Oregano is a culinary work horse popular in Greek, Italian and Mexican cuisine. Mexican oregano is not from the same botanical family as the Greek and Italian varieties, however. It is stronger in flavour and is not an ideal substitute for the other types in recipes.
Some types of oregano are more prized for their ornamental qualities than for their culinary appeal. ‘Kent Beauty’ is one notable non-culinary variety worth inviting into your garden. This show stopper is grown primarily for its gorgeous hop-like flowers and eye-catching trailing foliage.
Growing tips and facts
Greek and Italian oregano are part of the mint family, along with basil, rosemary, thyme and many other popular culinary herbs. Like its siblings, these perennial varieties prefer full sun, with some afternoon shade in hot climates. Plants will perform best in well-drained soil.
In warm climates, oregano is evergreen. In colder areas, the plants will need some protection in the form of mulch or cold frames to survive the winter. Oregano grown in portable containers can be brought indoors for fresh flavour all year long.
Tips for using and preserving oregano
Oregano is one of the most popular culinary herbs for a reason. It is hard to imagine many classic Italian dishes, especially those featuring succulent tomato sauces, without its distinctive flavour.
There are a lot of ways to use fresh oregano, as well. It is delicious in baked breads or in herb butter. You can also sprinkle the leaves over mixed salad greens or add them to homemade vinaigrettes or marinades. Crush the leaves with your fingers a bit first to release more flavour.
Fresh oregano doesn’t stand up well to heat, so add it in the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking. Use dried oregano in tomato sauces, soups or stews that require longer cooking times. Keep in mind, however, that oregano is one of the few herbs that is stronger when dried than fresh, so adjust the amount you use accordingly.
Oregano can be frozen alone or in ice cube trays with water or olive oil. It can also be dried and stored in an airtight container or preserved in butter for future use.