Members of the oregano family are an essential plant for a well-stocked, sunny herb garden.
Origanum majorana, known as Sweet Marjoram has a mild delicate flavour and are most often used in recipes of French or English origin, whereas Greek oregano's more robust flavour is often called for in the recipes of Italian, Greek, North African and Mexican cuisines.
Sweet Marjoram is a tender perennial plant and is often grown as an annual in cold climates. It does well in a container and can be brought in for use during the winter. The plants prefer well drained to dry soil, and a position in full sun. It grows quickly and should be pinched back often to remain bushy. The plants look good in either the herbaceous border or herb garden and are delightfully perfumed.
Sweet Marjoram is an essential culinary herb and fresh or dried, no cook should ever be without it. It is wonderfully aromatic with a mild oregano flavour with a hint of balsam.
Often found in the classic herb combination bouquet garni, Sweet Marjoram is good with veal, beef, lamb, roast poultry and fish. The leaves are best used fresh, as their flavour is sweeter and milder. For this reason it is also best to add them at the last moment when you use them for cooking. It is an excellent herb for drying, the leaves will have the strongest flavour just before the plant starts to flower.
Sweet Marjoram is very decorative as the plants grow and blossom, and handy for a quick, fresh addition to whatever is cooking. Growing them in pots works well, given plenty of light. Try putting together a pot of Mediterranean herbs to keep near at hand in the kitchen. Rosemary, sage and thyme work well together in pots along with oregano, they all like the same moisture level, and they are often used together in cooking.
During summer, the plant is almost covered in white flowers which are appreciated by pollinating insects. You can let them bloom or keep clipped to encourage new leafy growth for culinary use.
Prepare the site:
Culinary members of the origanum family are easy-to-grow perennials that tolerate a variety of soils, as long as those soils are well drained. Like most Mediterranean-type herbs, they need only moderate water and grow best in a gravelly loam in full sun.
Humidity, periods of excessive rain, or overwatering leads to root rot, which eventually kills the plant. To avoid it, amend your soil to ensure better drainage or grow in raise beds. If too much humidity is a problem, encourage good air circulation by giving your plants plenty of room to spread.
Sow at any time if the plant is to be kept indoors. Sow indoors in spring to plant out in summer, or sow in August to September to overwinter the plants for next year. The seeds can also be sown directly where the plants are to grow in a well prepared bed in early summer once all danger of frosts have passed.
Start seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date. Sow the seed thinly, if growing in pots sow enough for a few plants in each pot. Press seeds in lightly. Do not cover the seeds with soil, as they need light to germinate.
Oregano seeds germinate in around 14 days. Once the seedlings have developed two pairs of true leaves, thin out the weakest seedlings. In outdoor beds, space seedlings or thin plants to 30cm (12in) apart, in rows 45cm (18in) apart.
Oregano's fertiliser needs are minimal and often nonexistent, especially if you amend the soil with compost or other organic matter. (Fertiliser changes the flavour). Avoid over-feeding or over-watering to maintain pungency of flavour in the leaves, but keep in mind that container-grown plants need to be watered more often than plants grown in the ground.
Grow in full sun and plant out in spring after threat of frost. The plants will go dormant in winter and look almost dead. Avoid over-watering during this time and the plant should revive in spring. Make the practice of making lots of cuttings/divisions to multiply your plants for giving away or refreshing your oregano bed.
You can begin harvesting the leaves, a few sprigs at a time, once the plant is about 10cm (4in) high. The flavour is most intense just before the plant blooms. Frequent harvests will produce a bushier plant and keeps foliage succulent. It's a good idea to cut plants back to about 15cm (6in) at least twice during the growing season, leaving ample growth in autumn to sustain the plant through winter.
You can let oregano bloom as the flowers are wonderful for pollinating insects, or sheer the plants to ground to encourage new leafy growth for culinary use. Given the proper conditions, you should be able to harvest leaves until the first frost, if outdoors or all year long, if grown indoors in pots.
