Helpful Herbs: Oregano

Oregano has been a popular culinary herb for centuries, and is one of the herbs I started to grow.  Oregano is fairly easy to grow and can be cultivated in a container for a kitchen gardener.  Not only will it add depth and flavor to many recipes, but it also will help your heath in a variety of ways.

Oregano and a clipping thriving in a container.
Oregano and a division of it thriving in a container.

Oregano grows as a perennial in some zones, but as far North as Maine it should be brought indoors or planted in a greenhouse in order to over winter.  There are several varieties of oregano, the Mediterranean version being the most common in cooking.  Ornamental versions are still eatable, but not as flavorful.  Wild Marjoram is the most common type of oregano in American gardens, and has a slightly sweeter flavor than traditional Greek oregano.

Whichever type of oregano you choose to grow, they will be happiest planted in full sun with well drained soil.  Plants can be grown from seed or started from divisions of the original plant.  A bushy plant, oregano will bolt to seed if you do not keep the flowers pinched off as it grows.  While it does need regular watering, too much fertilization will cause it to lose its flavor.

Grown in a container, oregano will flourish if kept pinched back and given full sun.  It’s a perfect kitchen garden plant, and can thrive on a window sill where you have easy access to its freshest leaves.

Oregano can be harvested fresh by clipping the woody stem and then removing the leaves.  After clipping you can hang or set the stems on a screen to dry, or use fresh.  Within 2-3 weeks the leaves will fall off easily and can be stored in an airtight jar in a dark place until you are ready to use it.

Oregano growing.
Oregano growing.

A common ingredient in many recipes, oregano adds a piney, deep flavor to many dishes.  You can use fresh or dried leaves to add depth to chicken, beans, burgers, and many other foods.  It can also be used to make a savory pesto or flavored butter.

Most commonly used for its flavoring, adding oregano to your recipes will also help your health.  Oregano is said to help ease intestinal and menstrual cramps and is an excellent source of many antioxidants.  Studies have shown that some of the components in oregano will help to slow down the progress of cancer.  The topical application of a bruised oregano leaf will relieve several skin conditions including acne and dandruff.

Oregano’s name comes from the Greek for “mountain joy” and in ancient folklore it was said to banish sadness and comfort the dead when it grew on their graves.  Once used in love potions, dried oregano mixed with honey was also a common farm aid for milking animals.  Fed to cows, goats, and sheep it was said to sweeten their milk, which may be the origin of the name of Sweet Marjoram.

A healthy, flavorful addition to any diet, oregano is easy to grow and perfect for a kitchen container garden.  Its aroma will add to your cooking experience and the easy to grow herb makes a great addition to any garden.


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