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Useful and easy to grow Oregano

Oregano is one of the easiest, versatile and most useful herbs in the garden.

Oregano is one of the easiest, most versatile and most useful herbs in the garden.

Oregano is such a great herb for the garden. Its attractive, grows like crazy, smells great, and tastes great! If oregano is left to bloom its flowers attract many pollinators. Could you really ask for more?

A member of the mint family, oregano is commonly used in Italian dishes and is a component of chilli powder. Oregano originates in the Mediterranean. It is closely related to the herb marjoram (oregano has a more intense flavour).

Oregano has a number of common names including Oregano, Winter Sweet, Pot Marjoram, Mountain Mint and Winter Marjoram.

The ancient Greeks considered oregano to be the “joy of the mountain.” In fact, the roots of the words, oros (mountain) and ganos (joy) attest to that fact. A popular traditional medicinal herb, it was used to treat skin wounds, headaches, trauma, lung conditions, seizures, stings and bites, and even heart failure. In fact, Hippocrates is documented as having used the herb as an antiseptic and a stomach aid. The herb also has extensive use, in most western countries, as a popular aromatic spice for dishes like marinara sauces, lamb stews, soups and pizza.

The oregano most often used in cooking goes by the common names Greek oregano, winter sweet marjoram, and Italian oregano. It’s a hardy plant that establishes quickly, getting no taller than 15 to 20cm. Be sure to buy Greek oregano, (Origanum vulgare hirtum) rather than common oregano (Origanum vulgare) if you want to cook with it. The leaves of Greek oregano are gray-green, fuzzy, broader than the leaves of it’s cousins and has a spicier flavour. This is the oregano that’ll give food that wonderful, herby punch.

Common oregano has no real flavour, though it is covered with ornamental lavender coloured flowers in summer, which dry well and are sometimes used in wreaths. Golden oregano can be used for a ground cover or in container plantings. For culinary oregano, purchase a plant or plants from a reputable herb nursery to ensure a flavourful, hardy plant.

PLANTING AND CARING FOR OREGANO

Oregano likes well drained soil and full sun but aside from that there are very few requirements. In the first few months, ensure the plants do not dry out, but after they have become established they should cope well with drought. Try to avoid letting the plants become waterlogged, however. Oregano is a Mediterranean plant and is not used to wet conditions. If you can’t grow oregano in a well-drained soil then grow it in a container with plenty of grit to aid drainage.

Oregano is easily started from seed after the last spring frost; you can also divide an established bed to get new plants, or propagate more by stem tip cuttings. Thin plants to stand 20 to 25cm apart.

Trim back before flowering (approximately 5 to 6 weeks after planting) to stimulate a denser, bushier growth habit. Plants will self-seed easily so you can thin out 3 to 4 year old plants to keep the bed quality high.

Oregano is a great companion plant for many vegetables and plants. It repels insects such as cucumber beetle and cabbage moths.

In the US oregano does best in Zones 5-10.

HARVESTING OREGANO

The leaves of oregano should be harvested just before the flowers appear. If the leaves are harvested after the flowers appear they can taste bitter. However, removing the flower heads before they open can keep the leaves tasting great. Oregano is most commonly used as a dried herb. Pick the leaves on a dry day and store them in a dark, dry warm place until they are crumbly in texture. Then store the dried leaves in an airtight container where they will retain their flavour for up to 6 months. Leaves can also be frozen.

ESSENTIAL OIL USE

Oil of Oregano is a staple for many herbalists. Its oils are useful in treating skin infections. It is an extremely potent anti-bacterial and anti-microbial agent. The oils have also been used in perfumes and soaps.

GROWING OREGANO IN A CONTAINER

Oregano is well suited to being grown in pots. Water the pot when the soil dries out (terracotta pots tend to dry out much quicker than plastic alternatives). If you over water the oregano the plants will rot and die.

As with all herbs, feeding oregano can impair the flavour of its leaves. Only feed once or twice during the season and use an organic feed such as seaweed.

INSECTS AND DISEASE

Watch for spider mites, leafminers and aphids, especially on plants grown in containers. If pests are found, apply a least-toxic, natural insect control, when necessary.