Oregano comes from the labiate family like basil. Its natural habitat is the mountainous region around the Mediterranean Sea. The ancient Greeks and Romans introduced oregano to Europe and the Spaniards in turn brought it to the new world. It is grown for export in Mexico as Origanum mexicana Mexican oregano. Ancient Greeks used oregano as an antidote and it was used by Ancient Egyptian herbalists for medicinal purposes as well. The name oregano means ‘joy of the mountain’.
Oregano, despite of its popularity in Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries, was almost unknown in the US until after the World War II when soldiers brought home the “pizza taste”. Its popularity around the world rose with the popularity of Italian foods, particularly pizza.
Today, oregano is a staple herb in Italian cuisine and is greatly famous for enhancing the flavor of tomato-based dishes. It is used in meat, fish, and poultry dishes. It’s great in salads, soups, vegetable dishes, pasta sauces and scrambled eggs.
Greek Oregano is often referred to as the true oregano. With its classic pungent and spicy flavor, it perfectly complements any tomato, cheese and egg based dishes and is also known as the pizza herb. Toss fresh oregano leaves in salads for a zesty kick or use it with meat, fish, poultry, pasta, soup and stew. It’s also great for stuffing and dusting for grilled dishes.
Mexican Oregano, which is native of Mexico, is actually more closely related to Lemon Herbena than the oregano family. It has a deeper and more intense “oregano” flavor with a slight citrus twist. It goes well with barbeque, seafood and chicken kebobs, and sausages.
Italian oregano (also called Sicilian Oregano) is a cross of oregano and sweet marjoram and inherits the pungent and sweet flavors of both plants. Use it as regular oregano if you want your dish with a hint of sweetness, or use with “marjoram enhanced” recipes for an added spice.
Mexican oregano (left), Greek oregano (right)
Oregano is grayish green perennial herb with a height ranging from one to three feet or 30 to 60. It has hairy erect branched stem with green opposite leaves also covered with fine hair. The flowers, arranged on a spike, are purple in color. The plant has a strong odor similar to thyme and sage. The oregano plant can grow horizontally up to 2 1/2 feet tall with pungent leaves. The flowers grow in clusters at the end of shoots and bloom in June. Wild oregano flowers are purple in color while Greek oregano has white flowers. The Mexican oregano is more pungent than the Mediterranean variety and is a shrub like plant that can grow to a height of 7 feet.
This herb has a pungent smell and taste. It is a perennial plant in warm climates and in the north it is an annual. The leaves contain essential oil called origanum oil.
Oregano can be taken to strengthen and stimulate the stomach. To help heal bruises and contusions, mix dried oregano leaves with some honey and apply as a salve. Drink hot oregano tea if you are coughing or have indigestion and gas. This herb had been used to combat problems caused by bacteria, such as the throat infections, pneumonia and diseases of the trachea. Moreover, oregano is thought to be highly effective in clearing up campylobacter and staphylococcus infections. Also, it has been used to eradicate the common amoeba giardia lamblia, which is responsible for several digestive disorders such as flatulence, vomiting and diarrhea.
sweet Italian oregano
Notice: Marjoram is sometimes confused with true oregano, but marjoram is of the sweeter variety. In fact, aside from main dishes, marjoram is also used to flavor desserts such as ice cream, custards, pies and fruit desserts.
Oregano is considered to be a safe herb. Pregnant women should not take oregano oil because it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron. People with known allergic reaction to mint, sage, basil and thyme which are all plants that belong to mint family should not use oregano in any form.