This is one herb that many people prefer dried. Drying deepens the flavour and mellows it, so it's not as bitter.
Cut oregano in the morning, after the dew has dried. Hang it in small bunches upside down, or lay it on screens in a warm, dry place. Once the leaves are crisp, remove the leaves from the stems and store them, whole, in a glass container. To preserve the essential oils, wait until just before using them to chop or crush them.
Many people skip the drying process altogether and simply chop the leaves finely, and either - add a small amount of water and freeze in ice cube trays for later use, or add the chopped leaves to softened butter. The oregano butter, when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, will last for several weeks.
Depending on the type of oregano, the flavour can be pretty strong, so start with a small amount—a little goes a long way. Taste as you go and add more if needed.
Apart from flavour, oregano has unique medicinal properties which were well known from ancient times.
Oregano can be used with most crops but especially good for cabbage. Plant near broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to repel cabbage butterfly and near cucumbers to repel cucumber beetle. Also benefits grapes.
Origanum is a genus of about 20 species of herbaceous perennials and subshrubs in the family Lamiaceae, native to the Mediterranean and south eastern Asia, where they are found in open or mountainous habitats. The genus includes the important group of culinary herbs, marjoram and oregano. There are many types of oregano with varying flavours used for cooking and some species which are used ornamentally.
Oregano is the anglicised form of the Italian origano, or possibly of the medieval Latin organum. Both were drawn from the Classical Latin term origanum which was itself a derivation from the Greek origanon.
The herb is commonly called ‘joy of the mountain’ in Greece. The etymology is often given as oros, meaning ‘mountain’ and the verb ganousthai or ganos meaning 'delight in' or ‘joy’. Greeks felt that the sweet smell was created by Aphrodite as a symbol of happiness. Bridal couples were crowned with it and it was placed on tombs to give peace to the departed.
The genus Origanum consists of over 44 species, 6 subspecies, 3 botanical varieties and 18 naturally occurring hybrids. There are also plants that are known and used as Oregano do not necessarily belong to the genus Origanum.
The main species that are used in cooking and that we stock, available as seed are:
- Origanum vulgare, Pot Marjoram is the popular one found in commercially sold spices. The plants grow to around 60cm (24in) and bloom with flowers in shades of lilac-pink.
- Origanum majorana, Sweet Marjoram has a sweeter flavour with piney/citrus overtones. The plants are more tender than Pot Marjoram, they grow to around 40cm (16in) and have white flowers.
- Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum, Greek Oregano is considered the best oregano for culinary use with a deeper, more complicated flavour. This is due to a higher concentration of the phenolic compound carvacrol which lends oregano its penetrating quality. The plants grow to a height of around 60cm (24in), are extremely drought-tolerant and have white flowers.
- Origanum syriacum, Syrian oregano or Za'atar, is a special oregano not widely available. It is more aromatic than the European variant and combines the flavours of Marjoram, Oregano, and Thyme.
Other plants called Oregano:
- Mexican oregano, Lippia graveolens. The leaves are widely used as an herb in Mexico and Central America and posses a flavour that is similar to oregano, somewhat more like savory, instead of the piney hint of rosemary flavour in oregano.
- Cuban oregano or Oregano poleo, Plectranthus amboinicus. Sometimes also called 'Mexican mint or Mexican thyme', it has large and somewhat succulent leaves. Not just a Latin American plant, it's also grown and used throughout the tropics, including Africa and Southeast Asia.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 500mg Average Seed Count 2,500 Seeds Seed Form Natural Common Name Summer Marjoram Family Lamiaceae Genus Origanum Species marjorana Hardiness Tender Perennial often used as an Annual Flowers White flowers Natural Flower Time July to September Height 40 to 60cm (16 to 24in). Spread 30cm (12in) Time to Sow September to May Germination 10 to 14 days Time to Harvest 42 days.