Jacqueline A. Soule here to tell you of a wonderful perennial herb to plant in your garden or landscape this coming month. Oregano comes to us from the arid mountains of the eastern Mediterranean, including present day Greece and Turkey. Oregano grows well here in the Old Pueblo forming a lovely low mounding landscape plant with a little added water.
The name, oregano is translated from the Greek as joy of the mountain. (oros = mountain, ganos = joy) so imagine the rocky Greek mountains as you plant your oregano. Rocky or sandy soil (not clay) works well. Some afternoon shade in summer is best for healthy plants.
Oregano comes in many species, subspecies and varieties. For the best type able to grow here in the Old Pueblo, go with the true Greek oregano, Origanum vulgare subspecies hirtum. Since many nurseries do not label with correct scientific names, look at the leaves. The one you want will have smallish leaves with silvery hairs on them. When you rub a leaf between your fingers, it should release a strong fragrance of oregano. Avoid the oreganos that are mildly scented, musky scented, or have larger, not very hairy leaves. Indeed, you may run across marjoram (Origanum majorana) or even Italian oregano (Origanum X majoricum). These have their place in the kitchen and in the garden, but don’t plant them next to Greek oregano. The more vigorous Greek oregano will over run the others.
Like many herbs, the best time to harvest oregano is just before it blooms. Many herbs increase their production of essential oils as they go into bloom since it is a time when they really need to protect themselves from pests. When you first start growing oregano, harvest may mean pinching a few stalks back with your fingers. Once your patch gets larger, trim it with strong kitchen scissors to about two inches high, so it forms a low mat of leaves. Don’t worry, it will get tall again.
Dry all herbs out of direct sunlight. I spread the cut stems on top of folded paper bags placed on top of the bookshelves. A ceiling fan running during the day helps dry them quickly. The quicker the drying, the less breakdown of the chemical compounds inside the leaves, and thus the sweeter the oregano flavor and less bitter the background notes.
Besides its culinary uses, oregano is used medicinally as an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic. The oil of oregano is reported to destroy organisms that contribute to skin infections and digestive problems, strengthen the immune system, increase joint and muscle flexibility, and improve respiratory health. The medicinal properties or oregano appear to be from high concentrations of thymol and carvacrol. Caution is needed since carvacrol appears to reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron. Moderation is, as always, important.
Please do tell me your favorite way to use oregano in the comment section below. We Savor Sisters love to hear from our readers!
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tumacacori National Historical Park (National Park Service Cenntenial this year!), Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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