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Greek Oregano Info – How To Grow Greek Oregano Plants

Greek Oregano Info – How To Grow Greek Oregano Plants


Fresh herbs from the garden are an absolute must for anyone serious about cooking. One of my absolute favorites in the herb garden is Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum), also known as European or Turkish oregano. So just what is Greek oregano? Read on to learn more about Greek oregano uses, how to grow Greek oregano and other Greek oregano info.

What is Greek Oregano?

Compared to other varieties of oregano, there really is nothing remarkable about Greek oregano from an ornamental viewpoint. It simply has hairy dark green leaves with small white flowers. However, whatever aesthetic shortcomings this Mediterranean native may have, it compensates for in culinary value.

You may not be aware of this Greek oregano info, but while there are many varieties of oregano, Greek oregano is considered the “true oregano” and is typically the oregano that graces the standard supermarket spice rack. And, if you are curious about Greek oregano uses, it is savored for its strong aroma and spicy intense flavor and is prominently used in Greek, Italian, or Spanish cuisine in homemade pizzas, tomato sauces, soups, and more.

Greek oregano is also valued beyond the kitchen by those who consider it to have medicinal properties.

How to Grow Greek Oregano

Greek oregano, which grows up to 24 inches (61 cm.) tall and 18 inches (46 cm.) wide, can be grown from either seed, cuttings or nursery plants. If faced with a choice between seed or cuttings, however, cuttings are preferable if you’re growing Greek oregano for culinary reasons.

Greek oregano often does not grow true to seed, meaning you will end up with oregano plants that are underwhelming in terms of aroma and flavor. If you root cuttings taken from quality plants, however, it will pack the flavor punch you would expect from Greek oregano. If growing Greek oregano as a groundcover or edger, growing from seed is a viable option. Greek oregano plants tend to get woody over time and after about 5 years the leaves tend to lose their flavor and texture.

Greek oregano (USDA planting zones 5-9) is a vigorous and hardy perennial that can thrive in dry soil and hot temperatures once established. And, as if you needed yet another reason to love this oregano, it’s bee-friendly and makes a great addition to a pollinator garden.

Plantings (seed or plants) should be spaced at least 12 inches (30 cm.) apart in well-draining, slightly alkaline soil in a location that receives full sun for optimum growth. The planting area for cuttings and nursery plants should be kept moist until the roots become established.

If planning to sow seeds, lightly press them into the top of the soil and do not cover as light is needed for germination. Keep the seeded area lightly moist. Seeds will germinate in about two weeks.

Greek oregano can really be harvested anytime once the plant reaches 6 inches (15 cm.) tall, but if you’re seeking the most intense flavor, you will want to harvest your oregano right before the blooms appear in mid-summer. When harvesting, trim each stem back leaving 4-6 pairs of leaves. This will encourage new bushy growth. The fresh leaves can be used directly in your cooking or you can hang cut stems to dry in a cool dark well-ventilated location and then store the dried leaves in sealed containers.


Growing Oregano

There are several species of oregano used in cooking, but the one we recommend for kitchen use is Origanum heracleoticum. If you haven't been impressed with the flavor of oregano you've purchased at the store, consider that commercially available dried oregano may contain any number of species of oregano, and even unrelated plants! Growing your own is the best way to find out which best suits your palate and compliments other ingredients.

Origanum heracleoticum is commonly known as Greek oregano, winter sweet marjoram, or Italian oregano. Common names for O. vulgare include European oregano, wild marjoram, and winter marjoram. Sweet marjoram, another desirable addition to the herb garden, is also a species of oregano: O. majorana.

Purchase plants or seeds from a reliable source to be sure you're getting the right species. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil after danger of frost has passed, spacing plants or thinning seedlings to stand 8 to 10 inches apart. Trim plants back before flowering (approximately 5 to 6 weeks after planting) to stimulate a dense growth habit. If you allow some of the flowers to produce and drop their seed, you can keep your oregano patch fresh and vigorous. Remove 3- to 4-year-old plants to keep the bed quality high.

Harvest leaves as you need them. The flavor is best just before flowers bloom. Unlike some herbs, dried oregano leaves keep their flavor well in storage. Hang harvested sprigs in an airy, shaded location until the leaves crumble easily, then store in an airtight container. You can also freeze fresh sprigs in zippered plastic bags press as much air from the bag as possible.


