, which although permitted by health agencies, have debatable health concerns. You can also grow oregano in your garden to help keep pests away, and this makes it a welcome add on to your vegetable or herb garden!


20.    Dogs, cats and pets

Oregano oil is a safe, natural remedy to treat and control skin conditions caused by fungal and parasitic infections in pets such as dogs and cats. It has also proven beneficial in treating arthritis in dogs.


21.    Cancer-fighting

Research has suggested that carvacrol, an active compound present in oregano oil, has anti-tumor properties and can help prevent the growth of cancer cells. More specifically, oregano essential oil contains phenols, a powerful form of antioxidant that eliminates free radicals that can cause or aggravate diseases. Although this is promising research, there have not been any studies carried out on humans, so more research is needed.


22.    Helps reduce side effects from medications/drugs

This benefit of oregano oil is especially promising for patients receiving chemotherapy or who have to use medication to treat chronic conditions like arthritis. A study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine showed that phenol in oregano oil can help protect against methotrexate toxicity in mice. Methotrexate (MTX) is a drug commonly used to treat a wide range of medical conditions, from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s also well-known to have side effects. After evaluating oregano oil’s ability to reduce these side effects, researchers believe it is thanks to oregano’s high level of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Oregano was shown to work better than prescribed medication that are ineffective at providing full protection against MTX’s adverse effects. Similarly, research conducted in the Netherlands showed that oregano essential oil can also “prevent bacterial overgrowth and colonization in the large intestine during oral iron therapy.” Used to treat iron deficiency anemia, oral iron therapy is known to cause a series of gastrointestinal issues like nausea, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn and vomiting.


23.    Natural alternative to antibiotics

Frequent use of broad-spectrum antibiotics can be dangerous as the antibiotics do not only kill bad bacteria, but also good bacteria (probiotics) that is needed for optimal digestion, vitamin production and protection from infections. Overuse of antibiotics, and the use of antibiotics when they are not really needed (like for a viral infection), can lead to antibiotic-resistance bacteria, making the infections they cause difficult if not impossible to treat. Research has shown that oregano oil may be effective against these types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli, both of which are common causes of urinary tract and respiratory tract infections

Major constituents:







Blending tips:

Oregano oil blends well with Peppermint, Lavender, Basil, Rosemary, Bergamot, Cypress, Cedarwood, and Melaleuca (Tea Tree) essential oils.

Tips on using this essential oil safely:

Oregano essential oil is contraindicated during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Research as indicated that when using Oregano oil, there is moderate risk for mucous membrane irritation, it may inhibit blood clotting and pose a drug interaction hazard. It may cause embryotoxicity. There is a moderate risk of skin sensitization, and experts advise not to use topically on children age 2 or younger or for those with hypersensitive/diseased/damaged skin.

Oregano oil can be used topically if diluted, and can be diffused. Before using oregano essential oil on your skin always first do a patch test. This helps to reduce the risk for irritation and adverse reactions.

When buying oregano essential oil, make sure you are buying from a high-quality brand that is therapeutic grade and that is organic, so it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. This is especially important if you are planning to use it topically.


General safety information

Because essential oils are highly concentrated they should always be used with caution. Essential oils should not be used undiluted, and should never be applied to the eyes or mucous membranes. Toxicity can occur if too much of the oil is absorbed, hence always dilute. A skin patch test is always recommended prior to using any new essential oil, or after first time use after a long break. Although most essential oils have been proven by science to work as efficiently, or even more, as allopathic drugs, they are not a substitute for medical care. Chronic conditions should not be self-treated, and you should never avoid or delay getting standard medical care. Always consult with your doctor first. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult with their doctor before using any natural or alternative treatment, and also speak to your doctor first before using oils on your kids. People who are epileptic, have liver damage or issues, have cancer, are diabetic, or have any other medical problem, or who suspect they might have any of these conditions, should definitely consult with their doctor first.


Shelf life and care:

Although pure essential oils do not go rancid, they do gradually lose their therapeutic value and aroma as a result of oxidation. The lifespan varies according to the botanical, distillation process, storage and care as well as manufacturer and supplier. To maximize the shelf life, store the oils in dark glass bottles, tightly closed, in a cool and dry place. Keep out of the sun. If the aroma, thickness or colour has changed, discard.


Important information about essential oils:

The essential oil information provided on A life lead simply is intended for educational purposes only. The references to safety information, constituents and percentages is generalized information. The data is not necessary complete and is not guaranteed to be accurate. The essential oil photos are intended to represent the typical and approximate colour of each essential oil. However, essential oil colour can vary based on harvesting, distillation, age of the essential oil and other factors.


Essential oil book suggestions:

Wilson, R. 2002. Aromatherapy: Essential Oils for Vibrant Health and Beauty. This book covers the extraction of Essential oils.

Lawless, J. 2013. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Aromatic Oils in Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health and Well Being. San Francisco: Conari Press.