Oregano is rich with folklore as befits this Mediterranean plant that has been used for food, medicine and ritual for more than 3,000 years. Oregano wreaths adorned the heads of Greek and Roman brides and grooms. Ancients used the herb to cure a wide range of illnesses and complaints, and even prescribed it for matters of the spirit.
Not only is oregano a key food flavoring used in cultures throughout the world, it also has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. It shows promise in treating some types of cancer and antibiotic-resistant strains of some bacteria. It is also used to treat some skin disorders, upset stomachs, respiratory ailments and more.
One of the most beloved of the herb garden plants, oregano is a Mediterranean perennial that forms dense clumps of stems clothed in small, oval, slightly fuzzy leaves. The leaves are intensely aromatic when bruised. Plants can grow about 1′ tall or more and spread up to 18″ wide. The sprays of white to lavender flowers are lovely in bouquets and wreaths.
Sow seeds indoors 6 to 10 weeks before your last frost date or start them directly in the garden after frost no longer threatens. Scatter the seed on the soil surface, spacing them an inch or two apart. Transplant when they have at least two or three sets of leaves spacing them about 12″ apart in the garden. Keep watered but don’t allow the soil to remain soggy. Plants grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. Snip off flowers to improve the flavor intensity of the leaves.
Harvest & Keeping
Begin harvesting when plants reach 6″ tall. Clip the stems about 1/2″ above the soil or just above a set of leaves so that it can resprout.
To use fresh, rinse in cold water and pat dry, then strip the leaves off the stems. Add to recipes.
To dry oregano, rinse and pat dry, then bundle stems. Hang in a dark or dimly lit, well-ventilated place until leaves and stems are dry and crispy. Crumble and remove the larger stems. Seal in airtight glass jars. Oregano may also be frozen and added to recipes that call for fresh herbs.
Oregano has some uterine-stimulating effects. Some advise against its use during pregnancy.