Growing Oregano In the Kitchen Herb Garden

By Chris McLaughlin
  • Plant some versatile oregano in your kitchen herb garden this year. Photo by Michael Lehet under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Oregano blossoms attract beneficial insects. Photo by Brock Vicky under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Divide oregano in the fall and bring it indoors for the winter. Photo by ccharmon under the Creative Commons Attribution License2.0.
  • This herb is easy to please. Photo by Joi Under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Herbs are one of the easiest and rewarding plants I’ve ever grown. They’re beautiful, textural, and flavorful. Many herbs (oregano, for instance) are some pretty tough characters. It’s the very end of January and my oregano is still growing strong. Because I live in Northern Califonia, I’ll admit that I’m cheating just a little. But all-in-all, I consider it a trooper.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial plant that’s also known as “wild marjoram” and grows well in zones 1-24. It’s a European and Asian native with dark green, oval-shaped leaves that can be used both fresh and dried. In the summer or early fall, oregano blooms with little purplish-pink or white flowers. Standard varieties grow 1 – 2 1/2 feet tall and may spread out to 3 feet wide, but there are dwarf varieties out there, as well.

Truly wild oregano has little or no scent, but if it’s purchased at a nursery or garden center, you can be fairly certain that it’s grown for culinary use. Just to be sure, I tend to rub a leaf or two and smell it before bringing it home.

If your palate is pleased by Italian dishes such as pizza or pasta sauce, you’ll want to plant a Greek or Italian variety (Origanum vulgare hirtum). This oregano’s leaves are gray-green, fuzzy, and broader than its cousin’s with a spicier flavor. There are several variations of this culinary herb, as well as those that have variegated or golden leaves that add interest to the garden.

Popular Oregano Varieties

  • ‘Aureum’ (Golden marjoram) – This oregano variety has bright-gold leaves in the spring that darken as they age and become light green by late summer or fall.
  • ‘Compact Pink Flowered’ – This variety has pungent, dark-green leaves and blooms in dark pink flowers.
  • ‘Aureum Crispum’ – This is basically the original Aureum but with interesting, crinkly leaves.
  • ‘Compactum’ – This is an interesting oregano that won’t give you many flowers (if at all) but it’s leaves do turn purple in the winter.
  • ‘White Anniversary’ – Its white flowers are barely noticeable, but this variety has attractive, bright-green foliage with white margins. It’s a terrific choice for gardeners that are looking for a groundcover or edging plant. Nice for containers, too.
  • ‘Greek oregano’ or ‘Italian oregano’ – This is the most popular one for those interested in growing oregano predominately for the kitchen.

Growing Tips

Like many herbs, oregano is a sun-worshipper and likes to be planted in an area that receives full sun for 6-8 hours (although, it’ll do just fine with a bit less). It doesn’t seem to mind rocky places, but thrives when planted in a well-drained soil with good organic matter. Nice, loamy garden soil encourages oregano to thrive and spread quickly. Oregano requires only moderate watering, but prefers even watering while it’s becoming established.

When growing oregano for culinary dishes, your main objective is to encourage leaf production. Keep it trimmed to prevent blossoms from showing up because flowering is a signal to the plant that its life cycle is over and it’ll slow down or stop producing leaves altogether. Leaves can be harvested (with the stems) when the stems are 4″-5″ inches tall.

Oregano requires very little attention and happily produces many pungent, aromatic leaves with the most basic care. Pots or containers make a perfect home for oregano, which makes it handy for back porches or those with limited garden space.
Propagation

You can start your oregano from seed or as stem cuttings (before the stem blooms). But the simplest way to propagate this herb is by dividing a mature plant in the spring or fall. Simply dig up the entire plant and depending on how large it is, you’ll need use either two pitchforks or hand spades to divide it.

Stick the two hand spades (or pitchforks) next to each other into the center of the plant and then pull each tool away from the other to dividing the plant into two. Divided oregano plants should be planted immediately into their new beds or containers. Many gardeners divide them in the fall to pot one up and bring it indoors for the winter.

Oregano’s versatile character doesn’t stop at the kitchen garden. It’s an excellent bedding plant for perennial garden beds or foundation landscape areas and makes a beautiful, low-maintenance, scented groundcover. Don’t forget that if you’re interested in attracting pollinating insects to your garden, oregano has that covered, too.


Moisture-Loving Mediterranean Herbs

When growing Mediterranean herbs, not all types are drought-tolerant. Let’s go over a few herbs that you’ll need to have in a moisture-loving portion of your Mediterranean herb garden!

Basil

The large leaves of basil make them easy to use in many ways. Source: amandabhslater

Ocimum basilicum has a huge number of varieties, but those which we most commonly think of as being Mediterranean are lettuce leaf, purple, or globe varieties. Its name, basil, is believed to have originated from the Latin or Greek “royal/kingly plant”, likely because it was used to make royal perfumes.

In the Mediterranean herb garden, basil is a must-grow Mediterranean spice. One of the most common Greek herbs, it’s also widely used for Italian cooking. But it’s not limited to the cuisines of the mediterranean region. Thai, Chinese, Korean and many other Asian cuisines use it too. It dries well, but absolutely shines when freshly picked.

