Oregano or origanum vulgare is commonly cultivated for culinary use as a garden herb, but the herb also has several essential ingredients such as carvacrol that make it valuable as a medicine too. The plant is a part of the mint family and is commonly found in the warm-temperate regions of Eurasia and the Mediterranean.
Carvacrol Extraction Method and Biochemistry
Oregano contains several important compounds like carvacrol, thymol, limenene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene, all of which have several beneficial properties. The leaves and stems also contain beneficial compounds which are commonly used as medications for a range of chronic conditions. Oregano leaves are steam distilled to produce oil of oregano. Different varieties of oregano contain subtly different compounds which may influence the essential oil that is distilled. As a result, only pure, edible food grade oregano leaves are preferred for the steam distillation process. Wild Mediterranean oregano is considered the best as it has the highest percentage of carvacol, terpenes, esters for medicinal use. These herb bushes are also free of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. During this process, the leaves are crushed and then placed in a still or a stainless steel crucible. Steam at low temperatures and at low pressure is forced over the crushed leaves. The high temperature forces out the oil in the leaves. This process is very temperature sensitive as the temperature should be high enough to make the leaves release the oil but not so hot that the leaves vaporize along with the oil. After the leaves start sweating oil, the temperature is gradually reduced and the oil globules are scraped off. Essential oils extremely strong and they are always diluted with pure carrier oils like olive oil or almond oil for medical use. To ensure purity, most companies will also randomly check samples with Mass Spectography and Gas Chromatography.
Uses of Carvacrol from Oil of Oregano
Herbs have been commonly used since ancient times to treat a range of medical conditions. Research has shown that most ancient beliefs have a medical background. Herbs do contain a range of chemicals which can be used to treat chronic conditions and oregano is no different. Oil of oregano contains a huge range of beneficial compounds that can be used to treat and control chronic conditions too. The active and most useful ingredient in oil of oregano is carvacrol. Oregano oil should contain at least 70% of carvacrol to be considered medically useful. A few of the beneficial properties of carvacrol include:
• Anti cancer properties –Researchers have identified a range of anticancer compounds in oregano oil which may serve to control or prevent cancer. These cancer prevention compounds can act as antioxidants and as chemoprotective agents inhibiting the formation of damaged DNA. They also seem to prevent or block cancer cell-growing pathways and encourage the body to detoxify. (Source – Food phytochemicals for cancer prevention I. Fruits and vegetables. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1994:17–48.)
• Anti bacterial properties – Carvacol has been found to have substantial antibacterial properties. Direct ingestion of the herb or a medicinal extract of carvacol could kill antibiotic-resistant bacterial like Helicobacter pylori in about 60 minutes. It could be used to treat staphylococcal bladder infection, urinary tract infections, and strep throat too (Source: Bactericidal and anti-adhesive properties of culinary and medicinal plants by Rachel O’Mahoney)
• Anti fungal properties – Carvacol is very well known for its anti fungal properties. Carvacrol and eugenol are both known to be extremely effective in controlling fungal infections. In fact, researchers consider both compounds to be equivalent to antifungal medication nystatin (Source: Antifungal treatment with carvacrol and eugenol of oral candidiasis- Braz J Infect Dis. 2004 Jun;8(3):217-26. Epub 2004 Sep 29)
• Weight loss – The weight loss properties of carvacrol are not proven but the compound is being tested for its weight loss properties.
• Digestive properties – Carvacrol is supposed to be extremely beneficial in improving digestion, reducing flatulence and dietary problems. However, research is still on to find out how carvacrol works inside the stomach to have this beneficial effect.
Although we’ve just a few of the beneficial effects of carvacrol contained in oil of oregano, you have to remember that the ancients recommended oregano for a range of digestive, memory, and skin conditions. Clinical studies are still ongoing to find out the multiple beneficial effects of the compounds in oil of oregano. Use the compound only under medical supervision and always remember to dilute the oil before consumption.