Oregano, an herb with a robust scent and flavour, loves to grow in pots where it can spill over an edge of a pot or low wall. However, its trailing growth also makes it a good seasonal ground cover, or it can serve as a nice edging along a path. In late summer, enjoy Greek or Italian oregano’s white flowers against its bright-green leaves. Grow oregano in an herb garden or in containers.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Oregano prefers a sunny spot; however, in zone 7 and farther south, it benefits from a little afternoon shade. Set plants in well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Most herbs don’t like much fertilizer; feed occasionally with Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘N Feed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Plant Food throughout the growing season and always in early spring as the new season begins. Oregano spreads easily; in late spring, cut it back to one-third of its size in order to make the plant bushier. In milder climates (zone 8 and southward), oregano is evergreen. In zone 7 and northward, protect plants with mulch through the winter, or cover them with a cold frame. Small plants in containers can be moved indoors for the winter. Cut out dead stems in the spring before the plants begin new growth.
Root rot, spider mites, and aphids can all attack oregano. Be sure oregano is well drained to prevent disease, and pick off any browning or spotted foliage. In the garden it is easy to mistake an oregano plant for look-alike sweet marjoram, although the two are easily distinguished by their flavours and scents.
Harvest and Storage
Harvest plants often for continued new growth. Begin by snipping sprigs of oregano as soon as the plant is several inches tall. The flavour of oregano is most intense in mid-summer, just before it blooms, making this the best time to harvest leaves for drying. This herb is stronger dried than fresh. For a big harvest, cut the stems just above the plant’s lowest set of leaves; this encourages new growth for the next cutting in late summer. Oregano leaves may be dried, frozen, or refrigerated.
The “secret” ingredient in Aunt Bee’s spaghetti sauce, oregano adds deep flavour to Italian or Greek dishes, meat, fish, eggs, cheese, tomatoes, and vegetables such as beans and zucchini. A light sprinkling over a green salad before dressing it is a tasty enhancement. Oregano does not hold up well to prolonged cooking when used fresh, so add fresh leaves at the end of the cooking process or use dried leaves for sauces or anything that requires lengthy simmering. Dried oregano flower stalks may be used in craft-making (e.g. wreaths).
My oregano looks bad after a hot, dry summer. Can I cut it back?
Yes, please do. Like most herbs oregano responds nicely to trimming. First, cut away all the dead stems. The long stems with leaves only at the ends can be cut in half. The new growth will appear as new branches from the portions of the stems that remain, as well as from the crown of the plant. Fertilize in early spring before growth begins. Use compost, dehydrated manure, or a liquid fertilizer like Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food. If you are still in the first half of the growing season, a time-release fertilizer will keep plants growing for the remainder of the season.
How do I freeze my oregano?
Freezing oregano (as well as other winter-dormant herbs such as dill, marjoram, basil, fennel, chives, or tarragon) is a simple matter of putting cut leaves and tender stems in a food processor with enough olive oil to moisten them. Run the processor until the leaves are chopped, but not blended. Spoon this mixture into small plastic freezer containers or ice trays. Label well, because one frozen green herbal mass looks and smells like the next! When a recipe calls for oregano, chip a bit of oregano from the corner of the block in the container with a knife. Use as you would the fresh herb.
I can't really taste the fresh oregano I'm adding to my recipes. What am I doing wrong?
It is possible that flavor is being lost during cooking, so you might add some fresh leaves near the end of the process. Also, due to the shrinkage of herbs as they dry, you will need to triple the amount of fresh oregano that you are substituting in a recipe calling for dried herbs. This is true for most herbs, with the exception of bay leaves.