Oregano's aroma could be described as spicy, deep warm, and complex. Many could hardly imagine a pizza or spaghetti without it. It was once used primarily for medicinal rather than culinary reasons. The Greeks used it to stop convulsions and counteract poisonings from opium, black poppy and hemlock. Oregano is also known as "wild marjoram" and grows abundantly in Britain, Italy, Mexico and parts of South America.
This hardy perennial is a close relative to marjoram.
Most oreganos have flower spikes of tiny white or pink flowers above the leaves in midsummer. The leaves vary, but mainly they are on square stems, and are small, oval, opposite, toothed or smooth edges and range from 1/2 inch to 2" long. It spreads rapidly by underground runners. The flavor is spicy and pungent with an undertone of sweetness.
Oregano can be started from seeds sown in the spring. It thrives in sun or partial shade and well-drained porous soil with routine watering.
Different oreganos can vary immensely in the intensity of the aroma. It is highly suggested to buy locally so a leaf can be tested for its fragrance. Some oreganos can be very poor in fragrance and would not make a great contribution to a recipe. And also sometimes in garden shops, marjoram is labeled as oregano. Marjoram has an altogether different aroma and may not be acceptable in a recipe calling for oregano.
The oregano plant can also be divided and planted, or propagated by planting runners. This is recommended if the original plant is a good one as far as the desired aroma is concerned.
For bushy, thick foliage, prune the plant before it blooms. Because of its invasive nature, oregano is sometimes planted in tubs or large pots.
The leaves and shoots can be harvested any time, but should be cut for drying just before bloom when they are most flavorful. Oregano dries well hanging in bunches in a well-ventilated location. Store the leaves in glass jars.
Provide well-drained soil to prevent root rot. Treat spider mites and aphids with insecticidal soap.
Oregano is used in Italian, French, and Greek recipes, and as one of the seasonings in sausage. Mexican oregano is used in commercial chili powders other Latin American recipes.
Today it is medicinally used for colds and as an expectorant, and to aid digestion and expel parasites.
This is the commom variety. It is fast growing with dark leaves. Use to season fish, meats, salads, sauces, and stews.
Another very common variety, fast growing, with rounded green leaves. This is the oregano most used in Italian recipes such as pizzas and spaghetti.
This is a great type to grow in a limited space or where you want a lower growing plant. The foliage is dark green.
This plant is used more for landscaping rather than for its flavor, which is mild. The leaves are golden, so it can brighten up a dark area, yet it stays short, about 9 or 10 inches in height.
Coleus repens, it is also called borraja de indias, oregano, and Coleus amboinicus. Carribbean recipes call for this oregano, which is not actually a true oregano. It has large, fuzzy green to grey leaves, and gets fairly long and leggy.
This oregano is pungent and has a spicy flavor. This one can grow in lower light, or even indoors.
This oregano grows about 12 inches tall and has purple/green leaves. It is said to be tasty, but not quite as strong as Greek Oregano. It works well in the landscape also.
Hopley's Purple Pungent
Mostly used as an ornamental in the landscape, its reddish-purple leaves give make it unique.
Mexican (Lippia graveolens)
This is probably the better known of the "Mexican Oreganos" in this country. Actually a relative of Lemon Verbena, this grows to 3-5 feet.
Pasta with Blue Cheese Sauce
1 Tb blue cheese
2 Tb light cream cheese
1 Tb sherry
1 large onion
1 cup chopped tomato
2 cups pasta
2 tsp each parsley, basil & oregano
1/2 tsp each salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roast onion in oven for half an hour or until tender. Allow to cool. Peel and quarter. In blender, blend onion, blue cheese,cream cheese and sherry till very smooth. Cook pasta (gnocchi works well) in salted boiling water till done. Drain & toss with tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper. Stir in sauce and serve.
About the Author Laurel Morris is a master gardener and herbalist from coastal North Carolina, specializing in use and preservation of garden produce. She writes a bi-monthly herb gardening column for Suite101.com, an internet guide.