The subspecies of oregano Origanum vulgare hirtum is an important culinary herb. It is particularly widely used in Greek and Italian cuisines. It is the leaves that are used in cooking, and the dried herb is often more flavorful than the fresh.
Oregano is high in antioxidant activity, due to a high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids. Additionally, oregano has demonstrated antimicrobial activity against food-borne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes. Both of these characteristics may be useful in both health and food preservation. In the Philippines, oregano (coleus aromaticus) is not commonly used for cooking but is rather considered as a primarily medicinal plant, useful for relieving children's coughs.
Oregano is native to northern Europe, although it grows throughout many regions of the world. It has been recognized for its aromatic properties since ancient times, with the Greeks and Romans holding oregano as a symbol of joy and happiness. In fact, it was a tradition for Greek and Roman brides and grooms to be crowned with a laurel of oregano. Oregano has been cultivated in France since the Middle Ages and has come to be an important herb in Mediterranean cooking. Oregano was hardly known in the United States until the early 20th century when GI's returning from Italy brought word of this fragrant and delicious herb back to the United States.