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History of Oregano

Oregano was first used by the Greeks. In their mythology the goddess Aphrodite invented the spice. Giving it to man to make his life happier. The word "oregano" is actually derived from the Greek phrase, "joy of the mountains". Just married couples were crowned with wreaths of it. It was also put on graves to give peace to departed spirits. Ancient Greek physicians discovered that the herb had beneficial effects and prescribed it for a variety of ailments. Hippocrates used it as well as its close cousin, marjoram as an antiseptic.

The Roman's, who later conquered Greece, would adopt much of the culture of the region. They tasted oregano and thought that it was good. The ease of its cultivation coupled with the Roman proclivity for the expansion of Empire would spread its use throughout Europe and much of Northern Africa. In these regions it was used to spice meats, fish, and even as a flavoring for wine.

In the middle ages people continued to use it. Sharp spices were not common at this time. Oregano was one of the few food flavorings available to give variety to the daily fair. The people of the dark age cast about for medicinal properties in whatever form they could find. They would chew the oregano leaves as a cure for rheumatism, toothache, indigestion, and as a cough suppressant.

Oregano found its way to China probably via the spice road that wended through the Middle-East during the Medieval period. Here again it was a medicinal herb. Doctors prescribed it to relieve fever, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and itchy skin.

Later, the English found a use for oregano as an additive to snuff (which was generally a tobacco concoction taken through the nose). It was also used as a perfume in sachets.

In spite of its use in England, Oregano was little known in the United States prior to the Second World War. Soldiers discovered the flavors and aromas during the Italian Campaign and brought back the spice and the desire for it.

The oregano sold on the spice racks of stores today is usually made up of several varieties. Oregano heracleoticum, also Coridothymus capitatus (syn. Thymus capitatus) and Thymus mastichina are sometimes blended with the vulgare (common European) sort.

Next Page: Growing Oregano


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