Some of the most popular culinary herbs have incredible medicinal properties and oregano is exceptional in both areas of use. In cooking, oregano is used by a multitude of cultures and could be one of the reasons why the Mediterranean Diet is so healthful. Its strong flavor is what makes pizza and Greek salad stand out, and there is an unbelievable amount of uses for this hardy herb. The healthful benefits of oregano are many with uses for respiratory problems and congestion, it aids digestion, skin conditions, dental issues and cold and flu, all possibly due to the herb’s potent antimicrobial properties among many other beneficial attributes.

The Oregano Plant

There are many varieties in the oregano family of plants. The one we are familiar with which has many medicinal, culinary, aromatic, and cosmetic uses is Origanum vulgare. There are also many cultivars of Origanum vulgare, a lovely, dark green, herbaceous perennial. It is hardy and survives winter temperatures of -20⁰ F (-28.5⁰ C), coming back each spring. Oregano grows wild throughout Southern Europe and many parts of Asia and people who have hiked the dry slopes of Greece often describe the aromatic plants scenting their travels. In the home garden, similarly, oregano likes it hot and dry, and depending on the cultivar, will grow up to 20” (50 cm).

Oregano Plant Care

Growing in a hot and sunny spot in my garden, in the spring, around April, I remove all last year’s growth, cutting it back right to the ground before it starts its spring growth. It is a semi-woody perennial, so I use heavy-duty pruners for the job. Essentially, that is all I do for this hardy, low-maintenance plant. Through May and June, I harvest leaves and stems and there are ideas below for harvesting, using, and storing oregano. Once the oregano is in bud, I let its prolific, pretty, white-to-purple flowers bloom. In this way, it provides food for the many insects, especially bumblebees as well as wild honeybees.

oregano plant

Generally, the plant remains a bustling busy place for all these industrious creatures until the autumn when the insects go to their winter hiding places. I leave the stems and remaining foliage on the plant to protect it from the winter weather, cutting it back the next spring. If there were any pest or disease issues on the oregano, I might choose to cut it back in the fall, removing any potentially infected plant parts, and place a mulch to protect the plant through winter. I would also consider carefully why there might be a disease or pest issue, as that could be a soil problem or the plant could be planted in the wrong place, such as an area that is too wet or soggy for the sun, sand, and heat loving plant.

Growing Oregano

If you are looking to grow your own oregano plant, ensure you purchase your plant from a reputable nursery as they can be difficult to grow from seed. This is not easily apparent. For example, my oregano sends its seeds throughout the garden sprouting gorgeous little volunteer oregano-type plants. Sadly, these are not true oregano plants as all those bees have cross pollinated with other nearby herbs creating counterfeit oregano that falls short in the desired taste and medicinal properties.

Having found a cultivar of Origanum vulgare, plant in sandy soil, in full sun with enough room to spread, depending on the cultivar, up to three feet (1 m). Some say the plant is strongest when it is young, while others think older plants are more potent. This could be related to the cultivar or it could be season to season as well. For example, due to the cold, wet spring, and summer, I did not even harvest any oregano at all this spring. Last year’s spring, on the other hand, was hot and dry so I harvested heaps of oregano, as that is when I think the herb is at its best. Luckily, I still have enough to last until next year’s harvest.

Harvesting, Using, and Storing Oregano

Oregano on wooden table

Again, school is still out on the best time to harvest oregano. Certainly, before it is flowering, possibly before it is even in bud, could be a good rule of thumb. Most often, I think herbs are best harvested in the heat of the day, unlike most other vegetables which are best harvested in the morning, but there could be an argument for harvesting in the morning when the plant is at its juiciest, so it could go by your own discriminating taste or, you know, when you have time.

Clean leaves can be chopped for fresh use, put in a glass jar in the freezer, either on its own or with other savory herbs, or dried for future use. Chopped oregano is an excellent addition to any homemade salad dressing, soup, marinade, and is an absolute necessity in tomato-based pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and Greek salad dressing. This is why it is chopped and frozen, so four months later, when the tomatoes are finally coming out of the garden, I have almost-fresh oregano, ready to go. I also freeze full leafy stems in glass containers or freezer bags to use when making soup stock, or to throw in a pot to create a steam to relieve congestion.

Not Growing Oregano?

Of course, you don’t need to grow your own oregano. For most of us, oregano is ready for purchase in dried form in the spice section of the grocery store, and this is perfectly suitable for most culinary needs.

My favorite by far is oil of oregano, available at many health food stores, which is a concentration of all the medicinal properties we love in the oregano plant. Studies show many benefits of oregano including antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant attributes. Usually sold in a 1- to 2-ounce bottle with a dropper, two to three drops of this oil can be dropped under the tongue to help reduce cold and flu symptoms. A drop placed on a tooth can help a toothache or infection. It may even help a pimple or wound to heal quickly.

Of course, always use caution when using a new plant, especially when it is in a concentrated form. Additionally, if you are taking medications, ensure there is no contraindication with the use of oregano. As there is a wide variety of concentrations available, some immensely powerful, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for other potential uses.

Conclusion

A staple herb in the kitchen and medicine cabinet, oregano is much more than just a flavoring for pizza sauce. It has many uses to contribute to your overall well-being and may potentially even keep you healthy.

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