Oregano is one of the most popular herbs in the cook's garden. Used fresh or dried, it adds plenty of flavor to all types of dishes from soups, sauces, and salads to meat and fish. It is fragrant, pretty to look at, and easy to grow. Plant it in an indoor or outdoor herb garden alongside other herbs like basil, rosemary, parsley, or thyme.
The leaves of the oregano plant are very small and have 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.
Oregano is a satisfying herb to grow 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 as a potted herb for an indoor windowsill garden, as well.
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. Cut aerial parts to encourage a bushy habit.
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 the 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.
Types of Oregano
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 them for cooking. They are often far less flavorful though they do look great in the garden.
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.
How to Dry Oregano
Fresh oregano dries very well and can be added to any dish year-round, just be sure to crush it between your hands first to make the pieces very fine. 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.
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) hanging for too long. They can become too dry, lose flavor, and collect a lot of dust.
Cooking With Fresh Oregano
Fresh 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. Here are more specific ways to use oregano in your cooking.
- Oregano is particularly useful in any tomato-based dish.
- It is perfect for seasoning pasta dishes and most foods that contain olive oil.
- 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.
- Add oregano to canned soups for a flavor boost during lunch or on one of those simple dinner nights.
What does oregano taste like?
Fresh oregano tastes bold and peppery.
What parts of the oregano plant are edible?
All parts are edible, but it's typical to eat the leaves of an oregano plant.
What are the garden benefits of oregano?
Oregano's strong scent can keep pests and deer away from vegetable gardens. It also attracts beneficial insects and pollinators, including lacewings, which in turn will eat pesky garden pests such as aphids and whiteflies.