A lady called Janet has asked me about "natural" antibacterials now the sneezing season is in full swing.

One of my favourites is oregano, the herb more commonly known as an aromatic flavouring for Mediterranean dishes. Through the ages it has been found in German sausages, English herbal snuffs, even French soaps and pomades.

Before the discovery of hops, beer was flavoured with oregano and, as it effectively prevents the growth of microbes, it was used as a natural preservative.

Oregano grows wild in the Greek mountains and legend has it the goddess Aphrodite created its fragrance for the peace and wellbeing of mankind. Maybe every household should have some.

The ancient Greeks used it internally and externally for a variety of conditions. Poultices were made from the leaves to treat sores and aching muscles and it was a popular antidote to the poison from snakes and scorpions.

In Europe, oregano has been found useful to treat respiratory problems such as coughs, bronchitis and sinusitis. A powerful expectorant, it helps break up mucus in the respiratory tract.

The health benefits of oregano are mainly due to the highly active compounds of its essential oil. The most important ingredients in the oil are carvacrol and thymol which have potent antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

Research has confirmed that oregano oil can eliminate candida albicans, e.coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, influenza and some pneumonia-

causing bugs.

Oregano prevents a variety of conditions because it effectively supports the body's respiratory, immune and digestive systems. The herb is particularly effective for sinus infections which are often due to an underlying fungal problem.

Although modern antibiotics work quickly and effectively, if used on a recurring basis, they inevitably cause bacterial imbalance which may trigger further fungal overgrowth and make the situation worse in the long run.

Oregano not only disarms bacteria but controls yeast in the gut. Reports also suggest oregano helps soothe the muscle lining of the digestive tract, thereby easing flatulence and other digestive complaints.

In order to settle the stomach or soothe a cough, you can make a spicy tea by steeping one to two teaspoons of dried oregano in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes.

There are a number of companies selling oregano supplements. Some are blended with differing amounts of olive oil so it is worth seeking advice about the contents before buying.

The correct dosage should be taken, tailored to the individual person and complaint.

Pregnant women can safely use the herb as a seasoning but should avoid consuming large amounts of a supplement as it may promote menstruation.

The name oregano is derived from the Greek and means "joy of the mountains".

It deserves more credit than for being known merely as a culinary spice.

When cooking or baking with oregano, remember to add it in the last few minutes because it can taste bitter if overcooked and loses its valuable antibacterial qualities.

food for thought by Martina Watts Martina is a qualified
nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina_watts@compuserve.com