Herbs differ greatly from most of the plant-based foods that modern humans consume. Unlike the hybrids that are in many cases nearly unrecognizable and far less nutritious from their wild ancestors a few centuries ago, herbs are in many ways completely unchanged from their predecessors.
Also, unlike many modern crops, herbs tend to have tremendous resistance to disease and pests due to strong aroma and/or taste. This superpower makes some plants such as oregano and the oil derived from it, an effective natural antibiotic-free from the side effects of drug-based counterparts.
Oregano Oil in Ancient Medicine
The word oregano comes from the Greek words, “oros” meaning mountain, and “ganos” meaning joy. Hence, oregano was considered “the joy of the mountains” in ancient literature and for good reason. It has a wide variety of applications beyond the kitchen.
Humanity has used the strong aromatic compounds in herbs such as oregano for their medicinal value for millennia. Hydrofoils, herbal infusions, tinctures, teas, and essential oils date back around five thousand years. Our ancestors filled their traditional medicine chests with the parts and pieces of these types of plants and home remedies made with them.
Essential oils are the most concentrated form of plant-based medicines. Artisans traditionally made them by drawing out the aromatic plant compounds into a liquid medium for ease of application. This art form has now been practiced and refined for thousands of years.
Wild vs Organic Oreganol
Not all oregano is created equal. There are many cultivars, over 40 in fact. Think of basil – there is holy basil and lemon basil and cinnamon basil and so many other options. So it is with oregano.
Studies show that the best oregano comes from the native oregano species that has grown in the Mediterranean for a thousand or more years. Other types don’t have nearly the amount or concentration of beneficial plant-based compounds.
Benefits of Oregano Oil (Oreganol)
Of these dozens of different oregano species, the most beneficial oreganol come from wild oregano, Origanum vulgare. Thymus capitatus, a variety that grows in Spain, is also very powerful.
It is the phenols, a type of plant-based compounds, that make oil of oregano from these species so beneficial and powerful.
Phenols are a class of Phyto (plant-based) chemicals with all sorts of amazing properties and benefits. Let’s look at a few that are most prominent in oregano oil.
Thymol is a natural fungicide with antiseptic properties. It works to increase immunity, shield cells against toxins, prevent tissue damage and facilitate more rapid healing. (1)
This phenol demonstrates excellent performance as an antifungal for the feet, nails, mouth and other areas of the body. (2)
A number of hospital-approved disinfectants, such as Benefact, are thymol based!
Carvacrol is a phenol that exhibits broad-spectrum bacterial protection. It helps prevent food spoilage as well as the growth of pathogenic fungi, yeast, and bacteria in humans, animals, and plant-based microorganism populations. This includes drug-resistant and biofilm-forming pathogens such as MRSA and Candida auris.
The antibacterial activity of carvacrol has been attributed to its considerable effects on the structural and functional properties of the cytoplasmatic membrane. (3)
Rosmarinic acid is an antioxidant that prevents free radical damage. It shows promise in treating allergic asthma and preventing cancer and atherosclerosis. According to Dr. Mercola, it also works as a natural antihistamine to help reduce fluid buildup and swelling caused by allergy attacks. (4)
Studies show that oregano oil is effective against a wide spectrum of bacteria, including some that are antibiotic-resistant. (5)
When compared with other essential oils, oreganol often tests with greater efficacy even beating out heavy hitters like lavender. (6)
Concerns and Safety of Oregano Oil
With essential oils, there is a long-running debate over their safety, especially for ingestion/internal use. Generally, as long as you are sourcing high-quality essential oils and diluting them properly, topical use is fine (see my caveat below!). But what about internal use?
Of particular concern is the potential negative impact of essential oils on the gut and microbiome.
Essential oils are powerful antibiotics, after all. Do they harm beneficial gut flora like their drug-based counterparts? What does the research say about taking an essential oil, specifically oreganol, internally?
