Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Herb of the Week - Mexican Oregano

Well after skipping a keep last week, the Herb-of-the-Week is back and this time we are featuring:

Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens)

Mexican oregano—also called orégano in Spanish—a member of the Verbenaceae, or verbena family. Little known in North America, this "oregano" is a great acquisition for plant collectors and herb gardeners alike.

Though not a true oregano, Mexican oregano is native to Mexico, as well as Guatemala and parts of South America. A somewhat ungainly shrub, it grows up to five feet tall and wide in its native climate. Its brittle branches are very narrow, stiffly arching, and arranged in a seemingly haphazard manner. (The plant responds extremely well to pruning, so consider espaliers or topiaries as alternatives to the natural zigzag form). Its dark green, highly fragrant, corrugated foliage is minuscule—about 1/3-inch long by 1/8-inch wide. Tiny, starry-white flowers are borne intermittently throughout the year in the leaf axils.

Although a trifle difficult to find commercially as the interest in ethic foods increases you find it in more and more garden centers and nursries.  The seed is also available.

To Grow
Mexican oregano couldn't be easier to cultivate. Full sun, heat, and fertile, well-drained soil are all the plant requires. Average moisture is just fine. Lippia graveolens is hardy in USDA Zones 10 and 11. Gardeners in Zone 9 might risk it outside all year, but heavy, cool, wet winter soils will be its demise. In Zone 5 here in Illinois you can try Mexican oregano as a container specimen outdoors in warm weather and overwintered indoors in a greenhouse or south-facing windowsill. Indoors it will relish the same conditions as bay or rosemary—cool temperatures and fresh, circulating air. Watch for spider mites, whiteflies, and mealy bugs. Propagation is a breeze from ripe tip cuttings.  I have a tendency to grow it as an annual and then take cuttings late in the season to grow inside for winter, taking new cuttings in time to move the plant outdoors.

To Use
Mexican oregano has a sweetness and intensity that many gourmets prefer to the flavor of the true European or Mediterranean species. The leaves are a wonderful flavoring for fish, meatballs, sausage, tomato sauces, or any recipe requiring a strong oregano essence. Trim off some of the plant's thicker branches and utilize them as flavor-enhancing skewers for seafood or poultry shish kebobs or vegetable brochettes. Whole branches can be strewn over hot charcoal to impart a fantastic taste to grilled foods.
In its native Mexico, the herb is sometimes called té de pais ("country tea"), because the dried leaves are brewed into an herbal tea. It is also employed in salsas, pozole (Mexican-style hominy soup, usually prepared with pork), adobos (strongly flavored Mexican seasoning pastes), and rajas (roasted and seasoned chile strips used as filling for tortillas or quesadillas or as a base for more complex dishes).

Here are a couple recipes to try with it.  You can substitute regular oregano if you want to try the recipe but do not have any Mexican Oregano.


Mexican Rice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup ground pork
  • 1/4 pound chorizo (Mexican sausage), halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock, or water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh Mexican oregano leaves  (use ½ tsp. dry)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves  (use 1 tsp. dry)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring until no longer pink. Add the sausages and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add the onions and bell peppers, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Then add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Stir in the tomatoes  and cook  for 1 minute. Add the stock, salt, and saffron, and stir well. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low, cover, and cook undisturbed until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Add the oregano and cilantro, and stir to incorporate.  Turn into a decorative bowl and garnish with the green onions. Serve immediately.

Mexican Meat Ball soup
Studded with zucchini, corn, and tomatoes, our brothy soup is comforting, especially on chilly evenings. Oregano flavors both the liquid and the meatballs.
Yield: 4
  • tablespoon  vegetable oil
  • small red onion, chopped
  • jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
  • zucchini (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  dried Mexican oregano, or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Mexican oregano
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • quart canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • cups  water
  • 1 1/2  cups  drained canned diced tomatoes (one 15-ounce can)
  • 1 1/4  teaspoons  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2  pound  ground beef
  • cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2  tablespoons  dry bread crumbs
  • egg, beaten to mix
  • cup  fresh (cut from about 2 ears) or frozen corn kernels
  • tablespoon  lime juice
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and half the jalapeños and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini,1 1/2 teaspoons of the dried oregano, if using, and 1/4 teaspoon of the cumin and cook, stirring, until the zucchini starts to soften, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, salt, and black pepper; bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes.


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  2. Last year I walked into a room in a greenhouse and there was the most wonderful smell in the air! It was the Mexican Oregano. I purchased a plant and now it needs to be cut back. What is the best way to root the cuttings? I am in Missouri and it will be grown indoors.

    1. Sorry it took so long but I did post a note about how to cut your Mexican oregano!

  3. As with most herbs, all you need to do is trim it with sharp scissors. You can cut 1/2 the height of an indoor plant without hurting it. Try to cut just above the spot on a stem where leaves are emerging, then it will regrow from that space to replace what is cut. Bundle the stems and hang them to dry for later use. Enjoy!


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