Chervil

Chervil is a relative of parsley, and they’re often mixed up. Source: The Croft

This delicate little leafy herb is related to parsley and is also one of the fines herbes of French cuisine. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) produces a light, anise-like flavor used to season mild dishes. A cool-loving plant, chervil grows best in partial shade in warmer climates, but should otherwise be grown in spring or fall temperatures.

While it can be dried for later storage, chervil loses quite a bit of its flavor that way. It’s best used when newly picked, but should be harvested when the leaves are small. Larger leaves can develop a bitter note.

Chives

The mild taste of chives makes them the perfect topping. Source: katerha

Alliums are always popular, and chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are among the most-favored. These tiny little tubular leaves produce a delicious onion-like flavor and are widely used as a topping for an added spark of life. They’re also an incredible lure to pollinating insects, so make a great garden companion.

Use a pair of scissors to snip off the greens and use them while they’re still crisp and flavorful. Dried chives lose a lot of their unique and delightful flavor as well, although freeze-drying retains at least part of it.

Cilantro (aka Coriander)

Cilantro and coriander come from the same plant. Source: Farmer_Jay

Did you know that both of these spices are different parts of the same annual herb, Coriandrum sativum? Cilantro is the leaves of the plant, while coriander is its seeds. We often think of cilantro as an essential Mexican or Thai spice, but coriander was a stable in the Mediterranean herb garden as well.

The leaves can be dried, but lose most of their flavor. It’s best to make a paste of the cilantro and freeze it for long-term storage instead. Fresh use is recommended. Once the seeds form, you can use them when green or once they’ve dried and turned brown, but green produces the better flavor if using them right away.

Fennel

Both vegetable and herb, fennel is gaining popularity in the US. Source: cyclingshepherd

In Greek, fennel is named “marathon”, and in fact the town Marathon from which the famous race got its name was named after the fennel that naturally grew in the region. All parts of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) are edible. The leaves and flowers are culinary herbs, the bulb a vegetable, and the dried fruit a spice.

Use the leaves fresh or dry them for storage. The fruit itself is often dried and then powdered to blend into spice mixes. Alas, the bulb isn’t as easy to store as the rest of the plant.

Garlic

All parts of the garlic plant are edible, but we especially love the bulbs. Source: quinn.anya

We all love garlic, even if it makes our breath stink. All parts of this plant are edible too, but the best-loved part is its distinctive bulb. Garlic (Allium sativum) also produces tasty greens and edible scapes that make for a delicious delicacy.

What’s stored of this plant is its bulb. Once dried, the bulb can be stored whole, or chopped, minced, or powdered dry storage. You’ll know it’s time to harvest when the green parts of the plant begin to yellow and die back.

Mint

Mint grows like a weed, but you’ll use a lot of it. Source: jbhangoo

Mentha, the family of mint plants, spans a wide range of flavor profiles. Most grow the best in damp soils, but even in drier conditions it can hold on. This plant grows wild across much of the world now, and is known to be invasive. But invasive or not, it’s certainly tasty!

Dried mint leaves store extremely well and are used as teas or culinary herbs. Young fresh mint leaf clusters can be used to garnish drinks or dishes, and the leaves themselves add a pop of flavor to salads and other dishes.

Paprika

Paprika is a powdered and dried sweet pepper. Source: cesargp

Sweet peppers (Capsicum annuum) are harvested and dried, then ground into the powder that we now know as paprika. Sometimes smoked to enhance the flavor, this paprika powder is used widely as a mild spice.

The peppers should only be harvested from the plant once it has achieved a brilliant red color. That gives the eventual spice its distinctive shade. Ground paprika can be stored for up to a year before it begins to lose some of its flavor.

Parsley

Parsley’s an incredibly popular, slightly-bitter herb. Source: jamoca1

Native to the central and eastern Mediterranean region, parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a staple in most kitchens. Italian parsley has flat, bright green leaves, while the curly-leafed parsley is used as a garnish. A mild bitter flavor can be detected from the fresh parsley leaves, and it’s reputed to be an excellent breath-freshener.

Dry the leaves for long-term storage, or turn the fresh ones into a paste and freeze it. Using it in salads or dishes as a freshly-picked herb is also an excellent choice.

Turmeric

Turmeric rhizomes, once boiled and dried and powdered, are delicious as a spice. Source: h-bomb

The final herb on our list is technically not used as an herb at all, but if you grow herbs, you’ll probably want to include this spice. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is derived from the rhizomes of an herbaceous perennial. Its distinctive rhizomatic roots are harvested, boiled, then dried and ground into an orangish-yellow powder used for seasoning and coloring food.

As the plant dies back in the fall, carefully dig up the root system. Select the largest, and leave a few left behind to allow the perennial plant to come back up the next year.