It’s za’atar season in the Middle East and though we don’t really need it, there’s another reason to love this versatile spice: it could be useful as an alternative to antibiotics. Both a perennial herb and a spice mixed with other ingredients, za’atar livens up a host of dishes throughout the Gulf, Levant and Mediterranean.
Now a small handful of farmers in the United States are feeding their poultry and livestock an oregano oil mixture in lieu of increasingly ineffective antibiotics, The New York Times reports. And they insist it keeps the animals disease free. Though the numbers are compelling, scientists caution there is insufficient data to substantiate their claims.
In corporations we foolishly trust
Long before pharmaceutical companies got their start, human beings relied on the fruits of nature to stay healthy. We used to know the properties of every shrub and berry in the woods, we knew what to eat and what to leave, and we passed on what we knew to our communities.
But then we stopped trusting anything that isn’t backed by an arsenal of scientists and convinced ourselves that corporations would put our health before their capital gain.
Certainly mortality rates are typically lower now than they were in centuries past, but we’re beginning to understand that perhaps our ancestors, who treated a host of medical conditions without laboratories stocked with beakers and test tubes, might have been on to something.
The recent rise of superbugs resistant to antibiotics is beginning to worry both scientists and farmers, who are now reverting to natural remedies like By-O-Reg to raise healthy animals.
Comprised of oregano oil and a touch of cinnamon, this concoction is used to feed the chickens at Bell & Evans near Harrisburg. For the last three years, owner Scott Sechler has substituted antibiotics with this Dutch-made product renowned for its antiseptic qualities, and claims to be raking in the dough as a result of supplying a revived consumer demand for healthy, pure food.
“I have worried a bit about how I’m going to sound talking about this,” Sechler told the NYT. “But I really do think we’re on to something here.”
The science of the matter
While Scott Gavura, a pharmacist in Toronto who writes for the Web site Science-Based Medicine, refutes these claims for their lack of scientific basis, other research combined with empirical evidence seems to back them up.
In 2000 scientists reported that a handful of human beings who tested positive for enteric parasites were cured with a six week long treatment that consisted of regular doses of oregano oil.
The European Union has banned the use of antibiotics used as a catalyst for faster growth and are considering banning their use for medical applications as well.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a joint statement with various advocacy groups that recommends “limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals” and “supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals only for those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health,” the New York Times reports.
Of course oregano oil is no miracle cure since its medicinal application is most effective when combined with good hygiene and nutrition. But here’s our take home message: go forth, eat za’atar and be healthy.
Image of fresh za’atar, Shutterstock