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Spice of life

The set of herbs that flavour food also has therapeutic properties

Oregano is the spice of life.

Henry Tillman

The name oregano is a compound from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy), translated `joy of the mountain'. Oregano belongs to the mint family and is the name for several herbs that flavour food. The different herbs and shrubs that make up the genus Origanum originated in North Africa, Greece and the Mediterranean. The famous `hyssop', mentioned in the Bible, was an origanum species. Greeks and Romans held oregano as a symbol of joy and happiness, and it was a tradition to crown their brides and grooms with laurels of oregano. The Greeks also believed it brought joy to the dead and planted it on graves.

The fresh smell of oregano adds to the warmth of pizza. Italian cuisine employs oregano in tomato sauce, grilled meats and fried vegetables. Greek and Mediterranean cuisine use fresh, dried, and ground oregano to flavour salads, stews, soups, stuffings, eggs, vegetables, fish, meat, and sausages. America now consumes 300,000 tons of the herb annually. Two teaspoons of oregano contains nine calorie and is rich in manganese, iron and dietary fibre.

The essential oils in the leaves and flowering tops give the herb its characteristic sharp flavour. Oregano oil is aromatic enough to find use in perfumes and cosmetics. The oil is also the chief source of the herb's properties as a medicinal agent. Hippocrates (460 - 377 BC) used it for digestive and respiratory disorders. Roman scholar, Pliny, recommended it for scorpion and spider bites, and Paracelsus, the father of Hermetic medicine, prescribed it for diarrhoea, psoriasis and fungal disease.

Oregano's aromatic oil is popular worldwide as a stimulant and tonic. Western folk medicine uses it against asthma, indigestion, headache, rheumatism, and toothache. The oil, put on cotton wool and placed in the hollow of an aching tooth, often relieves the pain. Turkish folk medicine uses the oil as a spasmodic, antimicrobial, expectorant carminative and aromatic for whooping and convulsive coughs, digestive disorders and menstrual problems. Itsantibacterial and antifungal effects make it useful in sprays, room fresheners and fumigants.

The dried leaves and tops may be applied in bags as a hot fomentation for painful swellings and rheumatism.

RAJIV.M

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