Oregano - can it lower blood pressure?

Oregano has hit the headlines as a possible cure for high blood pressure, and it’s being recommended that you substitute it for salt in cooking. But before you rush out to buy some, there are a few things you might be interested to know.

The research that this claim is based on was actually carried out on carvacrol, one of the aromatic molecules that makes up the distinctive smell of oregano. Carvacrol is present in many of the herbs we use both in cooking and in medicine, including thyme, caraway, savory and peppermint, together with a complicated range of other aromatics. The action of the whole herb will be less powerful, but also safer; when a single constituent of a plant is isolated in this way, the way it works is not the same as when you eat a whole herb.

And the research was carried out not on humans, but on rats. Whatever you feel about the ethics of this, it does mean that you have to be cautious about applying the results to humans. What works on non-consenting animals in lab conditions may turn out to be very different when it is used by people in the real world.

Having said all that, yes, oregano and its relatives can be very useful in lowering blood pressure, among other problems. All aromatic oils will boost circulation, improve digestion and relieve spasm. They are all, to a greater or lesser degree, anti-inflammatory and anti-infective. If you add them to food, they will help preserve it and make it more digestible, as well as enhancing the flavour, so you can indeed use less salt if you use herbs and spices.

However, don’t expect your blood pressure to come down much if you simply add some oregano to your cooking. There may be a host of other factors involved, and there are plenty of other herbs that could be much more effective for you. But it won’t do any harm, and it will help.

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