How Oregano Can Help Fight Global Warming
Culinary Herb Reduces Cow Belches and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Can a simple herb help fight global warming? The aromatic herb oregano, a staple in most modern kitchens, commonly meets our taste buds mixed with tomato sauce as a topping on pizza. This versatile plant’s virtues, however, extend beyond the kitchen into human and animal medicine. In 400 B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic and an aid to digestion.
Flash forward to today where oregano has emerged as a promising digestive aid for cattle. If you think this is not a major issue, consider the numbers. According to a UN report, livestock worldwide release 80 million metric tonnes of methane into the atmosphere. In the United States each year, 100 million cattle release 5.5 million metric tonnes of methane into the atmosphere — a significant 20 percent of U.S. methane emissions.
It is important to understand that methane, or CH4, is a greenhouse gas 23 times more efficient at trapping heat than the more common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). To compare them, the amount of methane must be multiplied by 23 times to give an equivalent amount of the CO2 heat trapping capacity. Consequently the 5.5 million metric tonnes of methane emitted by U.S. cattle equal nearly 127 million metric tonnes of CO2.
Livestock worldwide release 80 million metric tonnes of methane into the atmosphere.
Contrary to what you may imagine, most of the methane cattle generate during digestion is exhaled or belched rather than released through flatulence. An average cow in North America releases (100 kg) 220 lbs. of methane every year or about 2,300 kg (5,070 lbs.) of equivalent carbon dioxide. This is about half of the yearly CO2 emissions of the average car.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Cattle vs. Automobiles
There is an additional problem with methane, which makes controlling agricultural emissions even more critical. Methane is a major source of ozone (O3), a powerful greenhouse gas and a toxic air pollutant causing billions of dollars of crop damage and thousands of human deaths from respiratory diseases. A cut to methane production will significantly reduce both global warming and air pollution.
Using Oregano to Reduce Farm Animal Methane EmissionsWith so much at stake, agricultural researchers have focused efforts on methane reduction through experimental cattle feeds. Scientists have tried such dietary additives as garlic, cinnamon, and antibiotics—all of which decreased methane production to some degree. Then in 2010, a research team led by Dr. Alexander Hristov, professor of dairy nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, achieved promising results. By adding a pound of oregano to the cow’s daily feed, Dr. Hristov’s team found that methane emissions decreased by 40 percent. As an extra, the oregano increased milk production by approximately 4 percent. In a second trial, oregano cut methane emissions by 27 percent, and milk output increased by 4 percent.
Building on the work of Dr. Hristov’s team, a new 4-year study is underway in Denmark to determine whether organic Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp hirtum) added to cattle feed can reduce ruminant methane gas emissions. Greek oregano was selected for its antimicrobial properties and its high content of essential oils. According to Kai Grevsen, senior researcher at the Dept. of Food Science at Aarhus University, the goal is to use oregano to reduce methane emissions from dairy cows by up to 25 percent.
Oregano’s Powerful Benefits
Assuming farms in the U.S. and Canada could reduce their six million metric tonnes of cattle-produced methane by 33 percent, it would be equivalent to removing 47 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year— the CO2 output from approximately 10 million passenger cars. With decreased methane comes the added bonus of less ozone air pollution and improved air quality.
So the next time you bite into a slice of pizza, think about the benefits of the humble herb, oregano. The delicious seasoning on your pizza may lead to happier cows, cleaner air and a cooler world.