Joy of the Mountains in Tucson

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.


In shady sites of our Southwestern yards, oregano can grow quite green and lush.

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.

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Origanum vulgare ‘Hot & Spicy’ likes the heat and has very strong flavor. Like most herbs, it does best in well drained soil and does not thrive if overwatered. Photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers.

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.


Majoram is closely related to oregano. It also grows well here.

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.

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Ideally farvest any oregano you wish to use before it flowers. Once it begins to flower, I like to leave the blooms for the pollinators.

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.


In the nursery look for the oreganos with very hairy leaves. It is one sign og a true Greek oregano.

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.

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Spread out the branches of your oregano and bury all but the tip. The branch will root where buried (blue arrow). This is called layering and is and easy way to propagate your herbs.

Please do tell me your favorite way to use oregano in the comment section below.  We Savor Sisters love to hear from our readers!

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As well as in the ground, oregano can be grown in pots. Normally one doesn’t mix iris and oregano but I needed a spot to put the iris, and then it was about to bloom,,, and if you are a gardener, you know how it goes.

JAS avatarIf 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).
All photos (except where noted) and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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Time for Some Thyme

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Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris)  is best grown with a dappled noon-time shade in the summer in the southwest.

Special for Savor the Southwest  February 2015
by Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule

Spring is springing out in my garden – and the little thyme cutting I got from Savor Sister Muffin Burgess back in at our anniversary party in November is finally starting to take off.  November was a terrible time to take cuttings of this warm climate herb – but the great thing about herbs is that humans have been mistreating them for 7000 years or so, and the weak ones have mostly died out.

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There are many species of thyme, like this species in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, used for the herb blend za’atar.

Thyme is a large and very popular genus, with over 350 species and countless cultivars grown around the world. Aside from looking lovely in the landscape, thyme is a strong herb used in cooking, and has some proven medicinal properties as well. It can also be grown indoors in bright, indirect light.

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Many herbs that do in the Southwest are originally from a similar climate – like this Thymus vulgaris growing wild on the rocky hillsides of the Galilee.

This lovely, fragrant, tasty, and healthful herb in native to the rocky slopes of the mountains of the eastern Mediterranean region, in the area that is now mostly Greece. Since they are pre-adapted to low water conditions, most species of thyme can be grown here. I grow my thyme plants where they get roof run-off, thus I rarely need to water them; and yet they offer a lush look to my entryway with their glossy green leaves.

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Not just tasty, thyme is also another pretty face in the garden! For peak flavor, it is best to harvest this (and most culinary herbs) just before they bloom.

Make sure you grow your thyme in well-drained soil. You may have to add some sand to your soil. I killed several thyme plants until I had finally added enough sand to their bed.

There are many thymes to choose from, but here are the species most commonly found in the nursery.

Common or culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a low woody plant barely reaching a foot tall. It quickly becomes leggy with bare wood showing so harvest and use or dry your thyme often. (You can give friends jars of your dried herbs as truly personal and unique gifts.)

Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) makes an attractive and useful groundcover. It is culinary too! Harvest as needed.

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Creeping thyme, with tiny leaves and charming purple flowers, is perfect for a fairy garden.

Lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus) is a delicious and fragrant low-growing variety with glossy green leaves, and goes wonderfully with fish dishes.


Lemon thyme is great for flavoring fish dishes – two flavors for the price of one!

Equally fragrant and delicious is the golden lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus ‘Aureus’). With wonderfully variegated leaves, it looks good in the landscape.

Not generally used as culinary herbs, two popular species of creeping thyme are useful in the landscape. Mother-of-thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanginosis) both grow well between shady flagstones, and smell great when stepped on.


Add some fragrance to your landscape – plant this heat tolerant woolly thyme between the flagstones of your path.

Sprinkle thyme (either fresh or dried) in soups, salads, on meat dishes or use in herb breads. Use an ample number of sprigs in herbal vinegars and oils for an intense and refreshing flavor.

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We use ample thyme in our cooking. This 8 ounce jar gets refilled several times a year.

For a quick meal at the end of a long day make Sopa de Farigola, or Thyme Soup, a dish popular in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain, and thus part of our Sonoran heritage as well.  Fresh eggs and day-old bread are topped with a boiling broth made from water, sprigs of thyme and some olive oil. Great for replacing electrolytes after a day working in the garden!

More about thyme in my books which I will be selling and signing at the Tucson Festival of Books March 14 & 15 this year – Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014, $23), and Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing & Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press 2011, $15) also available at Tucson area bookstores, nurseries, botanical gardens, and state parks.

JAS avatar  © 2015, Jacqueline Soule. All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions.

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