Herb Profile: Oregano

Oregano with flower bloom

Fresh Oregano

Fresh Oregano

INTRODUCTION: If you mention spaghetti sauce or pizza the culinary mind turns to oregano as a logical companion. Another name for oregano is wild marjoram. Available as dried whole leaves.  The Mexican variety is most widely used in the West. Mexican oregano is most often employed as an ingredient in chili powder. Oregano is stronger and heavier in aroma and flavor than marjoram.

HISTORICAL FACTS: Throughout most of history, it was likely an herb used for its medicinal properties rather in the kitchen. Originally found in Europe and Central Asia. It’s name is said to originate from two Greek words, one that means mountain and the other meant joy, hence became known as “The delight of the mountains”. It was used by Swedish mountain peasants in their ale to give it a more intoxicating quality and prevent the ale from turning sour: Another historical fact is that it was rumored Oregon received its name from Spanish who discovered a small oregano-like aromatic herb growing near the states coast.It’s popularity in the US began in the 1940s.  US servicemen returning from Italy after World War II developed a fondness of the herb used to flavor pizza

HORTICULTURAL FACTS: Oregano is a perennial.  It grows to about 2- 2- ½ feet and is hardy to -30°F. The plant has branching soft hairy stems. The leaves are small, round and come to a blunt point at the tip and are very strong in flavor.  The plant, as it grows in wild in southern Italy, is a far more flavorful than the northern Italy variety. The reason for this difference is when the herb is grown in cold wet climates is not very peppery and has a green taste. Oregano, also known as wild marjoram, is closely related to sweet marjoram. Oregano is shrubby and tends to spread by invasive undergrowth stems.   Oregano is one of the 36 varieties that grow in the Mediterranean climates. It is naturalized in the northeastern United States, occasionally found around the sites of very old gardens or abandoned farms.

GROWING GUIDELINES: The herb grows in well-drained, good garden soil, where plants receive full sun.  It requires routine watering. It makes a good container plant but should be replaced about every three years when it becomes woody. Grow new plants from seeds or by dividing an established plant. Although it is not fussy, it prefers a sunny spot. Its insect repelling qualities make it an excellent companion plant in your vegetable garden. Oregano is a hardy plant needing a little maintenance.

FLOWERING FACTS: Small, purplish pink to white blossoms form at the end of the stems. The plant blooms from summer to autumn.

Oregano Culinary Uses

CULINARY FACTS: The Greek is the most popular oregano for cooking because of its strong flavor and aromatic leaves. Add it to Italian dishes, fish, shellfish, eggs, fresh and cooked tomato dishes, vegetables, beans, and marinades, tomato juice, pizzas and other pastas, spaghetti, macaroni, and noodles. It also enhances lamb, beef, soups, cheese, zucchini and salads. Oregano is an herb particularly important and Italian cooking. If you are looking for the dried form of the herb always buy the Italian version. It is used extensively in Mexican chili powders and is a part of the flavoring of chili beans. Oregano is used in many strongly flavored dishes. Use them fresh or dried in the same food you would use marjoram or thyme.  Italian, Greek, and Mexican cooks often use it liberally in spaghetti sauce, grilled meats, and hearty stews. Oregano’s potent flavor can easily overpower the flavor of other foods so it’s best to use it sparingly at first.  Oregano is almost always use in cooked dishes, as it has a somewhat biting quality when used fresh.

HARVESTING TIPS: As soon as the flowers appear the stems maybe cut to dry in small bunches. The leaves may be used fresh all summer. Like sweet margarine, the flower should be kept cutback to encourage bushiness and thick foliage.

FLAVOR: Pungent, peppery leaves have a sharper flavor than sweet marjoram and taste a little like thyme

HOME GARDEN: Indoors/outdoors

Oregano Medicinal uses

MEDICINAL FACTS: A brewed tea of oregano was considered useful as a mild digestive stimulator and used to relieve gas.  Oregano contains anti-oxidant ingredients that minimize the destructive effects of free radicals.  Oregano will sooth bee stings and spider bites due to its ability to relieve local pain. Oregano has antibiotic properties with an ability to kill bacteria. It also inhibits the growth of yeasts and has anti-fungal properties.  As with any herb consult your healthcare provider before using.  Don’t use oregano if you are nursing or pregnant.

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