Oreganol Internal Use
In general, with careful dosing, a number of essential oils were found to not harm the beneficial bacteria found in the digestive system according to the journal Alternative Medicine Review. (7)
In animal studies, the results are promising as well. When added to broiler chicken feed, essential oils as dietary supplementation alleviated intestinal injury by improving intestinal integrity and modulating immune responses in pathogen-challenged broiler chickens. (8)
A number of other studies and trials have used essential oils, including oreganol, as a replacement for antibiotics in animal feeds. It is certainly encouraging to see Industrial Agriculture looking for alternatives to constant antibiotic use in farm animals. So far, studies show that pathogenic bacteria are not adapting as they do so quickly to standard antibiotics. Nonetheless, the constant use of essential oils in this way is still concerning. (9, 10)
Human Studies on Essential Oils
A number of human studies involving a number of different essential oils such as peppermint, coriander, and more, found significant benefits for IBS sufferers when the oils were taken in enteric-coated capsules that break down in the intestines and not the stomach. (11)
With oils like oregano, studies show that the concentration and presence of other constituents or oils are key to how it impacts the balance of one’s gut microbiome. Specifically, thymol at around 100 p.p.m. proved effective in suppressing pathogens in the small intestine, with no concern for harm to beneficial colonic bacteria in the large intestine. (12)
Is Your Oil of Oregano too Strong (or too weak)?
Probably my greatest concern with taking essential oils internally and at home is knowing the strength. How can you know the concentration of a particular product or batch of a product?
Can you then properly dose at concentrations that are neither too low (and thus, most likely not medicinally beneficial) nor too high (and thus, possibly harmful)?
Note that many studies done on the internal consumption of essential oils used enteric-coated capsules. Such capsules do not break down in the stomach but pass on to the intestines before they release their contents. This is very different than using standard, available capsules in the health food store or online that are gelatin-based on taking an essential oil internally as they dissolve directly in the stomach itself.
Applying Oreganol Topically
Because many essential oils are highly permeable, you can apply them topically with far less risk knowing that the beneficial compounds will pass into your bloodstream via the skin.
So, for the most part, our family sticks with topical application and save internal use only for emergencies.
How to Use Oregano Oil as a Natural Antibiotic
Essential oils are wonderful, but they are also dangerous because they are so concentrated and potent. So, first and foremost, as a family that uses essential oils, we encourage you to use caution, wisdom and consult reliable sources when using them. Watching vigilantly for adverse reactions is also crucial.
For instance, I learned that I am very sensitive to a number of essential oils. Lavender, for example, causes me to break out in small white boils. This occurs even when thoroughly diluted!
Many health food store products now contain small amounts of oregano oil, such as toothpaste. This is because oreganol works against gingivitis and other problematic bacteria in the mouth as referenced above. In essence, regular use improves the composition of oral flora. Some foot and nail fungus products also include oregano oil for the same reason.
Oreganol for Skin
If you want to try using oreganol yourself, start with a high-quality brand of wild oregano essential oil. You need to pair essential oils to carrier oils – coconut, jojoba, olive – depending on the application.
For skin, we prefer jojoba or coconut, but there is a wide variety of options to choose from these days. Make sure whatever oil you choose is unrefined, organic and cold-pressed.
We generally go with about one drop of essential oil for twenty drops of carrier oil to start. Mix the oregano oil into the carrier, then apply 2-3 times per day to the affected area.
For nail fungus or athlete’s foot, put a few teaspoons of oregano oil in a small tub water and soak your feet. The oil can also be diluted (one drop of oil with a teaspoon of olive oil) and then apply directly to nails or skin. (13)
Parasites and Infections
Oregano oil’s powerful natural antifungal properties come in handy for parasitic and yeast issues anywhere on the body.
For this purpose, Dr. Mercola recommends diluting oregano one drop per teaspoon (about 100 drops) of carrier oil and then placing under the tongue. Hold it there for a few minutes to allow absorption of the phenols into the bloodstream via the thin gum and mouth tissues. Then, rinse it out. Do not swallow! Repeat at least four times a day. (14)
For sinus infections, put a drop of oregano oil in a pot of steaming water or neti pot. Then, slowly inhale the steam.
Have you ever used oreganol as a natural antibiotic? How do you apply it and did you find it effective?
John Moody is an author, speaker, farmer, homesteader, and Real Food activist. Most importantly, he is husband to an amazing wife and five awesome kids. John speaks nationally at a wide range of events, along with writing for numerous publications and consulting for farmers, homesteaders, and food businesses.
He recently published his first book, The Frugal Homesteader: Living the Good Life on Less.