You may already know that oregano is an Italian herb commonly used in cooking. But it can also be made into a more concentrated herbal supplement, often called oregano oil. There are also oregano essential oils which have a much stronger concentration of the oregano plant than the herbal supplement.
Oregano essential oil is made from the leaves of the oregano plant. Even though oregano is a well-known herb found in many kitchens, oregano herbal oils and oregano essential oils aren’t used for cooking. Rather, the essential oil is used both topically and through inhalation to treat specific health conditions. The herbal oil can be taken as an herbal supplement.
Oregano oil contains chemical compounds, including phenolic glycosides (phenols). These compounds have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Phenols, such as carvacrol, cymene, terpinine, and thymol, account for much of the composition of oregano oil. It’s the phenols in oregano oil which may make it beneficial.
Forms and uses
Oregano oil extract is an herbal supplement. It’s available in supplement form, as a pill, and as a softgel capsule. These usually contain other ingredients to dilute oregano oil, since it’s very potent. The capsules can be taken orally, or cut open and applied to the skin, provided they’re not full strength.
Oregano oil is also available as a highly concentrated essential oil that comes in liquid form. The oil may come premixed with a carrier oil or it may be purchased full strength. If it’s not premixed, you’ll have to dilute it yourself by combining it with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil. The usual recipe is 5 to 6 drops for every ounce of carrier oil.
The essential oil can be used topically after it’s diluted. Don’t take any essential oil orally without seeing a certified aromatherapist first. Some essential oils are toxic and qualities vary.
Oregano essential oil can also be used in steam, as a vapor to be inhaled. This is done by putting one or two drops in a vaporizer or bowl of steaming water.
Most of the research done to date on oregano has been in the form of in vitro laboratory studies, animal studies, or small human trials. While much of this research is promising, it’s by no means definitive proof that oregano oil is effective. Even so, this product is marketed for many uses.
Use the herb in cooking or an herbal supplement for:
bacterial infections, such as E. coli
viruses, such as the norovirus (stomach virus) or upper respiratory infections
small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
urinary tract infections (UTIs)
yeast infections (Candida)
Use the essential oil as a vapor for:
Use the diluted essential oil topically for:
Side effects and risks
Unlike the herb you cook with, commercially-prepared oregano oil is highly concentrated. It’s easy to take too much or to use it for too long. When used as directed, oregano oil should be safe. In too-high doses, it may have detrimental effects.
This may be due in part to thymol, one of the phenols it contains. In high doses, thymol is a mild irritant which might affect the skin or internal organs.
It can cause:
central hyperactivity (inappropriate talkativeness)
Thymol may also be irritating or corrosive to the skin and eyes. Oregano oil should never be applied to broken skin or used on or near the eyes.
Oregano oil may cause an allergic reaction in some people. If you’re allergic to oregano or to other plants in the Lamiaceae family, such as mint, sage, basil, and lavender, don’t use oregano oil.
When used topically, diluted oregano essential oil may cause a skin rash, even in people who aren’t allergic to it. It’s important to check with your doctor before using oregano oil and to follow package directions exactly, whether you’re using the capsules or essential oil.
There’s been no medical research done on oregano oil’s safety for children, or for pregnant or breastfeeding women. These populations shouldn’t use oregano oil. While data is lacking, there’s some concern that oregano oil may cause uterine contractions or miscarriage.