Herbs: Cuban Oregano: Culinary, Medicinal Uses and Nutrition
This perennial herb, known as Cuban oregano or Spanish thyme, has a similar taste and aroma to its namesakes, but is related to neither and is actually a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. This herb has culinary uses, predominantly, in the cuisines of Cuba, India and the Philippines. The Leaves of Cuban oregano are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and are traditionally used in the ancient Ayurvedic medicine of India.
As with many plants, the botanical name of this herb plectranthus amboinicus gives us an indication as to its place of identification. In this case amboinicus refers to Ambon, a mountainous, fertile island located in the Maluku Islands near Indonesia. From there the plants propagation spread throughout the East Indies, Africa, and was eventually naturalized in Latin America by the Spanish, who named this herb 'oregano de la Hoja Ancha‘. Cuban oregano can still be found growing wild in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, and because it is easy to grow, and can survive considerable neglect, it is a popular house plant found worldwide.
Cuban oregano is one of 350 plant species, of the Plectranthus genus, mostly grown as ornamental house plants. This herb has velvety textured leaves and small lavender flowers in spring and summer. Varieties to look out for; for the herb or kitchen garden include; Marble, Golden Ruffles, Silver Shield, Well-Sweep Wedgewood, and also attractive variegated types.
Culinary Uses: In India, Cuban oregano is known as Indian borage and because of its strong aromatic flavor is often used in fish curries and mutton dishes. Because the taste of this herb is considered similar to oregano; thyme, sage or the spice ajowan or ajowan caraway, it is interchangeable with those herbs. In fact, some store bought brands of ground oregano (Origanum vulgare) or spice blends might also contain Cuban oregano; look for “oregano flavored” as a clue.
In the West Indies this herb is dried and added to some jerk seasoning blends, and in Cuba it is added to black beans or frijoles negros, and also salsa’s. In Japan the leaves are prepared and cooked like spinach.
Medicinal Uses: In Singapore and China this herb is called dao shou xiang, which roughly translates as “makes the hands fragrant”. It is grown as a potherb and primarily valued for its benefits as an ingredient in medicinal tea. Plectranthus amboinicus is thought to help soothe digestion, relax spasms, and it has antibiotic, expectorant and laxative effects. The leaf juice is mixed with sugar and given to children for coughs. In Venezuela this herb is taken to expel kidney stones, and in Curacao and Aruba it’s taken to relieve headaches.
More and more studies are finding out the medicinal uses of oregano. This includes using the herb in cooking and on foods, but also oregano oil. Oregano oil has been found to have the following medicinal uses
- Antibacterial Properties: Oregano has thymol and carvacrol, which has great antibacterial and immune building properties.
- Aids Digestion: Considering the small size of the herb itself, oregano is packed with a high fiber count. Fiber is great for aiding in digestion.
- Heart Health: Oregano is also high in omega 3, which is great for heart health.
- Detoxifies the Body: Oregano is also great for detoxifying the body of toxins.
- Speeds Healing: This wonderful herb can also help improve healing. Oregano increases white blood cell and stimulates the metabolism, which can help speed healing.
- Improves Bone Health: Oregano has a good amount of calcium, iron, and manganese, which are very important for the health of our bones.
- Increases Energy Levels: Oregano also includes a good amount of vitamin B vitamins. All of the various vitamin B’s are very important for energy and mental health.
- Antifugal: Oregano is also very important in the treatment of Candida albicans overgrowth. A 2001 study at Georgetown University Medical Center found that oregano oil was able to completely inhibit the growth of Candida albicans. Other studies have found that oregano oil can also inhibit and cure toe nail fungus.
One closely related species called Plectranthus tomentosa is also called the Vicks salve plant because when the leaves are crushed they emit a strong camphor-like aroma.
Nutrition: Cuban oregano or Plectranthus amboinicus is a source of vitamin's C, A and E; also minerals and phosphates. This herb is also known as Mexican mint, Mexican thyme, oregano brujo and broad leaf thyme.
- Plants of the Plectranthus genus contain a diterpene called forskolin. Forskolin, (primarily from the herb Indian coleus) has been developed into a drug which combined with the drug rolipram is used to treat heart disease, colon cancer and glaucoma. In recent years forskolin has also been touted as a weight loss aid.
- Other compounds identified in the herb have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects that may be useful in the development of treatments for inflammatory diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.
- Cuban oregano leaves also contains volatile oils which have two compounds of particular interest called thymol and carvacrol. Both natural compounds have antibacterial and antifungal properties, and were ingredients originally used in the mouthwash Listerine and also Gold Bond Powder.
Best ways to take oregano
There are many ways to take oregano for heath benefits. You can cook with it and add it to any meal as an herb. Oregano can also be taken as an oil added in soups, or just added to water as a liquid tincture. Just add two or three drops into a glass of water and drink it. There are also oregano capsules you can now buy.
The only medical dangers with taking oregano, is it could inhibit the ability to absorb iron. If you have anemia, make sure to consult a doctor or your nutritionists before using oregano or any herbal products