Oregano: The Quintessential Ancient Greek Herb



Greek oregano being pollinated by bees. Wikimedia Commons. Photo credit: Roula30

Ancient Greeks knew a thing or two when it came to herbs. One that they simply could not do without is oregano. They cherished the ancient herb for its vast range of medicinal, superstitious and culinary attributes thousands of years ago — and Greeks are still using oregano today for many of the same benefits. Let’s look at why oregano is the quintessentially ancient Greek herb.

How it all got started…

The ancient headless statue of Aphrodite. File photo

Back in ancient Greece oregano was thought to bring good luck and good health, but it also symbolized joy. This herb is known as the “brilliant joy of the mountain” and is still just as prominent in Greek cuisine and life as it was in ancient times.

In case you’re wondering just how “Greek” oregano is… the word itself even comes from two Greek words: “oros” (mountain) and “ganos” (brilliance of joy).

The story goes that oregano is the creation of none other than Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Apparently, the Greek goddess created and grew the ancient herb high in her mountain-top garden on Mount Olympus, and made it a symbol of happiness and joy for everyone throughout the ancient lands.

In a beautiful acknowledgment of this ancient belief, even crowns worn by couples getting married were, and sometimes still are, made from the joyful herb!

Superstitions about oregano in ancient times and today

Greek herbs at market. File photo

In ancient times, Greeks would plant oregano around their homes in hopes of warding off evil spirits. It is even believed that ancient Greeks would wear a wreath of oregano on their head during sleep to encourage psychic dreams!

Nowadays, people in Greece still consciously or unconsciously follow many of the ancient beliefs when it comes to oregano. For example, Greeks still plant Oregano in pots and in their gardens to help ward off evil spirits and negative energy.

Also, some still believe that oregano is a purifying herb, and if you put some under your pillow, it will ensure that you have sweet dreams.

Hippocrates and the surprising medicinal benefits of oregano

Hippocrates, doctor of ancient Greece. File photo

This ancient and august herb was also considered a source of great healing to the ancient Greeks. Afterall, it was Hippocrates who said “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.” Hippocrates even applied oregano oil to treat skin infections from psoriasis and cuts, and he used it to cure stomachaches.

Oregano was often steeped in hot water to create tea. With the addition of some honey, this was ancient Greeks’ cure for coughs, colds, and asthma. Made into a juice-like substance which was much more potent than tea, it was even used to cure tonsillitis.

Now we know that Hippocrates was actually spot-on. Nowadays, scientists have discovered that oregano oil has antibiotic and antioxidant properties. Greek oregano is thought to be one of the healthiest and best of the oregano varieties in the entire world.

This is because Greek oregano has high concentrations of carvacrol and thymol — which have powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. These substances can even help lower blood pressure!

Last but not least, oregano and Greek food

Traditional Greek salad. File photo.

Of course, oregano plays a major role in Greek cuisine today, just as it did in ancient times. It finds its way into many Greek dishes, from the most basic traditional horiatiki (Greek salad) to topping fish dishes.

Thanks to the ancient Romans, oregano made its way out of Greece and is now a flavorful and healthy addition to cuisines around the world.