Oregano is quite popular when it comes sprinkled from a jar, but—as with most herbs—it’s so much more flavorful when fresh. It’s also good for you, with strong anti-bacterial properties and numerous phytonutrients. On a per gram weight basis, fresh oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.
Want to grow oregano at home? Here’s how to get started:
Planting Oregano: Oregano can be grown from seed, stem cuttings or root division, but starting from seed isn’t recommended, because oregano seeds are notoriously fickle about getting started (also, some say plants started from seed don’t have as much flavor). Here’s an extensive guide to starting a plant from stem cuttings (which I am not going to tell you how to do, because every time I have tried, I have failed); basically, you put a portion of the already-growing plant in sand or potting mix and wait for it to take root. Your best might here might be buying an already-growing young oregano plant.
Earth, Wind and Water: Oregano plants do well in light, well-drained soil. Too much water and soggy soil can lead to root rot, so go easy on the watering (a good rule—as with basil and thyme—is to finger test the soil; if it’s still damp, wait on watering). To prevent rot and soggy soil, you also want to keep oregano plants in well-circulated, not-terribly-humid air.
Let There Be Light: Oregano loves heat and light. It grows best in full sun (6+ hours of direct sunlight per day), but will tolerate partial shade. If you live in a colder region, now is not a good time for growing oregano outdoors—but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow it inside. If the days get too short, or you don’t have a sunny enough window, supplement direct-sunlight time with a few hours under fluorescent lighting.
• To harvest oregano, snip leaves as needed. Leaves harvested before flower buds form are said to have a better flavor.
• Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp paper towel; frozen oregano (either whole or chopped) in an airtight container or plastic bag; and dried oregano in a sealed, glass container somewhere dark and dry.
• Oregano’s name means ‘joy of the mountain’ in Greek.
• In some parts of Europe, oregano is known as ‘wild marjoram,’ because it’s closely related to the herb known as sweet marjoram.
• Oregano was not well known in the United States until the early 20th century, when GIs returning from Italy brought a taste for the heb with them.
• “The best oregano to use for food dishes is Greek oregano,” said Jennifer Fishburn, a horticulture educator at the University of Illinois extension school. “Greek oregano, Origanum vulgare var. hirtum, gives the truest biting, pungent flavor. While the flavor can vary from plant to plant, this is usually a dependable variety for culinary uses.”
Photo: Tonic Food Club