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Kills bacteria, loosens phlegm, relieves coughs and colic

Ever wondered why tomato, oregano and mozzarella pizzas are called Margherita? It's the name of a nineteenth century Italian king's wife who enjoyed pizza, instantly raising the dish's status from peasant food to the national dish. The red, green and white ingredients assembled resemble the Italian flag, an invention of a patriotic baker from Naples.

Oregano is the essential herb of Italian cuisine, and is great either fresh or dried. It's also widely used throughout the Mediterranean, from Madrid to Cannes to Athens, combining particularly well with basil, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and parsley. The soil conditions that the herb is grown in have a tremendous impact on its pungency, perhaps even more than the variety. However, if possible choose Italian flowering oregano. Failing that, any variety grown in a rocky and sunny mountain climate will be most pungent. Mexican oregano isn't the same species, but a relative of lemon verbena. However, it does have a similar taste that combines well with chilies, garlic, cumin and paprika.

When selecting oregano, chew a little of the fresh or dried herb and feel if your tongue goes numb. If it does — bag it and buy it.

Putting the herb to work

To soothe colic, make a tea, leave to cool, then strain the herb to leave a clear liquid. Feed the baby a little at a time. Try the same preparation for to relieve coughs in adults. Additionally, prevent or relieve a heavy chest by eating lots of oregano at key times. Hayfever sufferers may find some relief by sprinkling the dried herb on salads, whilst eating oregano in winter dishes can help loosen phlegm during the long months of the common cold.

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