Oregano Oil: Natures Super Germ Fighter

James South, M.A

With the advent of widespread antibiotic usage in the late 1940s, doctors began to vanquish the bacterial germ diseases that had ravaged mankind since ancient times. By the 1960s such ancient enemies as diphtheria, scarlet fever, syphilis, bubonic plague and tuberculosis were easily treatable with modern antibiotics. Yet by the 1990s, antibiotics were no longer hailed as the miracle they had seemed just 40 years earlier. By the 1990s many bacteria had developed a resistance to most antibiotics. Widespread overuse of antibiotics also seemed to promote a new plague: the development of fungal infections especially Candida albicans in the young, the elderly and the immunocompromised.1-3

Ironically, research beginning in the 1950s (the  golden years  of antibiotic usage)4 continuing to the present day, has provided a remedy for both bacterial antibiotic resistance and fungal infestation: oregano oil. Oregano oil is produced by distillation from the leaves and flowers of wild Mediterranean oregano (Origanum Vulgare).1 Oregano oil is rich in phenolic compounds, including carvacrol and thymol, 6,7 which have been shown to be powerfully germicidal against a wide range of bacteria, fungi and protozoal parasites, even at minute concentrations of the oil.3-11

Although modern science has verified the broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity of oregano oil, oregano has been used for medicine and food preservation for thousands of years. According to oregano expert Dr. Cass Ingram, ancient Greek physicians routinely used oregano to treat a myriad of conditions, including open wounds, lung disorders, venomous bites and narcotic poisoning. When Islamic civilization flourished in the Middle Ages, its doctors used oregano and its oil to treat germ diseases. Powdered wild oregano was then used as a food preservative, keeping unrefrigerated vegetables unspoiled for up to two weeks. Medieval Europeans used wild oregano to prevent milk spoilage. In the 1600s British herbalist Gerard promoted oregano as the ideal treatment for head colds.1

A large number of in vitro, or  test tube  studies, have shown oregano oil, or its most active constituents carvacrol and thymol, to kill a broad range of bacteria and fungi. Conner and Beuchat tested 32 plant oils against 13 food-spoilage and industrial yeasts by the agar diffusion method. Growing yeasts were spread on special plates onto the center of which small (6 mm) discs dipped in one percent or 10 percent essential oil were placed. The  zone of inhibition,  wherein no yeasts grew, was measured after four days. Out of 32 oils, only garlic oil had a larger average zone of inhibition than oregano oil, and oregano had a larger zone of inhibition than garlic oil for four of 13 yeasts tested.4

Hammer and colleagues investigated 52 plant oils for activity against nine bacteria and the yeast Candida using the agar diffusion method. Oregano oil was one of only three oils that inhibited the growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a hard-to-kill bacterium that causes human wound infections. Overall, oregano oil was better at inhibiting germ growth than all oils tested except lemon grass oil. Oregano oil was effective at concentrations as low as 0.12 percent.5

Tantaoui-Elaraki and Beraoud tested 13 essential oils against the common food contaminant mold Aspergillus parasiticus. Oregano oil was one of four oils that could completely stop mold growth at concentrations as low as 0.1 percent. The production of aflatoxins, incredibly potent toxins produced by many Aspergillus species, was also measured. Oregano oil was one of three oils that could inhibit aflatoxin production more than 90 percent at an oil concentration of only 0.01 percent, and one of six oils that could completely inhibit aflatoxin production at 0.1 percent.6

Baratta and coworkers tested sage, rosemary, oregano, laurel and coriander oils against 25 bacteria. They noted that   oregano oil manifested the broadest and highest activity against almost all of the bacteria tested; in fact it strongly inhibited 19 of the 25 bacterial strains under investigation, showed a good activity against four bacteria and proved to be ineffective against the growth of [two]. 7 They also found coriander and oregano oil to have the highest activity against the fungus Aspergillus niger. The zones of inhibition (ZI) were typically much greater for oregano oil than the other four. Thus the ZI for oregano oil against Salmonella bacteria was 46.8 mm, compared to 7.6-12.6 mm for the other four oils; 29.8 mm against Yersinia vs. 6.8-12.3 mm for the other four oils; 31.1 mm against Citrobacter vs. 9.7-13 mm for the other four, etc. Only two oils killed Pseudomonas aeruginosa: rosemary (ZI=8.6 mm) and oregano (ZI=12.0 mm).7

