The Garden Muse: Let’s talk about oregano

Published 9:20 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

Origanum vulgare or commonly known as Oregano is a staple culinary herb. It is a woody perennial plant in the mint family. Left to its own devices it will take over any garden space it is planted in, and this is why it should be grown in a pot unless of course you really like oregano. 

Oregano is related to the herb Marjoram and is sometimes referred to as wild marjoram, but they are two different plants. There are many varieties of oregano, Mexican oregano, Italian oregano, and Greek oregano being the most known in addition to Origanum vulgare. All have a very distinct flavor profile. 

Lippia graveolens or Mexican oregano is in the family Verbenaceae. It has a stronger savory flavor component than the other oreganos who taste more piney or rosemary like. It is sometimes used as a substitute for epazote leaves in cooking. Worth a try in adding it to your next bean dish (to reduce flatulence.)

Oregano essential oil extracted from the leaves of the plant has been used as medicine for centuries, although the FDA claims that there is no clinical evidence to indicate that it has any effect on human health. Indigenous peoples and naturopaths would disagree.

Oregano tea has become more popular in recent years. Not only does it taste great, but it is also packed with antioxidants and its health proponents claim it to reduce bad cholesterol, help fight against fungal infections, and reduce inflammation in the human body.  

As with many herbs, drying the plant material affects the quantity of oregano’s volatile compounds. Flavor wise dried oregano is strong enough to still add great flavor to cold & cooked dishes. I suggest growing your own and enjoying it both fresh and dried. 

If your taste buds are sensitive, I would try the garden variety Origanum vulgare. It is much milder in taste than other varieties. If you enjoy bold flavors go for the Greek oregano, it’s delicious!

Dawn Conrad is a Retired Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbalist, Writer and Artist. She can be contacted at dawn@mygardenmuse.com.