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Some people swear by this natural remedy for cold and flu—but does it work? And is it safe? We asked doctors to weigh in.

Kristin Canning
February 14, 2017

When you’re battling a cold or the flu, anything that has the potential to ease your misery seems worth a shot. That's why many sniffly people turn to oregano oil, even though the stuff does not go down easy.

Oregano oil is extracted from the oregano herb, and it’s been recommended as a treatment for everything from yeast infections to congestion and sore throats. Now that we're smack in the middle of cold and flu season, the oil has been popping up on social media—and the reviews are, well, a little scary.

Still some swear the burn is worth it. As one satisfied user recently tweeted, "The antibiotic power of oregano oil always astounds me! My cold is cured :)"

But does oregano oil really provide any benefits? And more importantly, is it safe? We talked with doctors to get their medical opinion on the remedy.

"There’s not a lot of evidence that it works," says Navya Mysore, MD, a primary care physician with One Medical in New York City. "At least not enough for me to advise people to take something."

Aileen Marty, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University, echoes her concern: “There’s no data yet to indicate that it directly helps colds or flu,” she says.

That said, there are studies that suggest oregano has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. According to Dr. Marty, some poultry farmers use oregano oil instead of antibiotics to keep their chickens healthy; and the beef industry uses the herb to prolong the shelf life of steaks.

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“The bottom line is that oregano is a great antioxidant with powerful effects on many microbes,” says Dr. Marty. “And though there isn’t evidence to show that it treats viruses—like colds and flu—it might help someone with a cold or flu from getting a secondary bacterial infection.”

Keep in mind though that natural remedies can still cause side effects, says Dr. Mysore: “Since [oregano oil has] been studied so little, it’s hard to know what those might be."

Judy Fulop, ND, a naturopathic practitioner at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, warns that oregano oil could interact with other medications, especially anti-coagulants or anti-diabetic drugs. It may also be unsafe for pregnant women, and those who have certain conditions or allergies.

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If you’re looking for natural remedies for your cold symptoms, there are plenty of other options that are actually backed up by research, Dr. Mysore points out. She recommends rubbing eucalyptus balm on your chest to help clear congestion; or using a diffuser with a few drop of eucalyptus or lavender essential oil. Ginger, chamomile, or turmeric tea may help soothe your sore throat. You might also try eating a small piece of raw garlic daily when you have a cold. “It’s not great for your breath, but it can help with symptoms by opening up the passageways, and helping to clear mucus,” she says.

If you think you have the flu, however, it's worth calling your doc, Dr. Mysore says: “If you have a fever and feel really sick, I don’t advise an at-home remedy. I would suggest you come in to see a doctor and get assessed."