Stiles and colleagues used both agar diffusion and the serial broth dilution techniques to measure oregano oil s activity against Candida albicans, the cause of the  yeast syndrome.  Oregano oil was compared to Nystatin and Ca/Mg caprylate, two common Candida treatments. At a concentration of just 0.91 mcg/ml (about 1 part/million), oregano oil had the same ZI as Nystatin: 22-25 mm. At 1.82 mcg/ml (about 2 parts/million), oregano oil had a ZI of 40-45 mm. Using the broth dilution technique to measure the quantity needed to kill 99.9 percent of the Candida, it took 45 mcg/ml of oregano oil, but 5,000 mcg/ml of the Ca/Mg caprylate.8


Manohar and coworkers tested oregano oil against Candida both in vitro and in vivo. Using the broth dilution technique, it took just 0.25 mg/ml (about 250 parts/million) to completely kill Candida, and 0.125 mg/ml to prevent the germ tube formation and mycelial filament elongation necessary to cause Candida tissue invasion. Groups of six mice were injected with 12.5 million live Candida cells. All of the control group, which received no antimicrobial, was dead within ten days. Six groups of mice were force-fed oregano oil dissolved in olive oil at a dose from 8.66 to 52 mg/kg of bodyweight. Five of six survived 30 days (when the experiment was terminated) with 8.66 mg/kg, while all of the other groups survived 30 days.3

Force and colleagues gave 600 mg emulsified oregano oil for six weeks to 13 adults who had tested positive for intestinal parasites (Entamoeba, Endolinax, or Blastocystis). Parasites could no longer be detected in 10 of the 13 after the treatment. The parasite score (parasites counted under a microscope) decreased for the other three. Seven of the eight who had originally tested positive for Blastocystis hominis reported significant improvement of their symptoms, such as bloating, GI cramping, alternating diarrhea and constipation, and fatigue.9 Oregano is GRAS (generally regarded as safe), but the oil should be used with caution, as it can be irritating to the mucous membranes. It should be taken with food, partway through a meal, not on an empty stomach. Oregano oil may trigger the  die-off  phenomenon in those suffering intestinal candidiasis or other intestinal microbial infestation due to its powerful germ-killing action. See reference   for more detail on the  die-off. 

In an age when  food poisoning  sickens or kills many thousands annually, oil of oregano taken with meals may be the best preventative.

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1. Ingram, C. The Cure is in the Cupboard. Buffalo Grove, IL:Knowledge House, 2001.

2. Crook, W. The Yeast Connection and Women s Health. Jackson, TN: Professional Books, 2003.

3. Manohar, V. et al.  Antifungal activities of origanum oil against Candida albicans.  Mol Cell Biochem, 2001, 228: 111-17.

4. Maruzzella, J. & Lichtenstein, M.  The in vitro antibacterial activity of essential oils.  J Am Pharm Assoc, 1956, 47: 250 ff.

5. Hammer, K. et al.  Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts . J Appl Microbial, 1999, 86:985-90.

6.Tantatoui-Elaraki, A and Beraoud, L.  Inhibition of growth and aflatoxin production in Aspergillus parasiticus by essential oils of selected plant materials.  J Environ Path Toxicol Oncol, 1994, 13: 67-72.

7. Baratta, M.T. et al.  Chemical composition, antimicrobial and antioxidative activity of laurel, sage rosemary, oregano and coriander essential oils.  J Essent Oil Res, 1998, 10:618-27.

8. Stiles, J. et al.  The inhibition of Candida albicans by oregano . J Appl Nutr, 1995, 47:96-102.

9. Force, M. et al.  Inhibition of enteric parasites by emulsified oil of oregano in vivo . Phytother Res, 2000, 14:213-14.

10. Knobloch, K. et al.  Antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oil components.  J Essent Oil Res, 1989, 1:119-28.

11. Conner, D. & Beuchat, L.  Effects of essential oils from plants on growth of food spoilage yeasts.  J Food Sci, 1984, 49:429-34.

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