Origanum syriacum, commonly called Syrian oregano or Za'atar, is a special oregano that is more aromatic than the European variant and combines together the flavours of Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram.
Za'atar, is a bushy perennial herb with typically grows in an upright mound to 60cm (48in) tall. It particularly appreciates well-drained soils and a sunny position. The plants are drought tolerant and hardy to minus 12°C (10°F). Use Za’atar anywhere that you would use one of the similar herbs - oregano, marjoram or thyme. It is similar yet distinctive, and gives great fragrance to a roast or rub.
Culinary members of Origanum 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 are easy to grow, they need only moderate water and grow best in a gravelly loam in full sun. The plants are also effective as an ornamental in window boxes, hanging baskets or containers.
During summer, the plant is almost covered in white flowers. 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.
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. Oregano 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 once the plant is about 20cm (8in) 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.
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.
Use Za’atar anywhere that you would use one of the similar herbs - oregano, marjoram or thyme. It is similar yet distinctive, and gives great fragrance to a roast or rub.
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 50 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.
Native to the Middle East, Origanum syriacum grows wild in the mountains of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. It can be found everywhere in rocky places from the North to the South and at different altitudes.
Recently and due to increasing demand and its importance in the economic use Origanum syriacum has become a cultivated crop, tons of plants are produced and consumed every year so large amounts are still imported.
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.
Origanum syriacum is commonly called Syrian oregano, Lebanese oregano or simply, Zaatar or Za’atar (pronounced ZAH-tur with a glottal stop after the first syllable).
This plant is believed to be the hyssop of the Old Testament of the Bible, hence the sometimes used common name of Bible hyssop or Holy hyssop.
In Hebrew, the word for hyssop is ezov, and the Arabic equivalent is zatar.
In Arabic, the word Za'atar can be used to refer to a number of herbs in the thyme-marjoram-oregano-savory family. Za'atar also refers to both the herb and the dried herb mixture.
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.
Za’atar – The Spice and Herb Mixture:
In the Western herb world, za’atar spice used to be a well-kept secret, known only to the cognoscenti and those living in ethnic pockets in the larger cities, but if you’ve eaten at any Middle Eastern restaurant or spent any time in the region you are sure to have encountered za'atar.
It is considered a staple food in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, so essential that no table or kitchen is complete without it. It is found in every shop, in every supermarket and in every home. Children are often given za'atar sandwiches before a test because it is thought to awaken the mind.
Westerners have begun to take notice of this exotic herb mixture, now, you’ll find it on pizza, popcorn, and baked potato.
The basic za'atar mixture consists of dried za'atar herb and sesame seeds with a bit of salt, but each version is a little different, some people add bits of oregano, savory, hyssop or sumac (a dried tart berry). In Beirut, the most prized za'atar mixture includes the delicate white thyme flowers, the result is a light coloured za'atar that is rarely found in shops but made by hand at home. In Damascus, the favoured za'atar is verdant green in colour with flecks of sesame, while in Aleppo they prefer to grind the sesame seeds which gives the mixture a more brown appearance, and in Jordan they use a large quantity of sumac for a red za'atar. In the market, you are sure to find at least five different varieties of za’atar to choose from, and people also make their own mix at home. Taste and try, you should be able to eat the za'atar dry with a spoon and it should not be powdery or have bits of stem in it.
This blend of spices and herbs is usually mixed with olive oil (za'atar ul-zayt), and spread on flat breads, rolled up in pita bread, served as a dip, or drizzled over sliced tomatoes. Za'atar makes the filling for croissants, the seasoning on breadsticks, used in salads, as a compliment to yogurt, as the seasoning for stews or sprinkled over roast chicken.
It is commonly mixed with olive oil and baked into the crust of flat, round pita bread, this simple fare has been immensely popular for centuries, if not millennia.
If you are stranded on a remote island and in need of some za'atar, the following mixture will suffice.
Combine 1/2 cup best-quality dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of za’atar oregano or summer savory, 2 tablespoons sumac, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds.
Give the mixture a quick blitz in a food processor or spice grinder. You don't actually want to grind all the seeds, just give everything a quick mix.
The simplest way to eat za'atar is to get two small bowls, put a shallow level of olive oil in one, and put a generous amount of za'atar in the other. Now get some bread, preferably a flat bread like pita, but you can use any bread you like. Roll up your bread, or tear off a hunk, and dip the bread first in the olive oil, then in the za'atar.
It is very addictive. Before you know it, you’ll have made a whole meal around a dried herb mix.
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 50 Seeds Common Name Syrian oregano Other Language Names Fr: Marjolaine de Syrie Family Lamiaceae Genus Origanum Species syriacum Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers White flowers Natural Flower Time July to September Height 60cm (48in) Spread 30cm (12in) Time to Sow Sow in spring to plant out in summer, or sow in autumn to overwinter. Germination 10 to 14 days Time to Harvest 42 days.