Although oregano is heavily associated with Italian cuisine it is likely that it originated in Greece.
The word oregano comes from the Greek, meaning “joy of the mountain.”
Ancient Greeks believed that cows that grazed on fields of oregano produced tastier meat.
Oregano is also believed to calm nerves and is use to cure sea sickness.
Greek oregano is actually a particular herb flavour, rather than a particular herb. There are several species in different families that impart this particular flavour and are all known as oregano.
The ancient Greeks made creams derived from oregano leaves and used them to treat sores and aching muscles. Traditional Chinese doctors have used oregano for centuries to relieve fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice and itchy skin. In Europe, the herb is still used to improve digestion and soothe coughs.
Little contemporary research has been done on the medical uses of oregano. The work that has been done shows that this herb contains two essential components, thymol and carvacol, which are also found in another herb, thyme.
It’s difficult to trace oregano’s early history with any certainty because of this herb’s relationship to its cultivated cousin marjoram. Both are of the same genus, and their popular and botanical terms have long been confused. It seems clear, however, that oregano was not as widely used in cooking as was marjoram, except along the shores of the Mediterranean.
There, in Italy, Greece and other countries, cooks recognized its affinity for tomato based sauces, lamb, seafood and almost any garlic flavoured dish, and it became a tradition to pick wild oregano and use it in many dishes.
Oregano is an important culinary herb, used for the flavour of its leaves, which can be more flavourful when dried than fresh.
It has an aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste, which can vary in intensity. Good-quality oregano may be strong enough almost to numb the tongue, but cultivars adapted to colder climates often have a lesser flavour. Factors such as climate, season, and soil composition may affect the aromatic oils present, and this effect may be greater than the differences between the various species of plants. Among the chemical compounds contributing to the flavour are carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene