Cold Comfort
By John Austen

You're waiting for the bus, walking down an icy street, riding a ski lift, or simply getting a little fresh air and you're bundled in your thickest wool coat and hat, but you still feel chilly. When temperatures plummet, your body tries to preserve its core temperature by taking heat away from extremities and to vital organs. But this doesn't help you to keep your head and feet warm!

Cold temperatures don't have to get the best of you or make you susceptible to viruses. Herbs can help stoke your internal flame. You may have heard about cayenne, cinnamon and other spices that help warm the body and increase circulation, but Italian herbs such as oregano and basil are also very effective.

Mama mia! Many clinical studies have shown that oregano is much more than an ingredient in your mother's marinara sauce. True to its Italian roots, oregano oil helps heat things up — you simply have to take a drop under your tongue to feel the intense warmth! Oil of oregano, a concentrated extract of the fresh herb, also acts as an effective immune system builder. As you know, the immune system is your first line of defense against illness including viruses.

Look to the past for proof. Throughout the ages, oil of oregano has been used for a range of medicinal purposes and its origins can be traced as far back as Babylonia , in 3000 BC. In Greek, oreganos means "delight of the mountains" and the Greeks considered oregano as the premier medicinal plant. Oregano is one of over 250 species of mint and has been found to be the most potent of all of these flavourful disease fighters. In fact, Polish researchers who tested 70 varieties of plants including those in the mint family found wild oil of oregano to have the most significant immune boosting properties, and it may be one of the most powerful antiviral and antibiotic remedies available.

Escape the flu and cold season. Coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, sinus infection, pain… Since cold viruses generally thrive in colder temperatures, many of us in the Great White North experience them every winter. Daily doses of oregano oil will help keep you warm and your immune system strong enough to fight off most cold and flu viruses, even when you're exposed to harsh weather. Should one manage to catch hold, conduct a full attack by getting lots of sleep, reducing your stress level, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and taking oregano oil to stop it in its tracks. Place two to four drops under the tongue, three times daily. (It may be diluted with water or juice if necessary).

Oregano oil is also a very effective antibacterial. This means that if your flu lingers, and you end up catching a secondary bacterial infection (such as bronchitis) because of your weakened immune system, you can kill the bacteria by adding a couple of drops of wild oregano oil to steaming water and gently breathing in the vapour.

Traveling for the holidays? Public transportation can be hazardous to your health during flu season. The closed environment and re-circulated air provide ideal conditions for flu — just what you don't want when you're taking a vacation. So pack oregano oil with you on the plane, train or bus, and even take it while waiting in terminals.

The Big O. The leaves of wild oregano, grown where it originated in the Mediterranean , contain hundreds of oil glands rich in a variety of natural compounds. Carvacrol, a powerful antioxidant, is the largest component of oregano oil, and mostly responsible for its illness fighting properties, in conjunction with more than 50 other chemicals found in the oil (antioxidants rosmarinic acid and thymol are two others). Wild oregano plants are harvested in June and July, left to dry for a couple of days, and then oil is obtained from the dried leaves and flowers by steam extraction. It takes 1,000 kilograms of the herb to produce only 15 to 30 kilograms of the essential oil. The oil is then blended with organic extra virgin olive oil in the ratio of 40 percent oregano (containing not less than 80 percent carvacrol) and 60 percent olive oil. Pure oil of oregano is far too potent and harsh to consume orally, and can cause burning of the skin.

Next time you add oregano to your pasta, dressings or meat dishes, you'll be doing more than spicing up dinner. Oregano promises to be a healing addition to any winter meal. Add two drops of concentrated oil to enhance the flavour, but do this just before serving so it is not heated, similar to any beneficial oil. (What you find on the grocery store spice shelf is often Spanish marjoram and does not share the true wild oregano's therapeutic qualities.)

Herbs offer a wonderfully natural way to heal the body, and essential oils including oregano are calming to the nervous system and relieve stress in addition to having potent properties to help fight the all too common cold.