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3 important reasons to cherish this hearty spice

3 important reasons to cherish this hearty spice

While trendy toppings like arugula, capers, and apples have their appeal, one traditional pizza ingredient would be a crime to omit.  Many would say that oregano has no equal when it comes to enhancing the flavor of melted mozzarella cheese and luscious tomato sauce.

But there’s a lot more to this piquant herb than its ability to bring out the flavor of your favorite slice.  Oregano - a staple of the beneficial Mediterranean diet - features surprising health benefits.  Let’s look at three good reasons to enjoy this zesty spice.

Antioxidant-rich oregano can promote heart health

Oregano, botanically known as Oreganum vulgare, contains antioxidant compounds such as thymol, rosmarinic acid, and carvacrol.  While all three have been the subject of great interest by researchers for their potential to promote health, a recent review published in Food Science and Nutrition focuses on carvacrol.

The authors credit it with cardioprotective effects - due to its ability to scavenge harmful free radicals contributing to heart disease.  A good “team player,” carvacrol also supports the activity of important endogenous (produced in the body) compounds like glutathione and superoxide dismutase.  A mere teaspoon of oregano contains close to 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin K, which researchers believe can reduce the risk of artery-clogging atherosclerosis.

Finally, oregano makes an excellent alternative seasoning.  It may help people to use less salt and sugar (which can contribute to heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and obesity).  So, reach for the oregano.  Your heart will thank you for it!

Oregano compounds have anticancer effects

Chronic inflammation is believed to contribute to the development of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.  Studies have shown that oregano extracts are anti-inflammatory, reducing pro-inflammatory chemicals such as interleukin levels.  And there’s more. Cell studies have revealed that carvacrol in oregano can reduce matrix metalloproteases (MMPs), enzymes that facilitate the spread of cancer by breaking down normal cells and tissue.

Oregano extracts have also been shown to cause apoptosis – the death of cancer cells - in both prostate and colon cancer cell lines.  While more study is needed to analyze the herb’s effects on humans, oregano compounds may have potential as a weapon against cancer.

Soothe irritated skin with oregano essential oil

You can also access an array of skin benefits by using oregano essential oil.  Some holistic dermatologists advise the oil (which is naturally antibacterial) to help ward off acne, hydrate skin, prevent infections, and soothe itching from eczema and psoriasis.  Oregano essential oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may also help to ease redness and swelling while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

To use on the skin, blend two to four drops of oregano essential oil in a teaspoon of a gentle carrier oil - such as jojoba, olive, almond, or coconut oil - then smooth over the skin, keeping away from the eyes.  Check with your holistic dermatologist before using oregano essential oil on your skin.  Don’t use oregano essential oil internally, and keep it out of reach of children.

Elevate recipes with fresh or dried oregano

Oregano adds a distinctive, subtly sweet, and spicy character to recipes - yet doesn’t overwhelm other flavors.  Use this versatile herb to season vegetables, spice up a mixed green salad, and enliven soups, stews, marinades, and sauces.  Or, use it to add the perfect finishing touch to homemade vinaigrette salad dressing.  You really can’t go wrong!

By the way, oregano is easy to grow and makes a fragrant, hardy addition to your herb garden.  It can also thrive indoors in a sunny kitchen windowsill.

Store fresh oregano sprigs stems down in a glass of water, loosely covered with a plastic bag.  It should last in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Dried oregano should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark cabinet.

Whether you’re enjoying arugula-and-broccoli pizza or going “old-school” with pepperoni and mushrooms, you won’t want to forget the oregano.  (Of course, pizza is only the beginning!)  This zesty spice makes a great addition to your healthy diet.

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