Oregano, Origanum vulgare, is one of the easiest of herbs to grow. A relative of the somewhat more sensitive and milder herb, marjoram, oregano is contrastingly adaptable to a wide range of soil types and temperature zones and is virtually disease and pest free. You may easily grow oregano from seed, but it can also quickly sprout from cuttings of existing plants. Oregano also reseeds generously. After all, it is within the mint family and anyone who has grown mint of any form knows just how healthy and prolific it can be!
One thing I did not realize about oregano prior to growing it myself is that it spreads similar to a groundcover or vine, and can be quite beautiful as it gracefully drapes over the sides of containers. The herb typically blooms with purple, sometimes white, clusters of tiny flowers in mid-summer, which if left to do so, makes an even more stunning cascading plant when sown in baskets or urns.
Oregano originates from the temperate areas of the Mediterranean and thus, does well as an evergreen to semi-evergreen in Zones 7 and southward. Areas to the north of Zone 7 should protect the perennial herb with heavy mulch or cover, or bring indoors, during the harshest of winter weather. The herb should be planted in a sunny location, however it will benefit from brief afternoon shade in Zone 8 and southward. As mentioned above, oregano tolerates acidic or alkaline soil as long as it is well drained. It is a bit more drought tolerant than most herbs and thus, root rot can afflict the plant if it receives too much moisture. And, as with many drought-tolerant plants, spider mites can take hold in the heat of summer. A light spray of organic horticultural oil applied when pests are first noticed can safely eliminate mites and other potential pests – but remember to spray in early evening when plants are in the shade or you’ll literally cook your oregano!
You may clip oregano at any time during the growing process but it is thought the herb is most pungent just prior to blooming in mid-summer. An essential in Italian and Greek cuisine, oregano can lose its robust flavor when cooking if used fresh. Therefore it is best to add fresh leaves to your dish toward the end of the cooking process or simply use dried oregano instead. Drying the herb enhances its aroma and flavor. This can be done several ways: tie clipped oregano in a small bouquet and hang upside down in a dark, dry room; single layer stems in a food dehydrator; or, place stems on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven on the lowest temperature until the leaves are dried. Remove leaves and discard stems. Store the dried, crumbled oregano leaves in an airtight glass or plastic container for use within six months.
In closing, I hope you consider growing an herb garden this season and include oregano in the mix to add flavor to your tomato, egg, cheese and garlic dishes. Once you begin growing oregano, you may have an abundance of this lovely “pizza herb” (as called by the WWII soldiers returning from Italy) for life!
Until next time,