Possibly one of the most recognized herbs in the cook's garden, oregano is easy to grow and adds plenty of taste to food. It fantastic when cut fresh from the plant and can easily be dried for long-term storage.
Details About the Oregano Plant
The leaves of the oregano plant are very small and a dark green color. It is a perennial in many zones and the stems can become woody over the years. Oregano produces tiny white, pink, or purple flowers which are very attractive to pollinating bees.
There are many varieties of oregano that you can plant in your garden.
- Common oregano like you often find in the grocery store is also called 'Greek' oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum, formerly known as Oregano heracleoticum). It should be noted that some people also call sweet marjoram 'Greek oregano.'
- Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) is technically not oregano though it's often used like oregano. It has a pepper-like flavor.
- What is known as 'Italian' oregano (Origanum x majoricum) is actually a hybrid of oregano and marjoram, which gives it a sweeter flavor.
Be wary of fancy, ornamental oregano plants if you intend to use it for cooking. They are often far less flavorful though they do look great in the garden.
- Latin Name: Origanum vulgare
- Common Name: oregano, pizza herb
- USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-10
- Exposure: Full sun and well-drained soil. Oregano will do well in partial shade.
Growing and Harvesting Oregano
Oregano is an aggressive plant that likes to spread and a bush of oregano can grow quite large if you allow it. The stems can also grow up to 2 feet high and will often lay down on the ground, particularly when the plant is young or in the shade. For these two reasons, it is best to give your oregano plants plenty of room in the garden.
Oregano is a satisfying herb for any gardener. It is easy to grow and care for, as long as it does not remain wet for too long. Oregano grows very well in partial sun, making it a good choice for an indoor garden as well.
- Cut aerial parts to encourage a bushy habit.
- Oregano dries very well and remains flavorful.
- It is an excellent potted herb for a windowsill garden.
If your oregano begins to get too big, you can divide the plant. Do this by carefully digging around the root ball and separating a portion of roots and stems from the main plant. Take care not to disturb the plant too much and work gently. Give the older plant fresh soil and plenty of water so it revives.
Plant the 'new' oregano plant in a pot and place it in full sun. After you've seen a nice amount of new growth, it can be transplanted in the garden.
How to Dry Oregano
Oregano is one of the best herbs to dry and enjoy year-round in your favorite foods. There are two methods to drying it and which you choose will depend on the amount of space you have and how much oregano you harvest.
In either case, store the dried oregano in an airtight container and enjoy it throughout the winter season. If you have too much, it makes a great gift. Dried oregano in a sealed container will stay flavorful well into the next growing season.
Flat Drying: Strip the oregano leaves from the stem and lay them out on a paper towel. Place this tray out of direct sunlight until the leaves are dry. This method is good for small harvests.
Hang to Dry: Cut long sprigs of oregano and group them into bundles. Tie a rubber band around the end and use it to hang the bunch on a nail or herb drying rack until dry. Once dry, simply strip the leaves from the stem over a large bowl, crush the leaves until they are even in size, and remove any stems.
Hanging is a space saver and a perfect way to dry a large oregano harvest. Depending on the weather, it should take less than two weeks. Don't leave your oregano (or any herbs) hang for too long. They can become too dry, lose flavor, and collect a lot of dust.
Using Oregano in Food
Oregano is a well-loved cooking herb. It is used in Italian cooking and known by most children as "the pizza herb." It also makes an appearance in many Mexican and Spanish dishes and can be used to add flavor to almost any food.
- Oregano is particularly useful in any tomato-based dish.
- It is perfect for seasoning pasta dishes and most foods that contain olive oil.
- Pair oregano with basil, garlic, onion, or thyme.
- Whole sprigs of oregano and rosemary can be placed in steamer water for seafood along with a few large leaves of basil. It gives shrimp a lovely herbal flavor.
- You can even add oregano to canned soups for a little extra flavor during lunch or on one of those lazy dinner nights.
Fresh sprigs of oregano can be cut from the plant to prep for any meal. Rinse the sprig, pat it dry, then strip the leaves from the stem. Chop the leaves finely before adding them to the dish.
Dried oregano can be added to any dish as well. Be sure to crush it between your hands first to make the pieces very fine.